The Landlord’s Son

My Dad’s favorite saying was “Be more afraid of me, than you are of them.”  He meant it.  While he was still in the Navy, my parents bought a small trailer park, with plans to expand.  It took most of his military salary just for us to get by, he even sent his foster mother, every month payroll deductible.  The trailer park had to pay for itself.  That’s just the way it was, no bones about it.  My youngest brother Duane had Cerebral Palsy, he would go door to door to collect empty drink bottles from the coke machine, so that Dad didn’t have to pay the two cents to the Coke man.

 

Dad was deployed again and again.  That left Mom, me and my little brothers to make things work.  Every penny counted.  The payments on the park were $400.00 a month.  The lot rents were $18.00 and the weekly rentals were 55.00 including lights.  I remember we started out with 13 spaces, most of the residents were kin folk at the beginning.  When the folks went up to $22.00 a month on the lot rent, most of our kinfolk moved out.

Dad soon increased the capacity to 15 trailers to give us a little breathing room, but he was hindered by the fact that the state law required each mobile home to have its own septic tank and the required footage for a tank, took up too much room.  He put weekly rentals in the new spaces.  With lights, he charged $55.00 per week.

We collected our rents on Friday, when Dad was around, most every one paid on time.  When Dad was out of town due to military obligations some folks didn’t feel the need to pay, either on time or ever.  Mom’s way of collecting rent was different than Dad’s, especially after she lost her leg in a car wreck and was confined to a wheel chair.

Mom would send me out after dark to the delinquent renters and I would let the air out of their tires or disconnect the battery cables in their car.  The next morning we would sit on the front porch with an air compressor or a set of jumper cables, waiting for them to leave the house.  She collected her rent money.  If a guy came home drunk and beat the hell out of his wife, Mom would be waiting for him at the foot of his steps when he came out, with a frying pan, she knew how to use it too.

Dad’s way was a little different.  Even though it was just business, he took it personal.  “Son of a bitch, that’s my money you’re spending on beer and I don’t drink.”  Being a Naval Officer, he couldn’t do the personal confrontations.  Not that it was beneath his dignity, he couldn’t afford to have his reputation smeared.  I’ve seen him as the Officer of the Day, many times when we lived overseas, handle drunken brawlers, he was a man, he wasn’t scared one bit.  Instead, he would wait until it got about eleven o’clock and send me to knock on the door, asking for the man of the house.  Meanwhile, Dad would stand beside a tree in the front yard or just around the corner of the trailer.  My job was to ask for the man of the house.  Usually it was some big drunk (when you’re 12 years old, they are all big), that would come to the front door and size me up and say “oh yeah, what do you want?”

Then I would grab them by the straps of their wife beaters under shirt, jump up and put my feet in their belly and we’d somersault out into the dark, landing in the front yard in the dark, out of sight of prying eyes.  Dad would then step out of the gloom with his Shore Patrolman’s “billy club” and give them a few short whacks across the noggin, just to soften them up.  Then he would reach in their pockets and take his rent money, throwing the rest on the ground.  The next day, he bore no ill will.  It was “Hi, I’m fine, how are you?”  None of these guys would ever tell a soul what happened, I guess it was a matter of pride.  How do you tell some one that a 12 year old boy jerked your ass out in the yard and knocked the senses out of you and took your money?

If Dad told me to do something, I did it, without hesitation.  Like he always said, “Be more afraid of me, than you are of them.”

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