Dad kept a bottle of booze in the pantry when we were growing up. He never drank from it. It was for medicinal purposes. If he smashed his thumb and it turned into a mangled lump he could pour the booze on it to relieve the swelling. He smashed a lot of thumbs back then.
He was given the bottle of almighty spirits by his karate instructor, Kim Woo. I think Dad took up karate because he was having a “mid-life” crisis at the time. Though he was just in his thirties, he had spent his teens and twenties eating enough doughnuts to feed a nation of sucrose addicts nine times over. Karate, he felt, would keep him on the right path. Or at least teach him the art of self-defense if somebody tried jumping him on his way home from the bakery.
Dad spent nearly a decade doing karate. He put his body and spirit into it. It was like a second religion to him. A devout Catholic, he attended Mass every Sunday and made sure to drag all of us with him. After Mass, he raced home doing 90 MPH. Since we only lived a mile from church we made it back in 13 seconds. He told us to do our chores while he went off, privately, to do his exercises. One must never disturb a green-belt-in-training!
His closed door workouts were solitary but physical. Man-made yelps and grunts of aggression were so common that neighbors sometimes called the police suspecting domestic abuse. I used to peek under the door to see Dad kicking and punching imaginary enemies. The curtains and lamps were strewn about. The walls of his workout room were pocked with holes, the carpet soaked in sweat. Pacing and panting, pacing and panting. Pop the cork and apply the booze. Curse and repeat.
“Why don’t you quit that silly activity?” Mom asked.
“Because Kim Woo is a powerful man,” said Dad.
There were two figures we could never joke about. One was God, the other, Kim Woo. I once made a joke about Kim Woo to my older brother. He told me I did a bad thing. Now Kim Woo was going to put a curse on Dad. I begged Dad for days not to go to karate practice. I didn’t want Kim Woo to turn him into a frog or something.
Weeks went by and, to my liking, Dad remained human. Sadly, Kim Woo passed away within the year. Dad scaled back on karate. He began hitting baseballs to us. Karate must have made him stronger because we had to run like cheetahs to catch his pop flies. Dad held on to the bottle long after his karate days were over. We took enough ground balls to our shins during little league to keep that booze company in business. Dad watched us play from the bleachers. He never called time out so he could make a long, slow walk (like a manager changing pitchers) to 2nd base to rub that healing magic on my bumps and bruises. He waited until we got home.