Since we are coming up on mid-June and that is close to his birthday, I think it is only appropriate I tell another story about my old man. I believe we have all heard stories or had personal experiences of feeling as though someone close that we have lost reached out to touch us in some way. I had just that kind of experience not too long ago. Back in the mid-1960s, my dad came across an old slot machine. There are a lot of family stories about where it came from. All I remember is it had markings from the early ’20s, wasn’t in very good shape and was missing its handle. I think dad simply saw a project in the making.
He spent a fair amount of time working to get the machine back in running order. He had a friend who had worked on old slot machines in years past and they found a handle that wasn’t the right one, but it fit and eventually they got it working. I can still remember the machine in our family room at home ready to receive any stray nickels from your pocket. As grand kids came along, it became a favorite of theirs to sit with “Grandpa Poncho” and play the slot machine. Dad always had a plastic bowl with nickels for the grandkids, but the rule was all nickels won went back in the bowl for the next visit.
The slot machine hummed along for many years and kids and grandkids alike spent time learning about the finer points of slot gaming. In the late 1980s, it stopped working once again and even though he tried several times, dad just couldn’t seem to get it working again. So, it sat in its rightful spot in the family room more as a reminder of a different time than anything else.
We lost my dad in 1995 and while he wasn’t Ward Cleaver, he taught me a lot of things. Besides all things outdoors, he taught me the value of hard work and that of a dollar as well as not being afraid to help friends. I remember sitting around the kitchen table with my family shortly after he passed away and my mother out of the blue looking at me and saying, “Dad wanted you to have the slot machine.” Stuff was the last thing on my mind and I really hadn’t given the slot machine two thoughts for many years. I was about to offer it to one of my other siblings when my mom spoke up again and said, “It was one of the few things he spoke of, but he wanted you to have it.” That was enough for me and home it came. It lived in my workshop under a sheet since 1995 until just a few years ago.
Over the years I did some research on it as well as places to repair it, but I just never seemed to follow through. For some reason, a few years ago, I thought about that machine sitting in my shop all covered up and decided it was time to make it right again. I actually found a restoration expert who was only about an hour away from me in Genesee County and after emailing him for a bit, I knew he was the right man for the job. He was very upfront on the timing and the cost and after he heard the story of its history, he too felt it needed to be back in working and restored order. When I told him I planned to take it back to the Upper Peninsula to be at my place on Lake Gogebic, he thought there was nothing more appropriate than to take it home. I agreed.
About two months or so after I dropped it off; I received an email telling me it was complete and ready for pick-up. Along with the email were several pictures of the restored machine and it looked great. Steph and I went down the very next Saturday to pick it up. When I got to Bill’s shop and saw his work firsthand, it looked even better than the pictures. He had done a superb job and it worked beautifully.
As I was thanking him for all his hard work, he asked if I knew about the note. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. He told me he found a note in the machine and wondered if I knew it was there. I am not sure I was ever inside the machine, so I knew I had never seen a note. Bill smiled as he unlocked the back and pulled out a cigar box full of nickels which were in the machine for some time. In the bottom of the box was a folded up piece of paper that was beautifully handwritten and simply said, “Boys, there are exactly 9 roles of nickels in this box and they are worth $18. There had better be the same amount in this box the next time I check it.” It was signed “Dad” and was dated January 30, 1981.
I guess Dad was just protecting his investment. It brought a few tears to my eyes as all the memories of the work he put into the machine over the years and all the work he put into me as well came flooding back. I built a special frame for the note and it hangs just above the machine which is in its rightful place at our home on Lake Gogebic. I am not sure why I chose that year to have the slot machine restored or why I didn’t go through it myself, but I suspect there was a reason. I also believe Dad still isn’t done teaching me a few things and I can’t wait for the next lesson.
And that’s the situation as I survey it …
After a 35-year career downstate amongst da trolls, during which he built a successful engineering and surveying business, John Matonich is back home in da U.P. His column will appear here occasionally, don’tcha know. His book “Surveyin’ Da Situation” is available on Amazon.com.