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Deana Martin: What it’s like to love a father forever

Sometimes, Deana Martin puts on her dad’s blue turtleneck cashmere sweater, and she smells his Faberge Woodhue cologne, and she is transported to when she was a little girl in her father’s arms.

“If I’m wearing that,” she says, “I’m back on 601 Mountain Drive (in Beverly Hills), where we all grew up.

“I hear him walking in the backdoor. You can hear the little taps on the heels of his shoes.

“Clink-clink-clink.

“He’d walk into the kitchen, get a piece of Wonder bread, put butter on it, fold it over like a little sandwich.

“He’d walk into the living room and say, ‘Hi, everybody.’

“He’d give us a big hug with those huge hands,” Deana, one of seven siblings, says.

“When you’d get up and give him a hug” — she inhale-gasps at the memory — “he smelled so good.”

Such are the little breaths we all take for granted, until the breaths are gone, and we try with all our might to get them back.

Deana Martin — who performs Saturday and Sunday at the South Point — lives with her dad’s senses everywhere.

She has Dean Martin’s platinum records on the walls. Pictures in her music studio. She occasionally lounges around the house in his cashmere sweaters (on some days his blue one, on other days his pink V-neck).

But it’s the cologne (woody, warm, clean) that gets her.

“I have maybe an inch of it left in the bottle,” she says. “I don’t want to take the top off. But if I take off the top, he’s right there. Right there. It’s amazing to me.”

Sometimes, she dreams of her dad and late brother Dean Paul.

“I have nice dreams,” she says. “They come to me. It’s comforting, because he’s so present in my life, because I sing his songs every day.

“And my name is Deana Martin, so every time I meet somebody new, immediately they say, ‘Any relation?’ It’s not like there’s any getting away from it. And the reaction is always positive.”

Fans from the old days tell her stories like this one:

“Someone told me they saw him in Vegas for their anniversary, and he saw them at a restaurant, bought them dinner and invited them to the show, and sent Champagne to their room.

“He said, ‘You shouldn’t be here. You’re on your honeymoon. You should be up in your room!’ ”

That’s amore.

“People ask me, is it hard to be in your dad’s shadow? I say, no. Not at all. It opens a whole new world for me. People loved him.”

On tour, Deana Martin (DeanaMartin.com) sings the classics, including songs from her new album, “Destination Moon,” featuring a duet with her dad’s recording of “True Love.”

On stage, home movies and photos flicker on screen behind her so, “Dad’s smiling while I’m singing,” she says.

Deana Martin’s life is a joyful one.

“My mom always said I was ‘Deana from Bambi Land.’ I’m just so happy to be alive every day. There’s so much to do. I learn things every day.”

And Dean Martin’s memory remains in the forefront of his daughter’s happy life.

“I have all of the Dean Martin shows. I’ve got all of his records. I have all the movies. I can watch him and be with him,” she says.

“I don’t know if you have any recordings with your mom, but they can bring it all back. And that never goes away. Your parents give you love.

“He’s with me all the time. I can feel his presence.

“I’m a very lucky person.”

Doug Elfman’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Email him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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