I get a bit sad as Father’s Day approaches every year, even though Daddy has been dead for more than 30 years now. I still miss him. A social worker I spoke to last week about a blog post I was writing for my job said it’s not unusual. She said, “Feel your feelings, it’s all right to be sad.” She also recommended doing something on Father’s Day to remember, whether it’s lighting a candle, writing a letter to your dad, or telling a story.
I remember so many things, but I decided this week to try to find a funny story. I had dinner with some friends the other night, and we were talking about how certain kinds of birds have been singing at the top of their lungs at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning for the last few weeks. That reminded me of Daddy and the whippoorwill.
That was the summer our house on the farm was being built. Daddy rented an old farmhouse from Mr. Johnny and Miss Ora, an ancient couple who lived further along the road from this house, so we moved to the country a few miles from the farm. It was an old white clapboard house with a rickety porch. The wood floors had cracks between the planks big enough to permit odd-looking insects to emerge on occasion. I would not walk barefoot on those floors.
The house was not air-conditioned, of course, so we had to leave the windows open and use window fans or circulating floor fans to cool off as the summer got hotter.
The house was surrounded with old cedar trees. There was a huge one in the back yard. The trees made it shady most of the time, and they were a haven for birds.
If you’re not from the South you may not know whippoorwills. They look a bit like meadowlarks, only they aren’t as pretty–no yellow throats on them. What they are known for, and named after, is their call. WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL, repeated over and over and over again. Rumor had it that they sang faster when the weather was hotter, but no one has validated that claim so far as I know (unlike crickets, of which this is true.) You hear them sometimes in a field during the day. But during their courting season they like to get a jump on things by singing during the night.
One night long after we were all asleep a whippoorwill began singing from the clothesline on the back porch. WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL! Daddy ran out to the porch and shooed the bird away, then went back to bed.
He hardly got in bed before the bird started again, this time from the big cedar tree in the back yard. WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL! I could hear the murmur of Mother and Daddy’s voices. Mother probably said something like, “Leave it alone, George, and it’ll quiet down.” But the bird went on and on. Daddy went out in the back yard in his boxer shorts and T-shirt and yelled at the bird. It shut up the moment he came out. But as soon as he was back in bed it started again.
That was it. Daddy grabbed a shotgun and ran out to the cedar tree. I got up and looked out to see what was going on, but it was pitch black. I did hear Mother say, “George, put that gun down, you’ll just shoot yourself!” The bird was dead silent. Daddy waited a few minutes, then went back into the house.
Maybe the bird sensed real danger for it must have flown out of the tree. I heard it calling again, but at a distance, out in tree-lined field in back of the yard. So we all went back to sleep, to the hum of the fans, and no whippoorwill calls.