Not a Day Goes By

My father has started appearing in my dreams lately.  That hasn’t happened for a long time, and is a sure sign that I’m upset about something and looking for safety and security.  When Daddy is in a dream, he’s usually watching from the sidelines; he doesn’t take action.  I guess even my subconscious knows that he’s been gone a long time.  But

mother-and-daddy[2]
Mother and Daddy at home on the farm
that longing to feel safe and taken care of  will never go away, however old I may get.

I just realized today, Father’s Day, that Daddy died 40 years ago.  Forty years!  And I’m nearly the age that he was when he died of a sudden heart attack, chopping wood in the back yard at the farm.  It was hard to be young in a crazy time without his presence.  Sometimes I wonder how much he would have liked the adult I became.  I’m pretty sure he would have disapproved of many of the choices I made.  But I am sure he would never have stopped loving me.

I want to remember the good things, the tiny jewel-like memories that still remain:  Daddy taking me to the department store (McClellan’s) and buying the doll I had wanted for so long, a small one in a green dress; Daddy standing with a group of uncles and cousins at a relative’s wake (we called it “receiving friends”) and laughing at Uncle Fatty’s jokes; Daddy coming in from the fields for lunch and drinking sweetened iced tea from a giant glass, which I still have.  His khaki work clothes, how hard he had to scrub his hands with Lava soap  to get the dirt and grease off from working in the fields or at Uncle Preston’s garage.  Watching our black and white TV in the dark while he smoked a cigarette.

I miss him every day.  I’m sending out my love to him, and to all the fathers and uncles and brothers and grandpas who are father figures for children everywhere.  Happy Father’s Day!

 

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Remembering Daddy: The Denim Jacket

Mother and Daddy at home on the farm
Mother and Daddy at home on the farm

I have Daddy’s denim jacket hanging in my hall closet.  It is an old, faded Wrangler’s denim, lined with red plaid flannel, in the classic style worn by farmers and cowboys.  When I came home from college in the fall or winter, I would borrow that jacket from him and wear it every time I went out while I was at home, unless he needed it to wear on the farm.

Daddy always seemed the right size to me, not too big and not too small.  He would be considered barely medium height now, barrel-chested, with strong shoulders and muscular arms and legs.  He wore khaki work pants and shirts when he worked at Clarksville Base, and he wore them to work on the farm.  They were heavy cotton and were a pain to iron, but I learned to iron on those work clothes.

When the weather was colder  he put on heavy, lined coveralls which zipped up the front and were dark green or dark grey.  All these clothes were meant for hard outdoor work, mending fences, herding cows, digging postholes, the work that couldn’t be done from a tractor or a truck.

When it wasn’t cold enough for the coveralls, he wore that jacket.  Many times I saw him put it on as he headed out to drive the school bus (when he had that job) or feed the cows just as the winter sun was coming up.

So after Daddy died, when Mother was cleaning out the house, that jacket was the only thing of his I wanted, and the only thing I brought home to New York with me.  I have never worn it again.  I guess I was afraid it would wear out.  It is quite frayed, and, I just realized, more than 30 years old.  But it is a last bit of him, and of frosty mornings when the cows patiently waited for him, lining up at the barbed-wire fence nearest our house, their breath making clouds.  “Hello, babies,” he would say, and they followed him at a stately pace to the stable, to be fed.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, and to all of us who love and remember them.

 

Father’s Day: Daddy and the Whippoorwill

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.

Father’s Day Special II: The Right Way to Do Things

Ford Tractor, Like Daddy’s

My daddy was a man who considered there was a right way to do anything, whether it was repairing a car engine or eating cornflakes.  He was not dictatorial or oppressive in any way.  Daddy just knew what he considered right, and he demonstrated how to do things, expecting you to follow his example.

When my nephew Jarrett was quite small, my sister Juanita and her family stayed on the farm with my parents for several weeks while they were in the process of moving to Kentucky.  Jarrett and his brother Mason followed Daddy around and absorbed his every utterance, but Jarrett was particularly impressionable.

Years later I met him and his fiancee for lunch in Manhattan and listened to Jarrett explain to her the proper way to eat cornflakes.  “Granddaddy showed me, ” he said.  “You pour the flakes in a bowl, then you crush them with your hands, like this”–he demonstrated.   ‘Then you put sugar on top, and finally you pour the milk on.”  He then moved on to the proper methodology for having molasses and biscuits.  “You have to put the butter on the plate, then pour the sorghum molasses on it.  You whip it up with your knife.  Then you split your biscuit, and spread it on the biscuit.”

Daddy’s lessons weren’t always absorbed.  He tried to teach my brother to work on a car engine, but Gil preferred to bounce a tennis ball off the side of the house.  He never managed to teach Mother to drive, because she would get nervous, he would get gruff, she would dissolve in tears, and the lesson ended.  Consequently she was dependent on other people for transportation her entire life.

But some of the lessons did sink in.  He taught me to change a tire after I had two flats in one week.  I had to jump on the crowbar to loosen the lug nuts, but I could do it.  It stood me in good stead for many years.

Daddy died of a heart attack when I was 22 years old.  I miss him to this day.  Happy Father’s Day to dads everywhere.  Your daughters love you.

Father’s Day Special: Don’t Try This at Home

Daddy and Mother

I’m the youngest of five children, and there are almost 20 years between my oldest sister and me.  Daddy turned 40 years old not long after I was born.  That’s not unusual today, but in my parents’ day they were considered old enough to be grandparents!   There are seven years between the next-to-youngest and me, so I’m sure Mother and Daddy thought their family was done long before I came along.

You’d think they would not have been pleased, but from all accounts they were thrilled.  Even when I was a teenager, Daddy still spent time with me and did things with me, difficult as that was for him with a girl who wasn’t athletic, and at a time when we didn’t have money to spare for movies or dinners out.

One inspiration he had falls squarely into the “don’t try this at home” category.  It rarely snowed more than a dusting in our part of Tennessee–ice storms were more prevalent.  So any snow was a huge treat and a special occasion.  One winter we got a few inches of snow, and school was closed.  I had a sled, but the runners kept getting bogged down in the wet snow.  Then Daddy had his big idea.  He took a discarded car hood from my uncle’s garage, and chained it upside-down to the back of his tractor.  “Get on the hood, baby doll, and hold on!” he said.

We spent a good part of the afternoon going up and down the slushy, ice-slick road with the tractor and car hood.  Looking back on it now, I wonder why the hood didn’t slide into the tractor’s rear wheels, and how on earth I kept from falling off.  But I had no problems at the time, and it was exhilirating to ride and slide in the cold.

Finally we went home, and Daddy unchained the hood.  My boy cousins next door had been watching enviously.  “Uncle George, could we use that car hood?” Dale asked.  Daddy said they could.  Dale and Don launched themselves down a hill, completely unable to steer the hood.  They hit a tree and Don broke his arm.  Oops!  Like I said, don’t try this at home!