Daddy was larger than life. I know most kids feel and say that, but in his case it’s an absolute fact. Loud. Boisterous. Slightly obnoxious. Hilarious. A little damaged. Fiercely loyal. And more…And sometimes I still can’t believe that he’s gone. Father’s Day can be rough for those of us who’ve lost our larger than life daddies. If you’ll indulge me, I thought I’d honor Daddy by sharing a few stories about him…
Like most folks in southwest Arkansas, Dad grew up poor. Dad and his sisters were abandoned by their mother when he was a baby. She left him for a field hand, leaving the children with their father. From that point on they had a very fractured and almost non existent relationship with her. It was a sore point that he kept buried, but the abandonment he felt always came back to haunt him from time to time. There was a lot of pent up hurt and anger, and sometimes he’d erupt like a volcano, often over the most trivial things, usually lashing out at Mom and sometimes my brothers and me. It took years for us to understand his pain, and forgive him. But we did. And so did Mom.
He was surprisingly compassionate and generous. A trait he kept carefully hidden behind his layers of brash bravado and boisterous personality. But he would literally give his things away if he felt that people needed help. Once, toward the end of his life I witnessed him giving away some of his lawn equipment to a young man who did his yard work for him. He sensed the need, and appreciated the hard work this man did to provide for his family and make a better life for himself. When the hubs and I had been married a few years, and poor as dirt, he saw that we needed a second car, and drove six hours to bring us one. We never asked for it. He just gave it to us, and just told us to give it back when we didn’t need it anymore. It was a miracle for us. He saw the need and just gave.
He was fiercely loyal. He loved his hometown. Passionately. When we were cleaning out the house we found an entire filing cabinet filled with the little booklets and planning folders from his years and years and years of high school reunions. He and another classmate became the official planners for the reunions. He loved seeing his classmates, and kept up with them, and grieved as they began passing away. He served in the Army for 20 years, and made long lasting friendships with the husbands and wives he and Mom were lucky enough to serve with. They exchanged Christmas cards for years after his retirement, and even visited them until their health prevented it.
He was absolutely hilarious, and had a wicked sense of humor. After he passed we heard story after story from his friends that made us howl with laughter. He was a mess, as we say down south. He loved to play practical jokes on his friends, and he loved to give them a hard time. He had a vehicle inspection business for years; and would open the garage doors, and all the guys would come by in the afternoons, sitting in the back, shaded by the large old pecan tree, with the breeze blowing through the garage, eating pecans, drinking grape sodas, and telling extremely tall tales and stories about the past. It was definitely a ‘Mayberry’ scene! I accidently stepped into a few of those conversations, but quickly stepped out, ears burning and eyes watering with laughter (and a little embarrassment).
He loved his family and extended family, and I believe that early abandonment made him love his family even more. He and his sisters were passed around at times, from uncle to aunt, growing up with cousins they almost considered siblings. He loved family reunions, and visiting his sister, and had good relationships with his nieces and nephews. He adored them. Vacations were always spent with relatives, except for a couple visiting his military buddies. I realize now that he was trying to give us a sense of family security that he never really had growing up. I feel bad that I didn’t appreciate it until much later. However, his devotion to his family, and pride in his roots created an interest in my brother Eddy and me to dive into our ancestry.
He could repair anything. Or drive himself crazy trying to. As a poor child of the depression, it just went against every bone in his body to throw anything away if he could potentially repair it and make it usable again. His generation truly believed in reuse, repurpose, recycle. When we cleaned out the house we found dozens of weedeaters (for parts), millions of nuts and bolts and screws and tools, various appliances that had been ‘frankensteined’ to new life. He had even kept our original 1970’s model Amana Radarange, which he swore up and down still worked “perfectly fine”. He was even able to keep their original 50’s era Philco refrigerator up and running. (except for the brief period it wasn’t grounded properly and shocked us whenever we grabbed the handle) The hubs and I are going to try to follow his lead and repaint, repurpose and reuse it in our home. And I’ll think of him every time I open the door.
He could be surprisingly sweet and mushy. At my wedding, he sobbed like a baby, crying out for all to hear, “Mary, she’s gone!” (like I had died or something). We teased him about that for years. He grew increasingly sentimental as he got older, and we often saw him shed tears, especially as his beloved sisters, cousins and friends began passing away. He was absolutely devastated when Mom got sick and passed away. I truly think a piece of his heart died the day Mom went to heaven.
I miss that old man. I miss his booming voice. I miss his laugh. I miss him telling me, “you sure look pretty today”, I miss him calling me his baby girl. I miss that level of unconditional protective love that only a father can give his child. I’ll always be his daughter.
Happy Father’s Day Daddy. Give Mom a kiss for me.