Thursday, September 13, 2012

To my Daddy on his 71st

Daddy with his 3 granddaughters in 2010.
Daddy, thank you for the rich life you gave me. Fathers are a commodity in our society, but you have been more than that. You are a Daddy. So many people don't know what a dad is, but I do.

I remember that faithful wake up call every morning and breakfast of a plateful of grits, two eggs, two pieces of toast and bacon. You taught me how to eat the grits and eggs together or the grits with tomatoes or cheese or salmon. But every Sunday morning was reserved for pancakes, and you always kept trying to give us just one more when you hadn't even had your first.

I remember those Sunday afternoon walks to Simmons Creek just to wade in the water. I remember those summer vegetable gardens and all the vegetables we gave away to neighbors. I remember the days before I could drive that you sat and patiently waited for me in that green 1966 Ford pickup because I wanted to be a football manager. And I remember the comforting smell of that truck, the dusty smell of of hard work.

I remember those hot summer afternoons after you got off work when you said, "Let's all go fishing." Everyone fished except you. You were too busy baiting hooks and taking the catfish and bream off.

I remember you cutting watermelons. I remember how you taught me how to thump them to test for ripeness. I remember grilling steaks every Saturday night, winter and summer.

I remember those snow days when you would make a sled out of a pallet or even an old car hood and pull us behind the truck all over the yard and the fields. When Mama got upset over the ruts in the yard, you just smiled and said they'd even out before long.

I remember the switches you made me cut from the privet hedge. The large end had to be the size of your little finger.

I remember the day you called us to your work at the Clinton wood yard of Catawba Timber Company. You sent my younger brother Chris and me inside your office for a grand surprise: a Black Labrador puppy. We named her Wilhelmina.

Batman with his sidekick Robin. Painting by Al...
Then there was the time you donned a cape from the bathroom towel rack and made a home movie with me. I was Batman. You were Robin, and we beat up all the bad guys.

What about that day you drove into the yard in a brand new 1980 cream-colored Cutlass Supreme. Our mouths agape, I heard Mama shout something about how to pay for it. You just smiled and said, "Get in. Let's ride." Reminds me of those days you brought home the first microwave or that VCR. You must like to see the surprises on the faces of those you love.  

Then there was that time you brought home our first home computer so that Mama could fulfill her calling to be a Christian writer. She stopped protesting the expense when you simply said, "Be quiet and start writing." She did and published over a dozen children's books, a Christian market guide, well over 300 articles, and led a writer's organization for decades. You worked so hard to provide for our family. There were those nights you'd be so tired from work you'd fall asleep in front of the TV.

Not only are you giving, you are compassionate. Our old family companion, a 14-year-old German Weimaraner we called Tiny, short for Clementine, was sick and in pain, slowly dying, and needed to be put down for mercy's sake. You looked for anything you could do for her to make her comfortable rather than put her out of her misery. Slowly, we watched you carrying her across the back yard on that frosty afternoon to the place you planned to bury her, but by the grace of God to you, when you arrived at the grim spot, you found she had died on the way.
Oxner's Store, Kinards, SC, today (closed)

I remember those Saturday afternoon trips to Wash Oxner's Store for a Mountain Dew and a Snickers bar if we had done a good job of cutting the grass at home. I remember you buying and bringing home a couple of pounds of hoop cheese you had cut yourself behind the counter, because Mr. Wash trusted you saying, "Go ahead and cut what you want, Gerald."

I remember the time I had to sell those $2 chocolate bars for the National Honor Society at school, and you quietly said, "Give them to me. I'll take them to work." The next evening you returned with empty boxes and a handful of dollar bills. We were amazed. How did you do it? You finally admitted to us that you wouldn't weigh incoming trucks at the wood yard you managed until they purchased a chocolate bar.

I remember your clear admonition to check the oil twice a week in the car.

I remember the night I graduated from Clinton High School. The only place open past 8:00pm in those days in Clinton, SC, was the Waffle House. You were so proud of me. I remember you smiling at me across the table with that huge winning smile you have always had and saying, "Son, order anything you want off the menu." I still chuckle when I think about that.

I remember that hellish November football Friday night halfway through the third quarter when Miss Lynn got my attention over the fence from where I was on the sidelines. She told me you were having chest pains. I was 17 years old, and as I ran to the ambulance where you were and I watched you suffering in pain, holding your chest, for the first time the thought entered my mind that the indomitable spirit I called Daddy might actually be mortal.

There is great power behind those words I count it a privilege to hear, "I shore do love you!" Your laugh was one of the most comforting and safe sounds of my boyhood, one of those things eternal. I love you, too, but I will never be able to pay you back adequately for pouring your life into me. You're my hero.