A Tribute To My Father
He was the most handsome man I had ever seen. Movie star good looks handsome, and he was my father. From little girls to little old ladies he could turn them all into babbling idiots just by acknowledging them. He was a farm boy from Missouri who was totally unaware of the havoc his good looks created with women. Oh, women noticed him, but he did not notice women. From the day he set eyes on my mother there was no other woman in the world.
They met in the Army during World War II. My mother was a nurse, a WAC Lieutenant. My father was a corpsman in a hospital for soldiers facing the psychological traumas of war. They met there. I remember my mother telling how she had seen him the first time, sitting on the floor in one of the corridors leaning against the wall. She said he took her breath away, he was so handsome; she hoped he wasn’t one of her patients. They knew each other just two weeks before they were married and it lasted a lifetime – his lifetime. Yes, women noticed him and often that made me just the least bit jealous. When I was in high school and played in sports he would come to watch me compete. Female classmates who were not close friends would wait for him and sit next to him feigning interest in my performance just to be near him. It was the same if he brought my mother. She laughed, she didn’t mind, he made her feel that secure, and he even made those rotten girls feel comfortable.
To go with those good looks was a large dose of southern charm. That off-handed sense of humor that is natural and not the least bit contrived. My sister inherited his sense of humor and the way with words that were his. I hear him in her speech and when I do, I miss him. I have already told you of his tipping outhouses escapades, but there was so much more to the humor in his life, at least a book of stories more.
He was known for his little homilies. One of my favorites was “there’ll be no Hell for dogs.” What does it mean? I have absolutely no idea, but when he touched his belt buckle and uttered those words his children always ran for it. I still use it today at just the appropriate moment, when I want to daze and confuse. It’s always good for a smile.
He was my knight, my rock. He protected us all. His wife, his children, his mother, his sisters, his friends; we have all been rescued by him at least once. In my case he rescued me more times than I can count. He rescued us from broken down cars, the driving exam, tornadoes, abusive relationships, dementia, heartbreak, disappointment, fractions, and the reality of death at an early age. He did it with surprising good humor, under what were often the worst of circumstances. He always knew what to say and do. We could depend on him.
My very favorite memory of my father is of the two of us sitting on my uncle’s porch on a summers evening while he brushed and braided my hair. He loved my hair. One summer when I was nine my mother got it into her head to give me a pixie cut, without telling him. When he arrived home from work and saw me, he cried and was completely inconsolable. I attribute my reticence to cutting my hair to that childhood memory.
His proudest moment of me was when, instead of taking Home Economics, I took an automotive class. He taught me to change a tire, the oil, to know all the parts of the car’s engine and to weld. I was the only girl in the class and I got the top marks. Little did I know at the time, he had a bet with the father of one of the boys in the class that his “little girl” would get the best grade and beat his son out for the top mark. He was so proud when I did just that. I think the prize was that infamous 3.2 beer again.
His life had not been an easy one. He was the seventh of eight children. His father died when he was eleven of pernicious anemia, something easily cured today. His mother took in washing to try to make ends meet, but it soon became apparent she couldn’t afford the clothes to send him to school, so he stopped going and got a job supporting his family at the age of twelve. He had no carefree youth. He often talked about how as a child he had wanted a wagon for Christmas, but his mother could not afford to buy him one. For their first Christmas together my mother gave him a shiny red Radio Flyer. He never forgot that gift.
He was plagued by poor health. My first memory of his illness was when he collapsed at thirty-five of a heart attack and my mother and I had to carry him to the car and drive him to the hospital. I have never been so frightened in my life.
When I was a junior in high school he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The pain was excruciating, but he never complained. He would get out of bed and balancing on crutches, stand at the stove and cook our meals. We were at school and mother took on the burden of supporting the family. He didn't complain and he didn't give up.
I think it was his absolute joy and love of life and his endless curiosity as to what would happen next that kept him going through the pain; that and the plot for his next practical joke.
I could not have had a better Father, in that I won the lottery. Happy Father’s Day Dad - thank you for the laughter, the curiosity, the extra large dose of common sense and the good hair.
There’ll be no Hell for dogs - or for my father.