Sunday, June 16, 2024

Father's Day Memories

 

Daddy was a Sergeant 1st Class

I miss my Daddy every Father's Day. He was one of the most unique people I ever knew. Though quiet and pensive most of the time, the wheels of his mind were constantly turning. How do I know? I watched him like a hawk. 

I learned so much from watching my Daddy. As I grew up, I found one of the best ways to gain his time and attention was to be where he was. If he was under a car, working on something like changing the oil, I crawled under with him asking him a million questions - "What are you doing, Daddy?" "Why are you doing that?" Usually, he'd let me ask away without answering. 

Occasionally, he'd ask me to hand him a tool. If I knew what it was, he'd smile and not say a word, but if I messed up, he'd let me know. Needless to say, I wanted to please him so I learned very quickly the names of tools and how to use them. 

Daddy loved to tinker. He'd take things apart and put them back together again just to see how they worked. His Father had been an inventor and held several patents, so I guess Daddy came by his curiosity naturally.

Our little family

Daddy was a simple man. He never asked for much, especially in the way of material things. I think, since he grew up without much, he learned to make do with what he had. 

But as we grew up, we learned he'd often put the needs of others before his own. He'd often go with holes in the bottoms of his shoes or wear things until they fell apart. 

He was a hard worker and a good provider. When I was growing up, he usually worked 2 jobs. With 3 little mouths to feed, money was always tight. My mother was frugal and we learned quickly that money didn't grow on trees. 

Mama & Daddy's engagement pic

We did the best we could with what we had and though money was always tight, Daddy found a way for us to take a vacation each year. 

He had a friend named Bill who owned a motel in Florida. I think Bill's last name was Reid, but I'm not positive after all these years. The motel was nothing fancy but Bill let Daddy have a room in the hotel with a small fridge for $50 a week. What a steal! I don't know how we all managed to fit into the room, but we did it every year for years. 

Back then, my brother, sister, and I didn't understand that we were technically poor, or at least lower middle class. It didn't really matter. Mama and Daddy did what they could to provide for us and we were grateful. 

Daddy enjoyed going to the drive in theater. We'd often go the Starlight Drive in. While Mama and Daddy were enjoying the movie, we'd play on the playground. 

Daddy with his cigarette

He also enjoyed watching TV after a long day at work. He'd sit and watch wrestling or baseball for hours as he smoked a cigarette and occasionally had a can of beer. The simple pleasures in life seemed to be what mattered most to Daddy. 

On weekends when he wasn't working, he'd drive fifty miles to my Granddaddy's house to help him fill contracts for a local cotton mill. All weekend long, Daddy would be out in the shop while my siblings and I played with our cousins. 

Daddy also enjoyed fishing. Once he took my brother, sister, and I on a family fishing trip he and his brothers put together. It was the first time my Daddy and Uncles had taken us kids on a trip and it was one I'll never forget. 

I followed behind Daddy as he set up the trot lone along the riverbank. To this day, I can't remember if they caught anything or not. 

I was too busy hanging out with my cousins. We were preteens on that trip and we didn't play foolish childhood games anymore. Instead, we cut up and listened to music on the radio. 

I remember that evening we had the radio blaring to "China Grove" when one of our other cousins began to scream in pain. He'd been hooked by his brother who'd thrown his fishing line out while standing too close on the riverbank. Instead of the hook flying into the water as it should have, it ripped into my cousin's flesh. Daddy came to his aid with a trusty pair of pliers. As he and my Uncle Donald were discussing the best way to remove the hook with the least amount of pain, Daddy's suggestion won out. They cut the barb off the hook and pushed it through my cousin's skin. 

It scared the rest of us to death and as we were all chided about the importance of having good distance between each other while casting, I know I was shaking in my shoes. I felt my cousin's pain as he screamed out and I didn't want to experience that again.

He loved to fish!

We all knew Daddy loved fishing and we had several other opportunities to witness him sitting by a riverbank on other trips we'd taken through the years. One of his favorites was to Lake Marvin, an old Girl Scout retreat, way up in North Georgia. 

My brother loved to fish, too, and they'd often spend time together talking about bream, crappie, or catfish. 

Daddy taught all of us to bait a hook, take the fish off the hook, and how to clean the fish. I didn't mind any of that, but I sure didn't like the taste of fish and don't eat it to this day. 

At our old house, Daddy had a folding table he'd set up in the back yard after coming in from a fishing trip. He'd line that table with newspapers and get out tools for cleaning the fish. 

He didn't have fancy stuff. He used a sharp kitchen knife to slit the fish down the belly, showing us how to remove the entrails. Then he'd cut off the head and take a spoon to descale the fish. I always hated when the scales would pop up and stick to my face as we were scaling together. He'd go so fast and I'd try to match his pace, but never learned to do it as quickly. 

After the fish were cleaned, he put them in a big bucket of water and rinse them a time or two before we cooked them on the grill or he'd take them inside for Mama to cook.

At my wedding

When the famous "Billy Bass" singing fish came out one year, we got one for Daddy. He loved that it was motion sensored and whenever someone would walk in front of it, it'd start to sing "Take me to the River." 

But as the years went by and Daddy's health declined, he no longer went fishing. Oh, he loved to talk about it and loved hearing other folks tell about their trips. He really enjoyed hearing details of my brother or my nephew's trips because they'd often kayak when they went fishing.

Daddy's old Ford

Daddy wasn't a man of many words. I think he thought long and hard about what he wanted to say before he said it. Sometimes he'd blow you away with things he said and sometimes, he'd say things to make himself smile at our reaction to what he'd said.

I wish I could talk to him one last time. If I could, I'd tell him I wasn't able to keep his asparagus growing in the garden or tend his blueberries because the property sold not long after Mama went into the nursing home. I think he'd be understanding, but I still feel bad I didn't get to keep that promise I made to him just before he passed away. 

Losing someone dear to you is hard. It's even harder when there's a special holiday each year that brings that person to mind. But I'm thankful for the time I had with my Daddy. I'm glad he didn't mind my being under his feet as he was working on things. I learned so much from him even when he didn't explain what he was doing. 

His quiet strength, his mischievous smile, and his fighting spirit are what I miss most. One day, I'll get to see him again and we'll catch up. Maybe he'll say, "What took you so long?" or "Did ya come to see me?" things he said often as we were growing up. And I'll smile as I do my best to hold back the tears.


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