Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Today is Daddy’s birthday. He was born 100 years ago—March 15, 1912.

Ready for work

             I think the earliest memory I have of my Daddy was playing with him in the middle of the floor when I was just a child. My brother, Ray, and I crawled all over him--holding him down so he couldn't get up. I remember listening to him play his harmoni­ca. He made it sound like the lonely whistle of a train as it chugged down the tracks. He also made it sound like a little child call­ing its mama. He played songs for hours—always ending with “You Are My Sunshine” for me. This was long before television--when part of the nightly enter­tainment was playing with his chil­dren before their bedtime.

            Daddy was a big man in my eyes. I always felt safe and secure when he was around. I remember snuggling up next to him on the couch, as he talked to a friend or a family member. I remember the vibration I felt when he spoke, the sound of his heart, and the warm feeling of his big hand softly holding me close. I remember falling asleep in his lap and waking up the next morning in my bed.

            I cannot remember Daddy ever spanking me, but I can certainly remember being scolded. He had a gentle manner even though he was very abrupt and gruff. When I misbehaved, he looked at me with sad­ness in his eyes and say, "Your old daddy is really disappointed in you." That took more out of me than any spanking he could have ever ad­minis­tered. Its effect hurt me more. Once Mom was really upset with me over something (I can't remember what), and she told Daddy to spank me. He took me to the bathroom, closed the door, and took off his belt. However, instead of hitting me, he hit the sink and told me to yell loudly. Then he said, “Mind your Mama.” 

            My Daddy worked for the railroad. At one time, we lived in a little rail­road town named Americus, Georg­ia. This was the only place we ever lived other than Savan­nah. When the trains came in, each engineer had his own whistle signal to alert his family he was home. Wherever we were, Mother gathered us up and hurried us home to see Daddy. Ray and I sometimes ran across a big field to greet and walk home with him.  During those years, we often visited my grandpar­ents in Savannah. Once when we were riding the train home from one of those visits, I pulled a tooth. I could hardly wait to get home and put the tooth under my pillow so the Tooth Fairy would leave a surprise. The next morn­ing I wasn't feeling too well so Mom tried to cheer me up by reminding me of the tooth. She picked up the pillow to fluff it and more money than I had seen in all my life fell out of my pillow. She could not convince me that the money was Daddy's pay­check that he had hidden in the house knowing she would find it when she made up the bed. Daddy confirmed what my mom had told me was right when he returned. I was very rich for a very short time! 

Raymond on the river

            My Daddy loved to fish. While still living in Americus, he took us fishing. Mother and Ray were in one boat and Daddy and I were in another boat. (Daddy never liked more than two people in a boat.) Of course Ray would deny it, but I think he was a little bit of a bully. That day he was laughing at me be­cause he was catching fish and I wasn't. Finally, Daddy quietly took my line and pretended to be baiting my hook, but in real­ity he was putting a fish on it. He silently dropped it over the side of the boat and said, "Wait a minute--then pull it in." I pulled that poor fish in so many times that afternoon that it drowned. The good part was Ray wasn't laughing anymore. If fact, he wasn't a very happy camper because I was now catching more than he was catching. All went well, until we were loading the car and Mom asked, "Where are all the fish you two caught?" It didn't take her long to figure out the truth. Need­less to say, she was not too happy with the two of us.

            I remember Daddy swimming under the surface of the water in the Americus swimming pool with me sitting on his back. I remember lying on the ground beside him making pictures out of the shapes of the clouds. I remember him bringing home a large box of Double-Bubble bubble gum one week and throwing it away the next because he heard it caused a child to have polio. I re­member him teaching me to read the newspaper by getting me inter­ested in the little fillers that were printed between the arti­cles--unusu­al facts about many things. I remember how he would aggravate us all by buying things he wanted just a few days before Christmas, Fathers' Day or his birth­day.

            I have been handicapped all my life, but I can still feel the pride and love my Daddy had for me. He always made me feel special and beautiful. Daddy never let me use my handicap as of excuse. He always told me, “You can accom­plish anything you set your heart to do. You just have to want to do it bad enough.”

            One afternoon, Ray and I were arguing over comic books. Daddy was sitting in a chair nearby reading the paper. We did not realize he was listening to us fuss. All of a sud­den he put the paper down and said "Go get two grocery bags from the kitchen and put your books in them. Then go get in the car." We quickly did what we were told. (It never crossed our minds not to do what Daddy told us to do or question it in anyway.) It seemed as though we rode for hours. We sat next to each other on the back seat, neither being brave enough to utter a single word. We ended the journey at Bethesda Home for Boys. Final­ly, he stopped the car and turned to face the two of us. "You see all those boys out there," he said. "Well, I want you to get out of the car and take your bags and give each of them one of your books." Reluctantly we followed his in­structions. When we fin­ished we sadly returned to the car. He said, "You know, I bet those kids won’t argue tonight about which book is whose. I bet they will share and read all of them." Never--and I do mean never--did Ray and I argue over anything again in his presence. I have wondered through the years if those children at Bethesda really believed us to be generous, or did they know the truth--that we were being pun­ished.

            My Daddy was known for his snoring. His job as a freight train engineer required him to be away from home for days at a time. When he was on the road, many of the railroad men refused to stay in the same boarding house with him. He did snore loudly, but I had grown up hearing it rum­ble through the house. To me it was a good sound because it told me that my Daddy was home and I was safe. 

            I remember Mom bought two little turtles for Ray and me. They had American flags painted on their shells. Daddy came home from work, saw the American flags, and that was the last we saw of the turtles. It was during World War II and he was very patriotic. “Not right for flags to be painted on turtles,” he told us.

            I remember when I was a teenager; my friends and I would go to the Triple X (a favorite hangout in Savannah). One night on his way to work he spotted us driving down Victory Drive and motioned for us to pull over. Can you imag­ine how I felt when he came to the car and asked, "Baby, can you let your old Daddy have a few dollars 'til payday?" He didn’t need money; he was just teasing me in front of my friends. He was a char­acter; you never knew what to expect next. 

            I remember him telling me not to fish in a certain spot because the line would tangle in the oyster shells. And I remember sitting there when I did tangle it, wishing he would leave and go to the house. He asked if I still had bait on the hook and I would tell him, “Yes sir, I can feel a nibble every now and then.” Several hours later, he finally gathered his things, turned and asked, “Do you want me to untangle your line before I go?” We never outsmarted him!

            I remember driving him to work so we could use his car. We had to give him time to reach the top of a tower where he watched as the car left the rail yard. He knew if we didn't stop at every track crossing the road. If the car didn't make a complete stop at each rail crossing, a phone call was made to Mom, telling her we could not use the car until he came home.

            I remember leav­ing for the church on my wedding day and praying that he would show up. He was fussing about wearing a "girdle" (cummerbund) and said he didn't know if he was going to wear it or not. However, he was there--girdle and all.

            I remember when I told him I was having a baby. It was his first grandchild. He was so happy. Daddy knitted shrimp nets in his spare time. He brought one to my hospital room when Karen was born. He stayed there with me most of that day and knitted on the net.

            I remember the nick­names he had for everyone. Mine was "Worm." If he didn't have a nickname for you, you could be sure he didn't think too much of you. After my divorce, my Mom and Daddy opened their home to my two children and me. He was always there for them as he was for me. He called Karen "Hippie" because of her long hair and Dale "Boy."

            I remember he never allowed us to use the word "stupid." He would have disowned you if you didn't take two full gas tanks, fresh water, and a jacket if you went out in the boat. He didn't like it if you answered a question with "I guess so." He liked to eat and he liked to cook. Once my friend phoned and Daddy got stuck on the phone because I wasn't home. Since he wanted her to hang-up he said, "I really have to hang up. You see I am cooking fried bananas for the kids. They just love them cooked that way, especially when I put choco­late on them." I didn't know what my friend was talking about later when she asked for Daddy's recipe for fried bananas. Daddy did not have a recipe for fried bananas be­cause he never fried bananas. 
            I remember the day he died--March 29, 1980. It was sad. I knew I would miss him. There were many times when my Daddy made me mad. I sometimes thought he was too hard on Dale. Daddy was quick to anger and say what he felt. But he was a good man. I remember my children sitting on the floor outside his bed­room one night lis­tening to him pray. He was praying for his fami­ly, the world and the Iranian hostages. He died before they were freed. I thought of him when I heard the news that they were coming home. As the years pass, it’s hard to remember the things that upset me about my Daddy, but it is easy to remem­ber his love. 

            It was only after Daddy died that I heard how he took fish and shrimp to the older people on the island. How he took donuts to the Fire Station and sat, drank coffee and ate donuts with them. The Lutheran minister, Pastor Stukey (Daddy called him "Soupy"), told us that Daddy regularly gave him money to help a family on the island that was going through hard times. 

            I remember his funeral. We left Fox and Weeks on Drayton Street. As we turned down Anderson Street toward the cemetery, I looked back. As far as you could see down Abercorn Street were cars with headlights shining. I couldn't help but smile. It was just like one of Daddy's long freight trains and he was leading the way. He was always good to his family. We never lacked for anything that we needed. He had many friends. He was a very rich man in the things that matter.

            It amazes me to this day, how both my brother, Ray, and sister, Nancy, really believe they were his favorite child. This seems so ridicu­lous to me because I know I WAS HIS FAVORITE and no one can convince me otherwise.

            Happy birthday, Daddy. I love and miss you so much.