It’s Dad’s Birthday

I walked down an aisle at the grocery last week and saw sesame sticks. Not far away were malted milk balls. They both made me think of Dad. We once went to a salad bar that had sesame sticks on it and Dad came home with pockets full. That was probably as far as he went into criminal activity but we always liked to remind him about those signs on salad bars that warn you not to take food home. If malted milk balls were found on salad bars, I am pretty sure he would’ve loaded up on them also.

Dad liked to talk about how Grandpa threw him into Paint Creek and told him to learn to swim. He didn’t do that to me but on my way home from getting my driver’s permit, he did park our old van halfway up Ross Hill Road and had me get behind the wheel to get it the rest of the way up. That van was a three speed on the column and driving it up that hill was not the same as driving it around the church parking lot. We rolled all the way down the hill backwards before I was able to get us moving forward. Dad just sat there.

Most of the time he was a bit more animated. One example includes the time he played the drunk in a church play.  He messed his hair, removed his teeth, and staggered back and forth up the center aisle clutching a brown bag, nearly falling down three or four times.

In some conversations he talked about sports celebrities as if he knew them. They certainly seemed to be on a first name basis. Hopalong Cassady was “Hop.” John Havlicek was “Hondo.” Ted Kluszewski was “Klu.” He also made it sound like he knew Bill Russell and Jerry Lucas. We were pretty sure he knew other celebrities as well. The way he talked about Roy Rogers and Wyatt Earp made it seem as if he had seen them just the other day.

During these days that hand washing has become part of regular conversation, I am reminded how Dad taught me to wash hands. He would lather up and then surround my hands with his and tell me to rub and rinse.

Sheltering in place would have just given him a reason to stay at home watching reruns of Leroy Jethro Gibbs (of course, Dad just called him “Gibbs”) on television and warning people not to break rule number nine. I don’t think he would have been too bothered by the coronavirus. I suspect he had always thought he would like to wear a mask into public places. He would probably role play as if he were Jesse James (I think he was on a first name basis with him also). Wearing a mask would just increase his urge to act as if he were holding up salad bars so he could stock up on sesame sticks and malted milk balls.

Happy Birthday Dad

I have always liked talking about Dad. Today is his birthday and I am reminded of a quote credited to Mark Twain “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” As much as I like that quote, I don’t ever remember thinking that about Dad. I suspect he was always smarter than me. 

I also remember the last time we ran a race. He won. Dad was a track fan. He could find ways to bring Jesse Owens into a conversation. He talked about Jim Ryan breaking the four-minute barrier, laughed at the way Dave Waddle ran races, loved Edwin Moses, and sometimes made a lightning bolt motion like Usain. Dad would have us do unorthodox exercises with our head and heels on chairs and upside-down pushups.

I remember him running around in center field at the Mead Park catching fly balls. I remember reading a clip from the paper telling of him having a three-home run game. One year when our local school had the number one basketball team in the state, we followed the action by compiling a book about the state tournament. Brackets starting in every sectional, then district, then regional, and then the state tournament. Our team lost in the semifinal, but Dad had made a commemorative book of the entire state tournament (including every individual score). It was Dad who brought home an almanac one year and showed me where to find the sports. On account of that I learned more baseball stats than anybody needs to know. I can remember the first time he took me to a baseball game, Johnny Edwards hit a home run and the Astros beat the Reds.

He once came in from mowing with a small garter snake. We put it in a jar. The next day he had constructed a small cage. We kept that snake through the summer. Suddenly, I was into snakes. I still am. Another day he came from out of the woods with a box turtle. He put him in the sand box. From that day on, the sand box became a box turtle habitat. We would collect them all summer and release them before the cold weather.

I remember when I started to enjoy reading, he told me about reading The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper. I still haven’t read that book. Dad would sometimes sing. He would sing songs like “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean or “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Sometimes he would make up his own songs, they didn’t always make sense (actually I am not sure any of them made any sense) but I would like to hear them again.

I have always liked talking about Dad. I still do.

It’s Time for a Western Revival

Dad always enjoyed westerns. That is probably the reason I like them so much. I recently watched The Sons of Katie Elder. I am pretty sure it was the first movie I ever watched start to finish. I remember a recess while in elementary school when kids were asking the question “what is your favorite movie?” We weren’t really movie people and I was not up on the trendy choices so I was surprised when everyone in my class was choosing Love Story or Go Ask Alice. (I still haven’t seen either of those). The only movie I had ever watched was The Sons of Katie Elder and I was shocked they had not heard of it. That is how it was in our house, Dad had convinced us that every house talked about John Wayne and practiced quick draw.

The last movie Dad and I watched together was Open Range. Good show, Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner are convincing cowboys. I was introduced to Robert Duvall as a cowboy in Lonesome Dove (with Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Glover, also convincing cowboys). I enjoyed it so much I can’t believe it was made for television. Duvall was so good I was convinced he really was Augustus McCrae.

Costner has done much to keep the Western Genre alive. As good has his intentions have been, it doesn’t always work as planned. He once made a movie about Wyatt Earp. It seemed like a certain win, putting Costner into an epic American western. Unfortunately, it was released at the same time as Tombstone. And Tombstone had a wild card. Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday was one of the best performances in a western or any movie – ever.

Anyway, I have been wondering, will the western continue? Is the future of the western a mix with sci-fi? Yes, that is an embarrassing thought but it has already happened. Who will continue the western on the big screen? Some movies give me hope. Gene Hackman and Sharon Stone were convincing in The Quick and the Dead. Jeff Bridges was excellent as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. Denzel Washington made me want to be Sam Chisolm in The Magnificent Seven. Christ Pratt has cowboy written all over him. I recently watched The Duel and hope that Liam Hemsworth stops all his other projects to become a full-time cowboy. And where in the world is Emilio Estevez? In Young Guns he was probably better at Billy the Kid than William H. Bonney ever was.

It is time for a western revival. Maybe I say that because I miss Dad or maybe I’m just tired of the stupid movies that I keep hearing about. Will someone please write something where Washington rides across the frontier righting wrongs with Pratt and Hemsworth as his wing men? Along the way I hope they cross paths with characters played by Sharon Stone and Emilio Estevez. Maybe it is time for a remake of The Sons of Katie Elder. I want to watch that.

A Fall Story

This is a Fall Story. I’ve always liked Fall, there are things I like to remember about it and things I look forward to. I like to watch the leaves change. I remember people always saying that leaf color peaked in the third week of October, but here we are and things are still green. I enjoy Fall for those mornings you can see your breath against the sky. I enjoy anything apple or pumpkin.

There are things about Fall that I have always loved and figure I have probably retired from. This is not an intentional retirement, but I haven’t done them in so long I suspect that I’ve retired. I’ve played a lot of Fall soccer, but not for some time now. It has been a long while since I’ve made a scarecrow or bobbed for apples or attended a costume party. I was never very good at that.

But, surprisingly, my Dad could pull off a costume. Dad was influenced by whoever influenced James Dean. He combed his dark hair straight back. I might also add that Dad had false teeth. Once when the church was in need of a drunkard for a play, Dad volunteered. He flipped the collar up on his jacket, pulled out his teeth, messed up his otherwise slicked back hair, and staggered up the aisle – he totally pulled it off. I think people were lining up afterwards to get his autograph.

Since it is Fall I am reminded of a Halloween costume party. At this particular party, there was an unrecognizable old man in a dark corner. He looked rough, he held a cane, he held it out if someone came near. He would sometimes yell and cause commotion. I stayed away, out of fear. When the party was over, the scary man stood up, combed his hair and put in his teeth. I had no idea that was Dad.

Each Fall there are things I look forward to. I like to overnight in the forest and Fall is the perfect time. The sounds, the smells, the way the fire feels against the cold, the way the star lit sky looks through the tree canopy. I like to carry my bow in the woods. I like to fit in one more fishing trip. And now that I have retired from some activities, I do things like clean out the gardens, clean out the bird boxes, clean the feeders. I used to run around on a soccer field, now I have become a maid for the local wildlife. I am seriously thinking about putting up an owl box. I am thinking about putting up a bat house.

But so far, I haven’t had a chance to do any of this. I have been busy writing a paper. 7500 words, for those counting at home that is 28 pages double spaced. Now that I think about it, I should have continued bobbing for apples and retired from writing papers.

This paper took over my life, at least it felt like it. A class I am part of was assigned a text and told to read it over and over. We were told to steep in it, like a tea bag steeps in water to make a delicious refreshing drink. It doesn’t happen instantly, it takes time. I took the request seriously and steeped and steeped for over two months. I read it in six different translations. I read it in a different language. I read it out loud. I moved to different rooms to read it. I read it upstairs and downstairs. I read it standing on my head (true story). I thought I might read it in a tree, at least in a hammock, but then I haven’t made it to the forest.

The text I’ve been reading is from the New Testament and includes apostles and widows and complainers and table servers and priests. I pretended to be all of them. I read as if I were auditioning for the part of apostle. I read as if I were auditioning for widow. I read as if I were auditioning for someone waiting on tables… you get the idea.

Did I mention this paper took over my life? Fortunately for me, I turned that thing in this week – all 7500 words. And the best news is, we are not yet halfway through Fall. I have time left to do some of those things I’ve been looking forward to…

September Fifteenth

Today is September fifteenth and I am reminded that we used to eat fried chicken gizzards on Sunday nights . Normally the house smelled like popcorn at night, but occasionally, on Sundays, it was about gizzards. Dad would fry them up. I was convinced they were a delicacy.

It is September fifteenth, this is Dad’s birthday. I am reminded of a day when he came home talking about Johnny Cash and a song he had heard on the radio. He was cracking himself up while talking about “A Boy Named Sue.” Dad loved Johnny Cash. Occasionally, without warning, he would say something like “Hello, my name is Johnny Cash.” He liked picking up a guitar and playing the only lick he knew, that part of Orange Blossom Special where the lyrics went “I don’t care if I do-die-do-die-do-die-do…”

It is Dad’s birthday and I am reminded how he liked to stuff the grandchildren into the mailbox so he could photograph them looking like they were just delivered by the U. S. Postal Service. He never stuffed me into a mailbox but he did once put me under the water and pull me out again in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Today is Dad’s eightieth birthday. I suspect if he were here he would probably be on the deck at Teaberry Lane with a cup of coffee and watching the birdfeeders. I suspect he would have his camera in his hand and a bb gun at his side. He would be taking pictures of anything that moved. If nothing was moving, I suspect he would have photographed his cup of coffee. He once took a picture of a plane flying overhead with his zoom lens and was very pleased that you could see the pilot. I suspect if things were real slow he would lay the bb gun across his lap and act as if he was keeping some outlaw off the property.

On his birthday he sometimes went for a bike ride just to say he did it. I suppose he would take credit for teaching me to ride a bike. He bought me a bike. I remember him being there while I was trying to ride. I remember his advice sounding something like “if you want to learn to ride a bike you have to get on it.”

He did teach me to bait a hook and cast it into the lake. I remember on one of those trips he was bloodied by a catfish. It prompted me to be very careful when removing a catfish from the hook. My earliest hunting memory included Dad shooting a squirrel and giving it to my uncle Gale who claimed he would make soup out of it. I remember days when he would throw a ball high into the air and tell me to catch it. I remember when we went out at night and threw a ball into the air just to watch the bats swoop at it. Dad was the kind of guy that would stop the car to pick up a turtle alongside the road. I am pretty sure I did not learn my letters at school but from Dad.

Dad would salt his tomatoes and salt his cantaloupe. I remember how excited he became when there was Maple Walnut or Butter Pecan ice cream in the house. Probably the reason I like Maple Walnut and Butter Pecan ice cream. Dad enjoyed making a breading for frying things. One day when talking about frying fish and green tomatoes and mushrooms and chicken gizzards, I remember telling him I was raised to think chicken gizzards were a delicacy. He assured me they were.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Happy Birthday

There has been an osprey hanging around at Wildwood Lake. It has attracted a lot of photographers. It’s the kind of thing Dad would have liked. Today is Dad’s birthday. We have often went out to eat to celebrate birthdays and we often would wind up at the Olive Garden for Dad’s. Dad would always order spaghetti and meatballs. I am not sure if we ever liked the Olive garden or if we liked hearing Dad order his food. Spaghetti please, sauce on the side. Meatballs, also on the side. Soup or salad? Salad please, dressing on the side. Sometimes we would add. Garlic bread please, garlic on the side.

I will miss this. I will miss the way he would record conversations and play them back for people later. (True story, if you have spent time with Dad, there may be a recording of you lying around somewhere). I will miss the story about slicing fresh pineapples in the field with his knife while stationed in Hawaii. (This is actually a story protesting the taste of canned pineapple). I will miss him thumping his chest and saying “170 lbs., same as when I got out of the Marine Corp.” (A story we have not heard him tell in recent years). I will miss the story about lassoing a groundhog. (I am still not sure this is a true story). I will miss the way he tried to act like he didn’t want us to tell how he lost his teeth while swimming in Dominica. (This is a true story).

I think I might stop by Wildwood Lake today and look for the osprey. And then I might just go out to eat spaghetti. Maybe I should order my sauce on the side.

A Life Changing Event

Our family would like to thank so many people for kind words and kind gestures. We especially want to thank you for loving Mom and Dad.

Every once in a while we hear of or experience a life changing event. At the risk of understatement, the death of my Dad is one of those. Who knows what to say at times like these? I surely do not. If I were asked about the chance of this happening at this time I would have guessed somewhere around zero percent.  In my eyes, Dad was one of the strongest people I could even imagine. I am pretty sure my siblings thought the same thing. For much of my life I thought he could do nearly anything. It is not that we thought Dad was a super hero. Though he did successfully convince one of our cousins that he was superman. Maybe he could not leap tall buildings in a single bound but he did have skills. There is a story about a boy who could walk on his hands and used those skills to attract the attention of a girl in sixth grade. That boy was Dad and that girl is my Mom.

The stories will live on. The fact is we love telling stories about Dad but they will never be the same without him sitting there adding to them or trying to deny them. To be honest, I have no idea what life will be like without him being a part of it. Have I mentioned that this was a life changing event?

Dad taught us things like bike riding and fishing and fielding a fly ball. Dad taught us how to sharpen a knife and appreciate the outdoors and to drive a car. My sister Jennifer wanted to make sure that I highlighted the role he had in teaching us how to love.

That love was evident in his role as Grandpa.  With some irony, on the day of Dad’s funeral, I became a Grandpa. If I am able to even utilize some of his Grandpa skills, I will be successful.

Later in life Dad became a gardener and a bird watcher and a photographer and a traveler to Florida. He loved living near the black bears that played in his yard in PA and the alligators that lived near the house in FLA. And there are plenty of photos to prove his love of both. Dad became an inventor of sorts as evidenced by a contraption we used to pick tangerines from high in the trees last spring and another that he used to hang bird feeders in unlikely places.

We love telling stories about Dad, whether true or not. We can tell stories about him shooting at squirrels in the bird feeders and at mice in our living room. We can tell stories about Dad with gun and holster practicing his quick draw.

His death may be a life changing event. But only because his life had such a significant influence on us. It is largely because of Dad’s influence that we know that God is interested in these stories and memories and the way they make us feel now. There is a room at the house where Dad sat and scribbled notes as he read and watched out the window. His most recent notes include references to the scene in the Gospel of John chapter eleven. For anyone not familiar with what is said there, John chapter eleven includes a scene where Jesus shows up at a funeral. A reminder that God does not shy away from times of darkness or even death. There is some comfort in that, knowing that God is interested in those of us who mourn. Yet this scene is not about comfort. In this scene, God looks death in the eye and begins to talk about resurrection and life. That is exactly what Dad would want us to do today.

Me, Dad, and Lucius Clay

Last month I was traveling in the south. I ate at Bojangles and drank Incredible Iced Tea. I listened to Charlie Daniels Band. The Legend of Wooly Swamp is still stuck in my head.  If you have heard that song then you already know “you better not go at night.” You already know “There’s things out there in the middle of them woods, That make a strong man die from fright. Things that crawl and things that fly and things that creep around on the ground.” And you already know “they say the ghost of Lucius Clay gets up and he walks around.”

I was traveling to Florida to visit with Mom and Dad. My picture of Florida has always included touristy spots and beaches. But my picture is changing. Here Dad likes to photograph ospreys and bald eagles. I am surprised by the amount of farmland there. And I really enjoy the forests. I have discovered barred owls and wild turkeys. The locals keep telling me to be aware of panthers.

These forests contain wetlands and swamps. And these wetlands contain alligators. And Dad and I stalk them. I find it interesting they gather in groups called congregations. Sometimes when searching for alligators we run into Dad’s friend Hal. Hal stalks birds. Hal is knowledgeable; talking with him is like consulting a field guide. He has special equipment and the skills necessary to capture great photographs. He is into things like detail, light, and color. Once he photographs birds he creates wood carvings.

One evening while talking with Hal, the sun set quickly and we were caught in the dark. We headed back around the wetland and through the forest. In my mind I was hearing Charlie warn us about being here at night. I could hear the warning about the things in these woods and the things they can do to even those of us who are strong. We could not see what was flying and creeping around out here. And we were unsure of the whereabouts of one Lucius Clay. I can’t help but notice the night sounds in the Florida forest are not the same sounds I am used to. I suppose some fear those sounds. I suppose some fear the alligators. I suppose some fear the panther. While I can’t speak for Dad, I was keeping an eye out for Lucius.