Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Daddy

My father, had he lived, would be one hundred years old today. The picture shows his parents and siblings around 1920. Daddy is the little boy behind his beloved Mama. There would be two more children born into the family.
I was born when Daddy was forty-one. My brother Charlie was twenty-one and my sister Pat was fifteen then. Eighteen months later, my little brother Kip was born.
For all of my childhood, Daddy was a salesman. It was a difficult profession; we never knew how much money there'd be. My mother sold Tupperware to make ends meet.
At one time there had been more money, so in the small houses we lived in were the remnants of a more affluent time. Barely fitting into the tiny dining room was a fine mahogany veneer dining room set; the china cabinet held Haviland china and very good silver plate. There were hundreds of books on the shelves my father mounted on the living room wall. We clung to the bottom rung of the middle class with fierce tenacity. We always had food, and though my dresses were often made by my mother, whose sewing talent was questionable, we had nice enough clothes.
Daddy could fix anything. I suspect he could do so because we could not afford professionals, but I think also because he enjoyed working with his hands and his brain at the same time. He once made a screened in porch into an extra room and built an enclosure around my twin bed that had a closet on each end. He repaired our cars and I remember glowing from a compliment he gave me when I hung over the engine of one and figured out how something worked.
He was to be found on Sunday evenings with a kid on each side of him as he read us the funnies. He'd tuck us into bed and "tickle" our backs as he sang us to sleep in his pleasantly deep voice. He sang "Billy Boy" and a wonderfully funny song called "A Clubfooted Rat":
"A clubfooted rat
Fell offa da house,
He didn't fall very high.
He fell right smack
On the backa he neck,
An' jam he tail in he eye."
He took us out into the back yard and spread a blanket on the grass and watched for shooting stars with us. The magic of this stays with me still. Searching the night sky sprinkled with stars, we oohed when one seemed to break free and streak across the heavens. Now whenever I am fortunate enough to see a shooting star, I always say, "Thanks, Daddy."
One thing he let us do would have gotten him in trouble were the child-safety police watching then. We had an old red Rambler station wagon, the kind with a luggage rack on the roof and a tailgate that let down flat. Daddy'd let it down and Kip and I would hop on, grab the luggage rack, and play fireman, going "Rrrrrr, rrrrr!" as Daddy drove five miles an hour through the neighborhood.
He'd let us play with his thick, curly hair - you can see it in the picture - and we'd pretend to cut it and style it.
He bought us skates and took us to skate the sidewalks of the Roebuck Shopping Center on Sunday afternoons when all the stores were closed.
He took us to Sunday school, and if my mother stayed home, we'd skip church and go to the Rexall Drug Store soda fountain and get the same thing each time - a vanilla Coke for me and a cherry Coke for Kip.
He let us ride on his legs in the local swimming pool as he hopped backwards - we pretended to ski.
He took us to East Lake Park and pushed us on the swings, running under the swing to get us up really high.
He told really corny jokes. We called him "King Corn".
My father lived long enough to see us become adults. He died at sixty-six, way too soon, of heart disease. I wish my children could have known him. I found out I was pregnant with my first son on Daddy's birthday in 1978 - but Daddy had passed away on Valentine's Day the month before. My first son looks startlingly like his grandfather around the mouth, especially, and both my boys have Daddy's thick, curly hair.
Rest well, Daddy. You did the best you could.
And could you send me a shooting star soon, please?