Sunday, June 21, 2015

Memories of Dad

Like so many others, my memories of Dad are at the forefront this weekend. He has been gone since ’77 but I still feel his presence in my life each and every day.

Left: Our Family in 1953, clockwise from top left: Mon, Dad, me, Gale and Gene. Paul would be born a few years later. Note the matching cowboy shirts on Gene and me. One of my earliest memories of Dad was sitting on the couch with him on Sunday mornings after church as he read the comics to us. I was on one side of him and my brother on the other side so we could see the pages as he read the captions to us. I’m sure that Dad would have enjoyed reading the paper more without having to read aloud to us, but he never missed the opportunity to share that time with my brother and me. Mom would be in the kitchen making Sunday dinner and soon we would all be in our assigned chairs at the dining room table enjoying lunch. About the time that we started school, a local DJ, Tommy Tucker, began reading the comics on Sunday mornings on WMBR, but even then, Dad would take the time to read to us. Tommy would fill in during those rare occasions when Dad couldn’t.

My earliest memories of Dad’s work were when he was an accountant at Standard Oil of Ohio, working at their regional office near the St. John’s River. Most of the time, he would drive to the office but on occasions when Mom needed the family car during the work day, she would drive him there with the back seat of the car filled with us kids. I will never forget that office building which was replicated in cities all over the south where Standard Oil had a presence. That same design was used in their building here in Columbia which, like the other building, was located near the river. During the late 90s, I worked in that building here in the office that was next to the one that my dad occupied in the building in Jacksonville. My boss occupied the duplicate of Dad’s office.

Dad has a very strong work ethic and an even stronger commitment to family. Each and every weekend, there was some sort of project that required the assistance of my brother and me. He had a full set of tools hanging over a workbench on the wall of our garage. Even after suffering his first heart attack at the young age of 46, we were out there working, with my brother and I handing him tools and holding things down as he worked. As he aged and his ability to do work diminished and the roles reversed, all but the one of project leader. He ran the job even if we did the work.

A couple of years before that heart attack, Dad left Standard Oil to work for Prudential Life and then Metropolitan Life as an insurance salesman. Back in those days, the city was divided into sections called Debits much like newspapers divide a town into paper routes today. The clients were paying their premiums on a monthly basis in cash, so Dad spent the late afternoon and evenings going through the streets of the Debit collecting the payments door to door. During those years, we wouldn’t see Dad until seven or so in the evening, making for some late dinners, but that was all right, we usually had our homework finished by then. If not, he made sure that we completed it before joining the family in the evening for an hour or two of television and then off to bed.

To say my Dad had integrity was an understatement. He believed in providing for his family and worked long hours so that he and Mom could afford to send all of us to Parochial School. And yet, he never complained about paying taxes to support the public school system. This is a great example of his commitment to community. Through church groups, he was often involved in some community project. I have a snippet of a memory of us meeting a group of men for breakfast of eggs and sausage before getting into a large truck and driving out to a lumber yard paved in shingle strips to pick up a load of wood and carrying it to a construction site. I learned how to “toe in” a wooden wall stud that day.

As results driven and Mom and Dad were, they also recognized the need for relaxation time. Sunday afternoons, we would all pile into the car, in my earliest memories, it was a black Ford Model A. No, I’m not quite that old, this was from the second production run of Model A’s (1928–1931). Back in those days we tended to drive our cars until the wheels fell off. Those Sunday afternoons we would head out to the lake or to the beach for an afternoon in the sun. That old Ford didn’t have a radio but that was not a problem; Dad was an old school whistler. So, many a drive was accompanied by the sound of “Cool Water” or “The Midnight Gambler” accompanied to the “thump thump” of the tires rolling over the expansion joints of the concrete pavement on Atlantic Boulevard or Beach Boulevard. On rainy days, the windshield wiper mounted at the top center of the windshield added a “dee daw” counterpart to the melody.

Dad has been gone for nearly 40 years; we lost him at the relatively young age of 67 on a cold January day. He had been in failing health for a number of years and the toll of not being able to do any physical work was as hard on him as the cardiac condition itself. He tried to hide it, but it seeped out around the edges in some of the things he said in his last few years. I believe that he had his priorities right; God, Family, Country and then finally Self. Thank you Dad for showing me how to live life! Oh MY!

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