Monday, February 16, 2009

Heads or Tails - "Legends" Volume 2 - 2/17/09

This is part 2 of my submission to the Heads or Tails prompt of Legends. This is a hodgepodge of recollections about my dad on the 20th anniversary of his death. If you scroll down you will find part 1.

When I played baseball, mom wouldn’t come see me play because she was afraid I would get hurt (I did get my jaw broken by a pitch when I was 10). Dad would not attend because he felt he jinxed me as I usually didn’t play well when he was present. Perhaps I tried too hard to impress him. But sometimes I would catch a glimpse of him through the fence or up in the far corner of the bleachers, quietly watching.

He started in 1949 as an underground miner at the Bunker Hill mine. Through his hard work and thirst for knowledge, he worked his way topside to the assay office. At his retirement ceremony, the company president in tribute said, “it’s a good thing George has no formal education or he would have my job.” All the engineers and geologists that worked with him and for him were astonished. They all assumed he was a geologist.

His first time going underground was one of my favorite recounts. He brought his lunch in a paper bag, not wanting to spend any of his precious little money on a lunchbox. The entry to the mine is a train that goes in for a couple of miles and then there is a inclined shaft that takes the miners down to the different working levels of the mine. The men sit in what is called a skip. The men essentially sit in one other's laps, wedged up against the man behind you. It drops at about a 45 degree angle. Having worked in that mine, I can easily picture the scene. The skip drops very fast and timbers fly by just over your head. Dad said he smashed his lunch flat and actually wrung it in his hands. That day, on his way home from work, he bought a lunchbox.

For most of my youth, mom worked as a baker and went to work very early. As a result, she typically would retire early. Those evenings were my favorite times with my dad. We would typically have a late night snack. Often, much more than a snack. He loved to oven broil a rib steak. He liked his “just knock the horns off and slap it on a plate,” though he would let it cook a bit longer for me. We always ate our steaks with sliced “maters” and “light” bread. Sometimes we would eat Eagle Brand Milk spooned right from the can. Mom always scolded us for that, but it didn’t stop us. We loved Vienna sausages, though he pronounced them vi-eee-nahs. We made what he called poor man’s milkshake which was ice, evaporated milk, sugar, and vanilla extract shaken up in a mason jar. Sometimes he would fry bologna. He taught me the art of dunking my cookies in milk, which I have passed on. He loved to hand-churn ice cream. It was amazing ice cream, but an awful lot of work. It was not official until he recited: "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream."

As you can see, my healthy eating habits began early in life. Dad was a small, but powerful, man, 5'8", never more than 160 pounds. He could eat anything he wanted and stay fit. I, on the other hand....

I regret that dad and I never shared a beer.

Dad never played sports as a youth. Such things were considered frivolous on a depression era tobacco farm. As a result, by the age of 12, I threw too hard for him to catch me. After he endured a few bruises and damaged fingers, he drew a strike zone on the cinder block wall of our garage for me to pitch to. I threw at that target for years. He would go to the park and shoot baskets with me but he shot underhand, which kind of embarrassed me. I was a jerk. I would give anything to shoot with him now.

He was an expert swimmer and the master of the shallow dive. He could dive into 3 feet of water. He claimed, he learned that as a boy swimming in the swamps of Georgia and diving off of cyprus trees. I have no reason to doubt that. He once dove into the North Fork to save our dog, Trixie, who was being swept downstream. He nearly drowned, but he got her out. We had her for 17 years. She was supposed to be my dog, but we all knew who's dog she was. He loved that dog. She always shared in our late-night kitchen raids.

He bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias when I was about 10. Through the years, he and I both read the entire set. Every year we would receive a yearbook update. We both loved reading those too. The set came with a CYCLO-TEACHER-LEARNING-AID that we played like a board game. I credit (or blame) that practice with the ridiculous amount of useless knowledge that I have bouncing around in my head to this day. Mom thought we were out of our minds. She loved reading the TV Guide, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle.

Dad and I would go bowling occasionally. It was a special treat for me. It became almost traditional for us to go on holidays, after dinner. My dad was not a very good bowler, but he really enjoyed it. There was one particular house ball that he liked to use. It did not fit him very well, holes were way too big, but he had some success with it. I will never forget. It had the initials WLC engraved on it. That was how we could always find it. He also took up golf and we played together a few times. He held the club cross handed, the same way he held a bat. I tried to get him to change, but he did better that way, so I left him alone.

Dad and I would watch the Miss America Pageant every September. We didn't just view it, we judged it. With pen and paper, we would try to pick the top 5 and the eventual winner. We didn't fare too well, as I knew nothing about women (nothing has changed there) and he nearly always favored Miss Georgia, his home state (whose one and only winner was in 1953). We could never pick Miss Idaho, because she always looked like she was there by some sort of hung chad voting mistake. We always wondered why they could not find one pretty girl in the whole state. Even inbred states like West Virginia occasionally were represented by a pretty girl. Though they did not always win, every year, Miss Texas and California were knockouts. Even a young boy who knew nothing about women realized that. Bert Parks was the MC for years. I don't think he ever did anything else, at least nothing he was famous for.

Every Friday night they broadcast boxing on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. He never missed it and I watched it with him. I will never forget seeing a man killed in the ring on live television. His name was Benny “the kid” Paret and he was killed by Emile Griffith. We also watched wrestling together (I am not sure he knew it was fake. I sure didn’t.) and the baseball game of the week. His favorite television shows were anything with Jackie Gleason, Dean Martin, or Red Skelton.

One day, in the early 60s, the FBI came to our house. They were there to interview my dad because he was an acquaintance of a man named Leon Bearden. He and his son were the first to ever attempt to hijack an airliner to Cuba. Dad kind of enjoyed the excitement this event brought into his fairly routine life. The hijackers had failed in the attempt, but it was still pretty big stuff. You can actually read about it here.,9171,895543-1,00.html Dad recalled for the FBI, that Bearden had always openly carried a lot of weapons and was volatile, but neither was uncommon in the rough mining town we lived in. He knew a lot of guys like that.

Dad was an amazing fisherman. He took me fishing a gazillion times. He had a real knack for catching fish. He could be using the same bait, from the same boat, fishing the same depth and he would catch fish when no one else could. I have many wonderful memories of us fishing and one, vivid, bad memory. We were miles up a tributary of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and had caught a “mess” of trout. It was getting dark, so we put our gear and catch in the trunk of the car and I, inadvertently also put the keys to the car in with them. We had to walk miles until we could catch a ride home to get the other set of keys. It gets extremely cold in the mountains at night, even in the summer. Our jackets were with the keys. Dad wrapped his flannel shirt around me and he got so cold that he ended up getting ill. I mentioned earlier that dad was a quiet man. He didn’t yell at me. He knew how bad I felt and didn’t feel he needed to add to it. But there was not much conversation on the trip down the mountain.

Dad was also a great hunter. When I was growing up, practically the only meat we ate was wild game. Dad rented a meat locker above the Coast to Coast store and kept it filled. We had deer, elk, and bear. Elk steak is still my favorite of all meats. Not much of that available in South Carolina. Dad did not want me to hunt. “Too many crazy people shooting at anything they hear.” I think my mom had a lot to do with that decision. As a result, I have never been a hunter.

When we lived out in the country, at Rose Lake, a black bear was raiding our garbage can every night. One night, dad decided to sleep in the car with his rifle and when the bear started to rattle the can, he would shoot it. Sure enough, he was awakened by a racket. He rolled the window down a bit and stuck the barrel of the rifle out toward the sound. About then, one of the neighbor’s big dogs put his snout to the window, right in my dad’s face. Dad said he fired, but not the gun. He immediately went back in the house and forgot about the bear.

One of the best examples of dad’s demeanor is a bad prank I played on him. I turned the flame of his lighter to maximum. When he lit his cigarette, the flame actually burnt the end of his nose. His reaction: “won’t last a week that way, son.”

When I was a teenager I didn't think my dad was very cool. I have come to realize he was very cool. I really miss him.


Anonymous said...

I've never heard any of these stories. This is great. Thank you for posting these. A lot of these stories bring a tear to my eye. Love you Carly

Skittles said...

I think I started crying when you said you'd catch sight of him in the far corner of the bleachers watching you play baseball.. kept right on through the last word.

So many wonderful memories. I lost my dad when I was ten.. 42 years ago. A day doesn't go by that I don't think of him.

You said you regret that you never shared a beer with him. I bet somewhere up there he has a beer in his hand, toasting you.

Like I said my dad passed away when I was ten. (He was 36.) My mom later married a man who became the only grandpa my kids ever knew. He passed away about seven years ago. This song makes me think of him.. and somehow.. my dad.

Grab some tissues if you decide to watch it..

Redheels said...

What a lucky man you are to have a father like you had! So many people have fathers that didn't have time for them. I know many who were too afraid of their fathers to even talk to them.
You said your family was poor, can you imagine the things you and your dad would have done together if money had been available?
I loved reading your stories. The pics are great also. You have some precious memories.
I especially loved the last story....what a great dad. :)

Shadow said...

your father, your legend, how perfect it that!

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget the lighter incident. To this day when I see a lighter flare up like that one did, his words immediately jump to mind. It makes me laugh every time. I loved his smile and his laugh, and I can remember the kids crammed up against the closed bedroom door, listening to him sing and play the guitar. His fudge was to die for (also made with Eagle brand milk). And his ending to Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, about how Goldilocks "jumped out the window and ran to KMart" would send the kids into fits of laughter, no matter how many times he told it. He was a wonderful man!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful dad you were blessed with. I was too so I know how deeply these memories touch you! Thanks for a beautiful post!!

Skittles said...

Me again. I came back to read this post to my husband. He was moved by it also.

Michelle said...

What a great tribute to your dad... I loved reading this! Kicking myself for putting if off for facebook when I got home from work today! What a great Dad you had! I love it that you read encyclopedias together. You are officially the 2nd person (actually 3rd - let's count your dad!) that I know who has actually READ encyclopedias rather than using them as the reference tool they are meant to be! I'm sure you've got plenty-o-info in that ol' noggin of yours!
My favorite quote of this entire post, "He didn’t yell at me. He knew how bad I felt and didn’t feel he needed to add to it. But there was not much conversation on the trip down the mountain." I agree with your dad, when a kid is already kicking himself why add to it?
Thanks for sharing!

Shyam said...

The bear story (and the lighter one) made me giggle :)

Your dad sounds like a really nice guy.

colbertfan said...

I am blessed in that I always thought my Dad was great, though my Mom, not so much. I do have a greater appreciation for the choices they made and the sacrifices they made as I get older. It's amazing how smart your parents get when you get older! I only hope that starts with my own kids soon...
Beautiful post about your Dad. made me tear up!

Rena said...

Thanks for sharing all these stories about your dad. He was a good man.

Orionsbow said...

I have always loved reading everything you have written but I must say, these recollections of your Dad are among my absolute favorites. As perhaps many our age will agree, our fathers were very much alike, as were our wonderful experiences with them. They have been called the greatest generation and not just for their courage and commitment to the protection of this nation in times of conflict. Our fathers were much different from the fathers of today. The times dictated a more rugged, self sufficient, resourceful individual. They did whatever they had to do to provide what was needed. I have always striven to be that kind of man, strong and self reliant, like my father, and, regrettably, fallen short more than a few times. But no matter the eventual result, I have never forgotten those lessons learned from men like our fathers. We were very lucky to have known them.

linda may said...

G'Day, I enjoyed your writings about "Dad". You have his eyes :)