Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Six Years Ago Today

I grew up with a father who was impressive.  I grew up watching other adults treat him with respect and admiration.

He grew up in a very rural area on a road that had just a few years earlier been a cow path.  He was born in his parent's house and had three sisters and two brothers.  When he graduated high school he decided he wanted to go to college, and he got a job and joined the ROTC and made it happen.  He was the first in the family to go to college, and the last for decades.  Actually, counting immediate family… until me.

The nearest university was Virginia Polytechnic Institute, which was two mountains away and might as well have been on the moon.  He went to the only car dealership around and talked the salesman into giving him a car to go to college.  He promised he'd pay for it as he could, and he did pay it off.  He was then the first person on that mountain road to own a car.

From what I understand, he was kind of a terror zooming around in his car, but then again it may have just been the fact that there was an unfamiliar loud machine roaring around and scaring everyone's horses and mules.

He graduated college and joined the army and married my mother and they went around the country on Army bases.  During World War II he worked for the Adjutant General's office in Texas, and he told me once that he would sometimes go over the border into Mexico to find the men coming back from the war, who would be drunk in bars and in danger of missing their discharge processes. 

He and mom had a son and a daughter, and he left the military and went to work in a department store.  If it's true that people sometimes get stuck in one particular style, that 50's era was my dad's: he wore suits and ties and hats his whole life.  He eventually opened up his own ladies clothing stores, and went on buying trips to New York. 

He and mom had me in 1966, and decided, after spending their whole adult lives living in various cities around the country, to move back to that little road in the country.  The house he was born in had been torn down, and he bought land and built a little brick ranch house right next to where it had been.  One of his sisters lived next door, another lived down the street, and another lived a few miles away on a different mountain.  One brother lived nearby, and the other had died young in a coal mine.

By this time everyone had cars, but dad was (as far as I know) the only one who had moved away.  A lot of them had barely been off the mountain.  Dad would often drive people who needed to go into the city (Roanoke, more than an hour away) and weren't comfortable driving themselves.  What must that have been like for him, coming back after so many years?

He became a broker, and worked with companies setting up retirement plans and stock portfolios for their employees. He knew he would be retiring and wanted to have a job that would continue to provide income.  Despite the drastic career change, he was very good at it.  We shared an office in the house, filled with legal pads and giant leather books of tax codes and copies of the Wall Street Journal; he would use it during the day and I'd do my homework in it at night.

He was social and loved to be around people. Even when he was in his 90s and had lost a lot of his hearing and eyesight, you would never have known it; at his 92 birthday party he made the rounds, laughing with the adults and the children alike.  He was unfailingly kind, always turning the other cheek and looking for the good in people.  He didn't like music. (Who doesn't like music?)  He read all the time, financial newspapers and magazines and Bible studies and Western novels.  He had many lifelong friends who were exceedingly loyal to him.  He loved his family.  He never spanked me.  I literally never once heard him yell.  I also never saw him laugh until he cried.  He always gave me good advice about clothes, and taught me how to look for good quality fabric and stitching and fit.  He gave me good financial advice, about saving and retirement plans and taxes.  In retrospect I can see that he tried to teach me how to get along with people, how to make them like me and how to be social; but my shyness and introversion prevented much success with that.

That was my dad.  He and my Mom were happy together for so many decades, and I was happy to have him for a father.  He had a long and seemingly happy life, dying suddenly with no illness and, I hope, no pain at the age of 92 at my mother's side.

The world is emptier without him.