A tribute to dad

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My dad wasn't the demonstrative kind.

He didn't take his kids on his lap and hug them. Neither did he tell them he loved them. Yet he did.

But he did chase them around the dining room table and tickle the one unlucky enough to get caught.

"Say uncle," he would say, until the caught one cried uncle.

Dad wasn't a socializer. He didn't go to school functions like ballgames or plays or PTA's. Neither did he go to family reunions or weddings or funerals.

But he would take time to solder a broken necklace or bracelet, or sand and spray paint a used bicycle. He took the time to load my Brownie camera for me until I learned to do it myself.

He didn't give a lot of orders or reprimands but we knew to toe the mark, to behave as responsible children.

He never once went to school to confront a teacher he thought to be unfair to us. We were expected to get good grades and to do our best.

I can remember being awakened from a sound sleep with a tap on my shoulder. Mom would motion me to come with her, not to wake the others. Then she and my dad and I would sneak away to the Milk Bar for milk shakes, a real treat. On other nights, I'm sure my brothers and sister were summoned in the same way, to steal away for a milk shake in my dad's pickup. Maybe my parents couldn't afford to treat everyone at the same time.

My dad also went to the time and trouble to build a basketball court so that my older brother could practice shooting hoops after school and on weekends. My brother and his buddies wore the grass away on that dirt court.

Dad's idea of fun was going to a picture show to see Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Also, he loved fishing and hunting for rabbit, turkey, squirrel, deer and quail. Mom always fried the catfish or crappie or the bounties of his hunting trips. Nothing went to waste.

He was a steady, hardworking man, muscular from laying forms and building sidewalks, concrete foundations and driveways.

All that required hard manual labor and he often ended his long days, dirty and drenched in sweat from sultry summer days.

He completed eighth grade and that ended his formal education. He was self taught for the rest of his life.

After his death, I found a small 12-volume set of well-worn manuals that instructed how to do math, how to invest in stocks and land, and how to manage money.

He learned that if he had a chance at a better life, it would be through land.

During the depression years, he learned that the U.S. government was selling land for $1 an acre near Pocahontas. So he bought 40 acres of land-locked acreage. His primary purpose was to have his own personal hunting ground. Years later a private hunting club purchased land adjacent to dad's 40 acres. That increased the value of his land.

Later he invested in land near New Madrid, Mo., where he was employed by civil engineers. Once, he tried growing Christmas trees on the land but that didn't work out.

After we moved into a FHA two bedroom house, dad bought the lots next door and built three rental houses for extra income, receiving $12.50 a month rent from each one.

Eventually, my dad went in the concrete business and hired local workers. As an aside, he operated a gravel hauling business, too.

My dad's "office" was our dining room table. At least once a week, he would sit there and go over his records, time cards. He used an old manual Underwood typewriter. Using the hunt and peck method, he would type bids for concrete work he hoped to be awarded. Sometimes he would ask me to "edit" the bid so there would be no mistakes when the bid was submitted. Usually, there were none.

One thing about my dad: he had a beautiful handwrite that I always tried to emulate. He never mentioned his handwriting skills or where it came from, but it, by far, surpassed that of my mother, two brothers and sister.

Dad often got the submitted bid even though his bid wasn't the lowest. Word was that he did good work and delivered what he promised. He was a man of his word. He paid his bills on time and kept a roof over our heads. We charged our groceries at Crow's Market, a nearby mom and pop grocery. Periodically dad would pay off the bill in full after he received compensation from a customer.

As far as I know, my dad owned only one suit. He bought it when he was running for local public office, which was totally out of character for him. Even so, he lost by only a handful of votes. That suit hung in his closet for years, unworn. His work clothes were matching sets of khaki pants and shirts..That's all he ever wore.

That's what we buried him in after he died of lung cancer.

He wouldn't have wanted to wear a suit.