This Friday, February 14th will be the anniversary of my Dad’s death. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. I miss him every single day and I can still hear his voice and the sound of his laugh. I can see the mischievous twinkle in his eye when he tried to cheat at card games. I miss playing rummy with him, and above all, wish I could play just one more hand of cards. I wrote this piece a couple of years ago for another project I was working on, but it seems fitting to share it this week in his honor. I love you Dad. Always will.
DOES HE KNOW?
My father was a simple farmer who kept his children clothed and fed by his sweat and blood. He began his education in a one room school house, where he was passed over because he couldn’t learn. Dyslexic and confused, he finally dropped out to haul paper wood. With the reading skill of an average six year old, he may not have been the most educated man, but he was much more.
My father loved to tell stories, often the same stories over and over. He told how he accidentally burned down the school house one cold morning by shoving too much wood in the stove. He told of the boy who licked home plate every time it was his turn to bat. Dad never tired of telling these stories and even though I’d heard them hundreds of times, I never got tired of listening. I remember his smile when his eyes focused on a distant memory, and the story would come…one more time.
Dad was forty-eight when I was born, the youngest of eight children. I remember following him around the barn and pastures “helping” him work. He would come in from the field, caked with dirt and grime from a long day on a jerky, dusty tractor in the withering Alabama heat, and still pitch a baseball so I could bat. I can see him even now, my twelve year old self standing ready, his arm swinging forward to release the ball. The satisfying crack of contact would thrill me as I ran to fetch the ball for another chance. Looking back, I can only imagine how tired my then 60 year old father would have been, pitching that ball after working all day. His sacrifices became the basis of many of the stories I tell my own daughter.
I spent many summer afternoons fishing with Dad. My father was not an expert fisherman, nor was I, so those afternoons were really about mercilessly drowning worms while eating ham and cheese sandwiches and sipping RC Cola. I don’t remember catching much that wouldn’t fit into a Maxwell House coffee can, but I begged incessantly to go. Did he know then what I know now- that those days, sitting beside him, staring at that red and white bobber as it floated on the still water – would one day come to an end? Does he know that those are my favorite childhood memories?
My father loved to square dance. This always amused me because he had no sense of rhythm and could barely manage a two-step on the dance floor. He could square dance with the best of them, though. When I was fourteen, it was my turn to go through lessons with him, just as my older sisters had. Personally, I looked forward to it. Other ninth graders may have laughed at me for spending my Friday nights square dancing with my father, but I loved how happy it made him then and how the memories of it sustain me now. I only wish now that I had kept going with him for longer than I did.
I loved playing jokes on my dad. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t fall for. April Fool’s Day was a chance to top the previous year’s prank. I could always get him with food. My father liked to eat. There was the lemonade with no sugar, the glass of soda that was really coffee, the fake lollipops, the wax banana split (I think that one was really my sister’s prank), the stale cornbread muffins iced like cupcakes (with iced coffee to wash it down!), and the rubber roach that found its way into several places.
However, jokes weren’t just reserved for April Fool’s. The time Dad said he didn’t need anything for his birthday because he already had everything was an open invitation. I wrapped up about twenty of his belongings, starting with the not so obvious and ending with the big sunglasses he’d been given after cataract surgery and a tattered old denim work vest. As my family arrived, I exchanged their gifts with one of mine. No one laughed harder than Dad as he finally caught on.
My father had his faults, we all do. He might have been far from perfect, but I never once wondered if he loved me. I always felt it, but as a child I took it for granted. Did he know how much I loved him too? Did he know everything he was to me? He was the strong, work-roughened hand that held onto mine. He was the smile that looked down at me as I trailed behind him like a shadow. He was the smell of Old Spice, the April Fool’s jokes, the countless hours playing cards, and the voice I can still hear calling my name. I remind myself every day of the sound of his voice, lest I forget.
And I wonder – does he know?