As I think back on my childhood, my mind is flooded with memories of my Daddy, “The Character”, as my older brother has so cleverly referred to him. My earliest memories are of Daddy taking care of the yard. Our yard was a two acre farm nestled in the midst of the 5th largest city in the nation. It was one of the most beautiful things imaginable. He created an amazing place to raise his nine children and managed to do it on the meager salary of a Telephone Company Cable Splicer, all the while saving money for his retirement and investing in stocks, making sure that his children would not have to take care of him in his old age, as he once told me. I think my Daddy was a genius with money. I can’t for the life of me figure out how he did so much with so little. He was quite the handyman, however. I don’t think there was anything he didn’t know how to do. He helped to build his house that he lived in for 50 years and continued to build, remodel and maintain it throughout his lifetime. He rather patiently I think, although some would disagree, taught his 4 boys how to do much with little, and of course after teaching them, enlisted their assistance.
Back to the yardâ€¦.he planted trees and nurtured them using the greenest thumb God ever created in a man. I still remember as a little girl during Hurricane Carla how he went out into the rain and wind to stake his trees to keep the storm from demolishing them. It was a dangerous storm and Mom and Dad pulled all of us children from our rooms and bedded us down in the hallway where we would be safe from the wind and tornados. Dad, after taking care of the plants and animals, went off to work in the storm to restore phone service to those unfortunate millions that lost communications during the storm. Oh, yesâ€¦.the yard. It’s almost the wrong word, but somehow farm doesn’t quite fit either. It was more like a wonderland, or a petting zoo. He had an area of the acreage fenced off for the raising of sheep, there was an area for the birds, ie: chickens, pheasants, turkeys, even a beautiful Peacock named Rainbow, not to mention the dogs and puppies (always my fave). There was a duck pond, a chicken house for the hens to lay eggs for our morning breakfast or occasional lunch of egg-salad sandwiches. The animals were raised for food, so, yes, we ate them.
Of course, with the exception of my older sister Pat, it was the boys/men’s job to do the killing. Dad brought home a piece of a telephone pole about 6′ long and the chickens would be held with their necks on the pole as a hatchet was swung to take the head off. The chicken’s body would then flop around the yard and I remember as a little girl how us younger children would run from it giggling and screaming like it was a game that all children played. Then of course came the dreaded workâ€¦plucking the feathers. How many times did they bring those chickens back to us little children to make us do a better jobâ€¦â€¦after all, it was not unconscionable to consider the feathers for making pillows for us to lay our little heads on at night. I still can’t sleep without a feather/down pillow and I still own a pillow made from my father’s prey and his mother’s sewing skills. In so many folk’s eyes, my dad was a pack rat, but I realized that there was very little waste, that my dad was very conscious of and made a practice of giving back to the earth. He was recycling before there was even a word for it. Throughout our youth he saved scrap metal, especially aluminum cans, took them in to one of the very few recycle centers and brought home money for our annual vacation. The last time I saw my father alive, not so much the physically strong man he had once been, suffering from congestive heart failure, he was sitting on a metal chair asking me to bring him a bucket of cans so he could lift a sledge hammer and let it fall to crush the cans for recycling. Dad did NOT wasteâ€¦..not even the time God gave him on this earth.
He utilized his time as well as he utilized anything recyclable, as well as he utilized the earth. He taught me so much about life and although he wasn’t an exceptionally affectionate man, he taught me much about love. He was a straight shooter, yet a man of few words. It seems to me that he personified the phrase “Actions speak louder than words”. He was definitely a man of action. It sometimes seems silly that he had the nickname Rip (from the story of Rip Van Winkle), but Dad did appreciate his naps. But between naps he never stopped working. He was not a man of leisure. Even though my dad was a man’s man, a chauvinist so to speak, he did not exclude his daughters from the men’s work. He taught me how to tan a hide and soften it up so that I could make a rabbit fur purse (me being the fashion aficionado in the family). He always bought us little pastel colored baby chicks and ducks at Easter time, and even included a bunny or two some years. I learned to plant vegetables and especially how to harvest and weed them. Some years he would plant what I still believe to be mile long rows of snap beans, purple hull peas, black eyes, cucumbers, yellow squash, tomatoes, new potatoes, cantaloupes, and of course the dreaded watermelons. All of this at my grandmother’s 130 something acre farm in Waller, TX. The watermelons became a challenge for us kids. We had so many that before I could even drive, Dad had me drive the old dodge truck up to the corner gas station with the back filled with watermelons, younger kids in tow and sell them to passers by. We sold a lot, but he still expected us to eat about 40 of them a day and would return home from work each day and yell at us to “eat those watermelons”. We would eat the hearts from them and have seed fights and melon fights with the rest, to no avail. Those watermelons would not diminish, we could not sell, eat, have watermelon fights fast enough to make a dent in the pile. Finally, one of us got smart and decided to start giving them away to passers by as they returned home hot and sunburned from a day at the public pool next door. Without his knowledge, we were finally able to make it appear to Daddy that we were devouring those watermelons.
We have many jokes at Dad’s expense. He was hard headed and we were very innovative at finding ways to appease him. Dad had the ability to believe that which he wanted to believe. We all knew it and we learned to work with him and live with him by allowing it and with a few small deceptions here and there, it worked for us all and kept the peace. Most people who know me, know that I still to this day rarely indulge in the 4th of July tradition of watermelonâ€¦â€¦.too much too soon, but good memories.