That was my Dad

I remember a niece asking my mother, “Why are we all just a little afraid of Grandpa?” I wanted to scream “Cuz he’s scary as [beeeeep!], that’s why!” Yes, that was my dad. A wiry little man that I think thrived on the smell of fear.

Perhaps a little background information on a man who fathered three girls and four boys, all of which have their own “fun” stories they like to tell about their dad. First, he was a WWII veteran, drafted into the army and shipped overseas to Europe where he ended up in a little skirmish we call “The Battle of the Bulge.” That and growing up during the depression in the United States shaped him in certain ways long before any of us kids ever came into the picture.

He never took guff from anyone. If one of us children witnessed another getting punishment we’d cringe and think two things simultaneously: “Was that really the BEST solution you could come up with?” and our ever favorite, “Man, I’m SO glad that’s not me.”

He rarely said much, he just did. He was an action man. It could be a belt across the britches, a room turned upside down for not cleaning it properly (including mattresses), or in the case of Ball vs. City Hall, taking matters of a sidewalk into his own hands.

Let me explain . . .

My parents’ house was located very close to two schools. Most people walking to and from followed a narrow alley that butted against my father’s lawn. City Hall requested and received permission from Dad to put in a sidewalk for these school patrons. Cement was poured. A nice, new, fully functioning sidewalk was set side by side the Ball property.

It wasn’t such a great idea. People, as people are want to do, ignored the shiny—albeit hard—new pathway and opted instead to walk on the much softer grass. My father’s grass. That he watered . . . wait, that was my mom. Well, he mowed . . . wait, I think that was Mom too. Hmmm, he OWNED the grass. And after a month or two of watching a well worn path developing through the middle of his lawn he decided that since the sidewalk wasn’t being used it he would just take care of it.

He didn’t say anything. He . . . just . . . did. Without warning he grabbed his backhoe and dug up the city’s cement sidewalk. Yep. That was my dad.

As I listened to my mother tell the story, you know what I thought? You guessed it. “Was the really the best solution he could come up with” and “Man I’m so glad that wasn’t me.”

His favorite pastime was watching old black and white WWII movies while lying on the couch. He’d invariably fall asleep and when we’d tip toe in to turn the channel we’d hear his deep voice behind us, “Hey! I was watching that!” We’d jump and scurry out of there like tunnel rats suddenly caught in the light.

If he thought we were doing something he thought was irritating or . . . hmmm . . . nah, just irritating . . . he’d march down to the basement and switch off the electricity to our bedrooms—without warning and without any explanation. Then we’d scratch our heads and try and figure out what it was THIS time.

Ask him? Are you crazy? Re-read the first line: he was scary.

Late one night I heard him marching down the hall, past my room, and down the stairs. I was up past his bedtime talking with my cousin and I thought, “Snap! We’re too noisy.” I held my breath waited for the lights to click off and for us to be plunged into dreaded darkness.

Nothing.

Whew! Maybe I had him all wrong. The next morning I hear my sister down tearing down the hall and cussing all the way to the bathroom. Dad had got the fuse box switches mixed up and shut off her electricity instead of mine by mistake. I kept my mouth shut and breathed a sigh of relief. I’m glad it wasn’t me! Fess up? Nah. Fear was a closer companion than guilt back then and I was just as afraid of my sister’s wrath.

My dad passed away with my mom over 15 years ago. The adult in me understands the logic of him not knowing they’d be in a car accident. The kid in me is wondering why once again he never said anything—he just did.

No warning. No goodbyes. No explanation.

Now when I see my friends getting a visit from their parents—even if its only one parent—I think to myself, “Man, I wish that were me.” And this time I ask God, “Was that really the best solution you could come up with?”

A farmer. A World War II veteran who never finished high school. A man who was just four months shy of his 50th wedding anniversary when he passed away. A man who unwittingly inspired all of his children to pursue higher educations so they wouldn’t end up on a farm.

That was my dad.

Advertisements

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rachel
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 08:15:47

    I don’t think I have heard any of those stories!! I love the one about him tearing up the sidewalk. That is hilarious. 🙂 Great essay, too. Your style is very engaging and draws you in with its beautiful simplicity.

    Reply

  2. Olivia de Vos
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 09:48:56

    Remember the ‘tooth’ prompt we did, it ended up being about my dad, a gentle soul by comparison, full of practical jokes I haven’t heard the half of:
    Well, I wonder how he is going to shift all of these. I stand gobsmacked in front of the vendor. On a desk lies a pile of faded pink and white false teeth, all teeth. I tear my eyes from the teeth and look slowly up to the vendor, an old guy, and not pink and pretty dirty, well the teeth look cleaner. I look him in the eye, trying to gauge a reaction from the eyes, is this a joke? He gives me a toothless grin.

    ‘None of these fit you?’ I ask, smirking slightly. He says nothing-just smiles . . . his no-teeth smile. I am grateful all my teeth are firmly in their sockets. Suddenly, I wonder though, my dad lost a couple of false teeth over the years; one of these might be his. He lost some while swimming in the sea; another fell down a well as he was inspecting the water level. They fell out of his pocket. I remember my 6-year-old self asking:

    ‘So why were they in your pocket, dad?’ He smiles his ‘feeling sheepish’ smile:

    ‘They were new and they were hurting me.’

    I look at the teeth on the table before me and see my dad’s false teeth in the cup in the bathroom, is this guy cleaning this stuff?

    Again I see my dad taking his false teeth out of his mouth to frighten my kids, my son says: ‘you know, you get teeth three times, milk teeth, permanent teeth and false teeth, like grandpa.’

    ‘So what happened to your finger grandpa?’ my son asks.

    ‘Well I was working with the planter and some seeds seemed to be stuck, so I stuck my hand in to try and dislodge it, and it worked well, except that it cut the tip of my finger right off.’

    ‘Did you go to the doctor?’

    ‘Yes, and he asked me where the bit was to sew back on.’ Another sly grin.

    ‘So where is it?’

    ‘I threw it to the chickens.’

    My son stares at him, how do you believe someone who was born on April fool’s day? The truth is sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t, and as always, it’s the distinction that’s important. I think he played truant for his entire first school year.

    ‘So what did you do all day?’

    ‘I went to school the first day and decided it wasn’t for me so the next day I got off the cart and played in the veld, in the afternoon when it came by again, I got back on again, so I failed.’

    I am still not sure if I believe that one!

    Reply

  3. Dana Swain
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 11:18:52

    Good story!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Twitter Updates

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,066 other followers

%d bloggers like this: