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.
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.