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.

Bullies

I just published an essay–“Duke’s Up“–in the current edition of the Rendez-Vous, the magazine for the American Women’s Club of Belgium. As it focused on bullies and one way of handling them I received a humorous story from friend about how she handled bullies on two separate occasions in her homeland of South Africa. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did! If you have any stories of how you successfully handled a bully please feel free to send it in and I’ll post the best ones! *(Be sure to read my essay as well!)

Enjoy!   Olivia writes:

 

“I enjoyed your bit about the bully and it made me remember an incident or two. Some kid was sitting in front of me in the school bus and kept turning around and pestering me. My brother was sitting not too far from me and I tried to ignore this kid because I was thinking two things: my brother was going to help me out and/or if I did anything nasty to this child he would tell my mother and I would be in trouble. So nothing happened-and my brother of course didn’t tell the kid to buzz off-so when I couldn’t stand it anymore, (I was sitting in a very ladylike manner), I just lifted my foot and stuck my shoe in his mouth. (I think the sole was loose and dusty.) He was so shocked he didn’t say another word and turned around and stayed that way for the rest of the trip. When we got off the bus I thought my brother was going to be mad at me but all he said was: ‘I don’t know why you waited so long to do that!’

 

The other incident I was reminded of a couple of years ago at my 20-year high school reunion. Three of us used to cycle home together from school and on our way home we would cross paths with the kids cycling the other direction from the posh Afrikaans school. Invariably we would intersect on the one and only cycle path. These guys would just not budge and we poor English kids (that’s how I saw it at the time) had to go into the thorns. Well one day I was fed-up and as this big Afrikaans guy came past me on the uphill I punched him on the shoulder. I knew he would be too surprised to retaliate, he knew he was in the wrong plus, if he had to turn around I had a head start. Needless to say I pedaled furiously… and forgot this incident until my cycling mate asked me some twenty years after: do you remember when you bopped one of those kids?  It must have worked because we all had the cycle path to ourselves after that…”  ~ Olivia De Vos

Ramona’s note: You can check out Olivia’s own writing here and on the Sawubona page. 


 

 

The blank page

Starting a new journal is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Many writers actually write the first chapter of their manuscript last, after the painstaking efforts of creating their masterpiece and they have a better idea of how the book should really begin. Beginnings have to be just right as they set the tone for the rest of the work. So for that reason I always leave the first page blank of any journal I start. I want to hold onto that possibility of going back and writing that amazing first entry after all the days and pages of warming up, something that will set the tone of of the journal. But unlike a book manuscript I rarely go back and fill it in. Most of my old journals still have that blank, clean, white sheet of paper, waiting to be written on. It reminds me of how I want to live my life–full of promise, hope, and always leaving room for dreams.

I was working with some writer friends (and of course we were talking when we should have been writing) when our discussion focused on what we thought a midlife crisis was. We came to the conclusion that it happens when a person looks back at their lives and realizes that things are not exactly as they thought they would be when they originally envisioned their future. So they miss the mark and focus on YOUTH, the time when their dreams were the strongest and everything lay straight ahead as a clean, white, crisp page in their lives ready to be written on. When they were young they believed that the writing on that page would merely be a reflection of fulfilled dreams and plans. And when they stopped and turned around to actually read the ink the shock of unplanned words throws them into a tail spin. So in comes the red Ferrari, the newer models in partners, the bleach blonde hair.

As writers who have ended up living fairly average lives with husbands, kids, and mortgages we decided it wasn’t prudent to try and recapture the feeling of youth but rather recapture the dreams we had in our youth. And since our dreams of sitting across from Oprah are not going to materialize (only because she is retiring) we just needed to tweak our dreams a bit. It may involve changing the face of that interviewer. The trick is to still have a dream, to look forward to something, to stretch for.

Keep a blank page open. Be ready for possibilities. Be available for dreaming.

Get ready to smile . . .

%d bloggers like this: