A Father’s Day Essay
Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, June 15, 2014
This year, 2014, my Pop will begin his 82d year of life in good health.
I am blessed, fortunate, happy and to be envied to have him with me now. Some of my peers’ fathers have been long departed.
A friend once said to me that “we never truly become men until our father dies.” In that sense, I suppose I’m still a youth… even though my teen years have been long departed.
My dad is a Southern man. Having grown up in abject poverty in rural West Alabama, he was not merely acquainted with “everything but the squeal,” but was intimately familiar with a very real daily struggle for existence, where food was precious, and life even more so.
On occasion, I still hear him recall with utter amazement how much food he saw wasted – literally thrown into the garbage at San Diego Naval Station – where he attended Basic Training before shipping off to serve in the Korean War aboard the U.S.S. Juneau – CLAA-119, also known as “The Galloping Ghost of the Korean coast.” To his then-18-year-old eyes it was a culture shock which he remembers to this day. In his first day there, he saw more food thrown away than he had ever seen in his still-tender life. The adage “waste not, want not” is practically embedded into his DNA.
For those unfamiliar with the term “everything but the squeal,” it refers to the use of every part of the hog for food, and material. Nothing would be wasted. The fat would be rendered into lard, some of the meat would be preserved by smoking, while some parts were made into sausage. It was also time in which neighbors would help one another in the preparation of the animal. (If you’re interested in seeing & reading about some of the various aspects of hog butchering, see here.) It was only many years later that electricity came to my dad’s house – and he remembers the electrician’s name, and date the house was wired.
I recall tales he shared with me of his youth of “hog killing time,” which refers to the first enduring snap of cold weather, which was the proper time to slaughter a hog because the preservation of it’s parts would be more readily facilitated. That is, spoilage would be significantly reduced, because it could be stored in cooler conditions. Their “refrigerator” was an ice box – literally. ‘What’s an ice box?,’ you may ask. An ice box is literally a box into which a 100 pound block of ice was placed to cool food items. Not many items, mind you, because the creek was still a location where food items which readily spoiled were placed. Milk, dairy, meat and select other foods were regularly stored in a special box made to keep critters out, and keep food cool by the running water.
Naturally, not having electricity also meant that the meals were prepared in a “wood cook stove,” literally an implement which had to be tended night and day by his mother to prepare the family meals. Temperature regulation was achieved by moderating the amount of wood, the type of wood (seasoned dry or unseasoned green), and the variety of wood (species, such as oak, hickory, pecan, birch, pine, etc.).
Suffice it to say, his was a hard scrabble life. And it’s certainly neither joke nor exaggeration to say that they were so poor, someone had to come from Washington to tell them there was a Great Depression going on!
Dad honored his father and mother. He was the only one in his family to graduate High School, and he tells me that after having heard some advertisements on a radio in town, he became curious about enlisting in the Navy. One day, after plowing in the field (he was well acquainted with the backside of a mule), he asked his father what he thought about the idea of him enlisting in the Navy. He said his father told him, “Son, I think it’d be a good idea. Maybe you won’t have to work as hard as I have.” With that blessing, he enlisted in the United States Navy.
The Navy changed my dad’s life. He saw nations the world over which now languish under dictatorial rule, or are in utter shambles from internal strife and “civil” war. After touring the world, he utilized the G.I. Bill, and matriculated Alabama Polytechnic Institute (A.P.I.), which is now Auburn University. He was the first in our family to obtain a university education.
My dad is honest. He tells a story about an incident in which he, as a young boy, had purchased some inexpensive item from a store in town, and the merchant gave him an incorrect amount of change – a small overage, which he immediately returned. He then shared that experience with his father, who said to him, “they were probably testing you, to see if you were honest.”
My brother and I were the first “latchkey kids,” before it became popular. My dad worked for many years for a company which was later sold out to Wall Street-traded interests, whose greedy managers then made ill-conceived decisions to change design and reduce quality of their premiere products… all to save a few pennies. His clientele, and others’, became dissatisfied with the products, and quickly bolted to the competition. The company, suffering revenue loss, went belly up. He was among the few remaining whom were given a “Last Supper” and a pink slip. With that, he drove a school bus for a short time, and entered Graduate School, where he earned a Master’s Degree, and later, an A.A. Teaching Certificate. He then accepted employment with a public school system where he started a Industrial Arts (shop) program for the Junior High School, from which he is retired.
My dad is patriotic. He and his two younger brothers are all veterans, whom enlisted in the Armed Forces. He in the Navy during the Korean War, his younger brother made a career of the Air Force, and his youngest brother served in the Army – both during Viet Nam. After his service in the Navy, during his college education, he was in the A.F.R.O.T.C., but declined a commission. After civilian life for many years, he later enlisted in the Alabama Army National Guard in a Special Forces Unit, and later transferred to an Alabama Air Force National Guard unit, from which he is also retired. Of all the children in my dad’s brother’s family, I am the only one who ever followed in his shoes and served.
My dad is moral. I’ve never heard him ever utter or write a curse word… ever. Neither has anyone else. That is a miserable failing of mine.
My dad is a religious man. As a youth, I hardly ever recall a time in which he didn’t take my brother and me to church. And he would often ride his bicycle to an early morning church service. I have become Catholic, and pondered paths toward deeper service.
My dad is an environmentalist. As mentioned above, he would often ride his bicycle where ever he could, and in his second career, when he worked as a teacher, he would often ride a motorcycle to work. He also taught the children the importance of preservation of the Eastern Bluebird, how to build bluebird boxes, and donated hundreds of bluebird boxes to the community to encourage their propagation.
My dad was “cool” before “cool” was cool. While a student at Auburn, he rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Later in life, during his second career, he a motorcycle to and from work.
My dad has always been leery of Big Business, and the inherent weakness of humans, and their propensity toward greed, and avarice. Once, while I was a child, while we were driving through rural Alabama to visit relatives, he mentioned to us all in the car, “No matter where you go, whether it’s the smallest village, or the largest metropolis, there’ll always be two buildings which are the fanciest, most glorious: Banks and Insurance Companies.” With those words forever burned into my imagination, I have found his words to be true. I recollect that it was the greed and utter avarice, and utter lack of concern for people which drove Wall Street and their denizen hoards of corporate attorneys and other ilk to our nation’s economic melt-down.
My dad is computer savvy. After several years of retirement, and with some assistance from me, he taught himself how to use a computer. He purchased an iMac, and recently, I purchased an iPad for him. He uses both frequently.
My dad is the husband of one wife. He and mom have been married 50+ years.
My dad believes in energy independence, and conservation of resources. To some extent, I suppose that emerges from his austere upbringing, and to this day, he supports solar energy, reduction of energy use (electricity), and was an early adopter of florescent lighting, and increased insulation in housing.
By his words and his example, he has shown and taught me that every human life is worth far more than any amount of money. Consider the lowly cross-walk, for example. When ever he sees anyone crossing, he often observes that, “A two-ton automobile versus a 250 pound man is not a fair fight.”
These few paragraphs are but a few of the numerous stories and examples with which he influenced my life.
While by no means is my dad perfect, he has taught me – by his own example, and by his words – how a man ought live, and conduct his life. How he ought give respect to those whom respect is due, and honor to those whom honor is due. He has led by example. May I be worthy of his life, his examples, and follow his lead in service, and in love. May every boy and girl, youth and adult have the love, compassion, strength, fortitude, guidance and determination of a committed father. May we ever honor and respect them.