It’s Father’s Day eve, and I am thinking about my Dad as pictures pop up on Facebook posts.
A strapping 6’4” Texan with long legs, a mischievous sense of humor and twinkle in his eyes, my Dad was a union electrician by trade and a small-time cattle rancher by choice. I loved spending summers with my Dad in the red clay under those tall East Texas Pines. With my Dad, this city girl learned to swim in the stock tank, ride horses across a dew-dipped pasture, and hide out in the hay barn with Bimbo, my Dad’s faithful German Shepherd.
When I was 12, Daddy tossed me the key to his rusty, red tractor. After a few practice runs, I was granted the privilege of driving from my Dad’s house, down the asphalt country lane to the next driveway, and up the hill to my grandmother’s house each morning.
It was a splendid summer, heading to Granny’s Hill in time for homemade biscuits and peach jam, until one morning, the tractor got away from me and I panicked, heading straight for my grandmother’s back porch. Instead, I managed to turn sharply, and ran the tractor under the clothesline, the vertical muffler’s rain flap catching the wire and uprooting both clothesline poles in my grandmother’s back yard.
I fretted and moped throughout the day, dreading the time my Dad’s pickup truck would roll in. With a well-rehearsed speech, I told my Dad what had happened. He simply re-laced his work books, trudged up the hill to my grandmother’s well house for a shovel, and had the posts back in place in no time. I didn’t ask for the keys again that summer, and they weren’t offered. The next summer, I gripped the steering wheel on my Dad’s green Ford pickup, and my Daddy taught me to drive on winding, country lanes.
Later, my dad taught me that the secret to the perfect gumbo was always in the roux; that majoring in theatre was not exactly practical; and that, often, we don’t get all the time we want with those we love.
I stood beside my Dad at my grandmother’s funeral, one of the few times I saw him wear a suit, the only time I saw him cry. I was 17, a senior in high school. We went to Granny’s Hill one last time, and my Dad let me take a few things of my Grandmother’s with a promise we’d come again soon. A few months later, the house caught fire and burned. A blackened doorknob, salvaged from the rubble, sits on a shelf in my living room now, reminding me of Granny’s Hill and those far away summers spent with my Dad. I think about those summers and the simple pleasures that now seem so precious and priceless: eating watermelon cooled in a tub of well water or Friday night drives to Caddo Lake for fried catfish and hush puppies.
Often, after work, we’d head to Lake ‘O The Pines where my Dad would wash away the stress and grime of his day with a cooling swim. Bimbo would trail me through the water, barking if I ventured too deep. On the way home, we’d stop at the little country store for Squirt sodas and packages of salted peanuts.
I loved to help my Dad herd the cattle, moving the bawling heifers and calves from one pasture to the other. I rode a spotted Appaloosa named Lil Bit. My Dad’s horse was a big sorrel named Red, who had a mean streak and would often head straight for the prickly rose bushes in my Grandmother’s yard. I loved our mini cattle drive down the narrow blacktop road to the other pasture a couple of miles away. Bimbo would run along side, nipping at the cows’ heels if they strayed. After the pasture move, my Dad and I would sit on the porch, exhausted, gritty, and satisfied, watching the night fall, fireflies blinking in the trees, stars studding the inky, East Texas sky.
All those summers melted into too many falls, and country lanes turned to crowded freeways and bright lights in big cities. I was too busy chasing dreams to notice the streaks of grey in my Dad’s hair. Months melted into years and, before I knew it, I woke up to find my Dad older and tired, leaning back in his recliner, dozing, under an oil painting of a a pasture, a weathered barn, and an old pickup truck.
My Daddy had sold the farm by now, whittling off pieces at a time, until there was nothing left but Granny’s Hill. My Dad lived in town the last years of his life. He bought five acres in the middle of town so he could feel like he was still in the country. He hung hummingbird feeders and watched the colorful, zippy birds from the sanctity of his easy chair. Bimbo was long gone, by now, replaced by a French poodle named Honey, who had her hair done and nails painted each week at the doggy salon. The beribboned pooch curled in my Dad’s lap as he dozed the days and pain away.
My Daddy died when I wasn’t watching, wrapped up in my world, far from his. I was expecting my daughter, his first and only grandchild. I attended his funeral when I was six months pregnant. My Daddy never got a chance to meet my daughter, but I see a little of him in her now. At 19, she has that same twinkle in her eyes, his same determination and practical nature. A focused college student, she too, says that theatre is not a practical major.
I’ve taken her back to Granny’s Hill, told her stories about my Daddy, of my summers in the pines. Overgrown with brambles and wild blackberry vines, one leaning clothesline post is the single marker that we were there. But, those summers with my Daddy are etched on my heart.
Yes, tonight, I’m thinking about my Daddy, who stood tall and proud and taught me to do the same. I love you, Daddy and I miss you, still.