“I remember, I remember/The fir trees dark and high;/I used to think their slender tops/were close against the sky:/It was a childish ignorance,/But now ’tis little joy/To know I’m farther off from Heaven/Than when I was a boy.” ~ from “Past and Present” by Thomas Hood (a dog-eared poem in my dad’s copy of The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics, 1908)
My dad was part Scots-Irish and part French. He had the fiery Irish temper and the French love for having a good time. He enjoyed quarreling about politics, religion, and sports (stereotypically French) and, like the Celtics, was notorious for telling wild tales and boasting amongst his group of men friends.
Every spring when I plant flowers I think about my mom and her incredible green thumb. She could put a stick in a pot and it would bloom in a month’s time. But when I put the scraggly cherry tomato plant in the pot on the back porch I think about my dad and those rows of plump, red tomatoes he produced year after year. I complain about not having enough time to keep the flowers and herbs watered properly, and then I recall how my mom and dad worked a full day in their grocery store and then worked until dark in the garden.
As a young man my dad had been a butcher, a baker, and a baseball player during a sojourn in Ohio; on returning to Kentucky he worked as a lineman for the telephone company. After losing an arm in a car accident, his life was forced to take a different turn. He and my mom opened a small grocery store. Every spring our neighbor turned our fields with his tractor and my dad finished off the rows, turning the clumps of clay into soft soil, with a hand plow. The plow, with wooden handles and a large metal wheel, was designed for two hands. I watched my dad every spring push the plow and turn the soil with one hand by leaning his whole body into the metal bar that connected the two handles. Country living, often seen as care-free, was neither simple nor easy.
As a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge (and, at one time, a deputy grand master of the state) he kept his little red book of bylaws handy to study and memorize for various meetings and rituals. He read the Knoxville News-Sentinel every day, recited poetry and Bible passages when the occasion called for it, and loved reading about new scientific discoveries. “Science just found out…,” he’d say, as if “Science” was someone you could talk to, an important person, an authority. I remember groups of men gathering in our store discussing the moon landing and my dad trying to prove — to no avail — that man really did land on the moon and not some spot in the Arizona desert. At a time when we could have used any number of other “things” my dad saved up money and bought us a set of encyclopedia! He carried a book at a time to work in the morning and read them like novels, filling his head with all sorts of information, most of which he would never use.
I do the same thing…I love finding out stuff — even if the stuff doesn’t have one iota of use. I guess it’s in the genes. A few years ago I was walking out of a bookstore during the Christmas holidays and was suddenly struck by the notion to go back in and buy a book I’d seen that my dad would like to read. Before I could turn around, I remembered: my dad died more than 3 decades ago. These moments are special, whether in dreams or in rare instances of waking life, when memory is suspended for a single flash and the past, present, and eternal are one.
Happy father’s day and happy memories to all…