Posted by: ktzefr | June 16, 2015

Celebrating Father’s Day with Stories…

My dad told stories.  He and Mom ran a small country store in eastern Kentucky and there were a few customers who stopped by regularly just to socialize and hear a tale or two.  Around the supper table, in a shady spot on hot days, and in the cellar during storms…he told stories that always seemed to fit the occasion.

mom and dad

First married…

On a cold, winter night he told about the ice flood that came when he was a boy.  It had rained for days and then turned bitter cold and the backwater that overran the riverbanks began to freeze.  After the tide crested and started to recede, great slabs of ice broke apart in the rush of water.  He lay awake at night listening to the big chunks of ice grind together as they made their way downriver, he said.  Then he laughed and told us that the “old people” had thought the end of the world was at hand.

He had his own fears.  The one that caused us the most anxiety was storms.  In the middle of the night, at the start of a summer storm, he got us up and herded us  out into the rain, around the house, and down into the cellar.  The floor was loose bricks and the walls bare, damp clay.  The water tank sat in the middle of the “room” and shelves with Mom’s jars of canned tomatoes and beans and garden relish lined one wall.  There was nothing to do but wait it out and listen to a story or two.  Dad told us about tornadoes.  Storms he’d seen on his one trip out West with a friend.  He described huge trees being uprooted and houses sliced from their foundations to be sucked up in a great spinning cloud.  I sat on a wooden fruit crate, listening and visualizing and jumping with every crack of lightening.

Crabbing at the Eastern Shore...

Crabbing at the Eastern Shore…

Some of my dad’s stories were based in fact, some in legend.  “The moon controls the sea,” he said, explaining the tides.  We’d never seen the ocean.  “Don’t ever look at the sun; it’ll put your eyes out.”  When an eclipse was coming he read in the papers how we were supposed to view it safely — turn our backs to the sun, look at a blank sheet of paper with a dot drawn on it, somehow use a straw…?  We never figured it out.  Did the lost city of Atlantis really exist?  Maybe; maybe not.  “You can plant corn after the sun crosses the equator — not before.”  He had plenty of stories about impatient people and crops killed by a late frost.

 

We always had a good-sized garden.  Dad hired someone with a tractor to do the first big turning of the soil and then he pushed through the clods of clay and softened the rows for planting with a wooden hand plow.  My dad was handicapped, having lost an arm in a car accident as a young man, so this was an especially arduous task.  But he and Mom worked in the garden almost every day in spring and summer.  Although we had a grocery store full of food, he said the store was our livelihood.  We best plant and raise our own food as much as possible.  So we did — chickens and cows and pigs and a substantial garden.  We sold Del Monte in the store and ate Mom’s quart jars of tomatoes at home.  Every spring the cow ate wild onions in the field that “flavored” her milk so, for awhile, we got to drink Pet milk from the carton.

Dad played the French harp.  Mostly old folk tunes derived from the Irish ballads that were common in our area.  My dog’s favorite was “Turkey in the Straw.”  Dad played and Lady jumped onto an upright carbide can (the empty ones were used as stools) and sang/howled to the top of her lungs.  Sometimes their sing-along was a source of entertainment between stories.  At other times there were games — checkers, Monopoly, Rook.  My dad loved playing all kinds of games and often held checker “tournaments” in the back of the store during slow times.  He always played to win.  Otherwise, he might say, “What’s the point?”

Fish tales...Ocean City, Maryland, early 70s

Fish tales…Ocean City, Maryland, early 70s

Every day my dad read the newspaper.  When I was in elementary school and my brother and sister had started to high school he decided that we needed a set of encyclopedia in the house, so he took some of the savings and bought a set.  There were many important things we didn’t have, such as a bathroom indoors, but he chose to spend money on books.  Our education was a top priority.  Almost everything else was secondary, irrelevant, or downright frivolous.  And he used these spiffy new books as much as we did.  Perhaps more.  Sometimes in bad weather, when he knew there wouldn’t be much business at the store, he’d pick up one of the volumes and take it to read.  My dad is the only person I’ve ever known who read the encyclopedia for fun.  Though he did not have an opportunity for much education himself, he had a head full of knowledge and could converse about almost anything.  I can only imagine what great fun he would have had with the internet!

He recited the Bible and the poets with equal fervor.  “Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,/Old Time is still a-flying/ And this same flower that smiles today,/tomorrow will be dying.”  “God sees every sparrow when it falls.”  “What is first shall be last and what is last shall be first.”  Life wasn’t perfect, but we took it all in, grew up with abundant confidence, and lived in a house full of hope.

One spring my dad ordered a pear tree with visions of a tree hanging full of fruit.  The package that came in the mail, however, contained a twig that looked half dead.  He had talked so enthusiastically about it that I was disappointed for him.  Still, he planted the twig and fertilized, watered, watched, and waited.  Eventually, the tree grew above our heads and blossomed and bore fruit.  Mom even got enough extra pears on occasion to can.  (Turned out to be an easy tree for the grandkids and great grandkids to climb, too.)

Dylan in the pear tree…1990s

I have many remembered images of my dad that were not caught on camera.  This one comes to mind:  He is  looking up through the pear tree’s branches, holding a fishing pole with an old dust rag wrapped around the end of it.  The rag has been dipped in kerosene.  He sets it on fire and lifts the flaming torch up through the tree being careful not to burn the leaves and bark unnecessarily until he reaches the tent — a thin, gossamer sack stretched out and held securely in the forks of the branches.  Suddenly, it sizzles and flames up, causing the caterpillars to go crazy.  They fall in the spring grass all shriveled and crispy.  He was not going to let anything interfere with the pear tree becoming all it could be.

My wedding...Dad's first time in a tux!

My wedding…Dad’s first time in a tux!

I remember my dad on this Father’s Day and am grateful for the stories and lives created in the past and for the fun I continue to have creating stories and a life of my own.

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HAPPY FATHER’S DAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. I loved this Katie. This is true Americana. I see a novel in your future!


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