Happy Bastille Day! La Fête Nationale. The day the celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and setting in motion the French Revolution. Around my house it was always known as Dad’s birthday.
There are 30 years difference between my Dad and I. As I turn 50 this year he hits 80.
When we were over at the parents house last month Dad asked me to go through a box of items he thought may have belonged to me at some time. What I found was the letter he wrote to each of his children on the eve of his 50th birthday. Talk about karma.
This is the section he wrote to me:
Some of the memories I have kept of you my little big-eyed rugged tom boy who was the youngest auto driver in the family. In 1981 dollars the 50 ft drive would cost about $225,000 per mile ~ the strong silent one on the stage who would not say a word – okay- then there were the first day of school – we became well known as the only father going to in school in the first grade ~ then there was the little one who made sure she was available to ride anywhere, anytime, anyplace on the motorcycle even out running the cop – remember tapping me on the tummy and saying Dad I think he wants you to stop! Things tripped along with a few bumps until an Afro hair style and Joe, the gear jamming and contact lens. College and a grown up job how time flies ~ your Dad loves ya very much.
My Dad is not necessarily a very demonstrative person. He would rather do for you than talk about how he feels, so these letters to us were really amazing.
Dad was born in 1931 to a couple of people, who probably shouldn’t have had children.
His mother, Betty gave him and his younger sister up to an orphanage after she divorced from their father. His father rescued the two from there only to separate them, putting my Dad on his Uncle Stetson’s dirt farm and sending his sister Gloria to be raised by aunts in the town.
Dad doesn’t talk much about those days. He has a few good memories of his grandmother Rebecca (she has a strange resemblance to the Wicked Witch in the one picture we have, but he says she was really a nice woman) and of the animals he took on as pets.
He worked hard to get out of his lot in life. He joined the Army and spent a couple of years in Alaska. We have a great photo of him standing waist level in snow, but in short sleeves!
Just when he finished his tour, his beloved younger sister was killed in a car accident at the age of 19. I don’t think he ever really recovered from that loss. They were each other’s touchstones while growing up. He speaks of her with such love, I wish I could have met her.
He met Mom when they were both working in downtown Savannah. They married in 1953 and have been together ever since. They raised four kids together and they just celebrated 58 years of ups, downs and love.
He worked hard to support us all even when putting himself through school. He was a great example of never stop learning or trying to improve on yourself.
Dad and I have not always seen eye to eye. I think its because we are so much alike. Both stubborn and quietly determined, we tended to butt heads as I grew up. But as much as we would argue, I always kept two incidents in the back of my mind. I was very young, under five, but the impressions are so important they are memories I will hold forever.
Both happened when we lived in Memphis, Tennessee.
The first thing I remember is the night of the day I ended up with a concussion. The four kids had been playing out in the backyard – remember when we used to do that sort of thing? – we were running and jumping off the concrete slab patio and landing in the pile of leaves at the end.
To protect the not-so-innocent, I will decline to give the actual circumstances, but suffice it to say that I don’t think my older brother ended up happy that afternoon as I ended up with a concussion after hitting an object that suddenly appeared in my path as I sailed through the air expecting to land in the leaf pile.
I was upended and my head struck the pavement. Instantaneous concussion.
The doctor said not to let me fall asleep that night. My Dad stayed up with me all night, letting me into the inner sanctum of his home office sipping pear juice and I’m sure talking his ear off.
Forty-five years later and I can still feel the level of importance he elevated me to that night.
The second instance took place at a carnival or fair that was operated by the Shriner’s. Somehow, I ended up alone with Dad and we decided to ride the Ferris wheel.
We climbed into the swaying bucket seat. I have memories of excitement that can only be experienced by a child as the safety bar was locked into place. I sat close to Dad and waited for the ride to begin.
As the bucket began to rise, so did my anxiety level. Excitement turned quickly to panic as I realized how high up and exposed we were. I began to scream for my Dad to make it stop.
Now, my Dad has not always been the most patient with small children and their immature ways and he will cheerfully own up to this. But this time, this time he more than rose to the occasion.
He made the Ferris wheel stop.
My Dad made them stop the Ferris wheel.
Dad doesn’t get around as well as he used to these days. Arms that could one lift two to three kids at a time are suffering from arthritis and his back is showing the results of degenerative bone loss. He prefers the company of his books and my Mom to visiting with others and we still butt heads occasionally.
When I call and ask how he’s doing, he always replies, “fair to middlin’”.
I’m sure each of my siblings have their own special memories of our father, but to me he will always be the man who made a little girl feel important and loved. Loved enough to stop the world from spinning.
I love you, Dad. Happy birthday – Sam