I danced at my wedding to the song by Bette Milder, called “You Are My Hero”. I danced with my Daddy. My last dance as his little girl.
When I was little, he would ask me to dance. He would have me stand on the tops of his feet and he would dance with me. I think he started doing this when I was very small. I remember leaning out very far and looking up at him and he seemed so tall. When we walked through a parking lot, he would “skip” with us. He carried us on his shoulders.
I have adored my father all my life. I wanted to please him. I wanted to make him proud.
My dad always seemed so cool. All the neighborhood kids thought he was cool. He would play with us. Games like 500 and dodge ball and Spoons. He was fun and rowdy. My mom would fuss at him for getting us all rowdy. We had this game that he made up. It was called TRIP. My dad would kneel in out front yard in the shade of the black olive tree. Debbie, (my sister), Mary Catherine, Scotty, Joey, Chris Croghan and Greg Robinson (which we pronounced as Robsin) would run around my father. We would try to get as close as we could without him being able to reach us. He would grab at out feet and legs and “TRIP” us. That was the game. So silly and ridiculous, but we would BEG him to play. No self-respecting kid nowadays would be fooled into thinking this was a game. We LOVED it. The St. Augustine grass would be cool and we would all be squealing and laughing. It was a treat to have captured his attention, to have him focused on us.
He made us stilts.
He had a “junk box”. This was an old metal Army artillary box FILLED with spare nuts, bolts, washers, screws and miscellaneous hardware. He would hand me a screw and ask me to go findÂ “six more”. We would dump out that box and dig through, eventually finding a match.
My dad was the “Good Provider”. It was a traditional role and as a counter to him, my mom was the Housewife. This was an era long before people felt offended by these gender divisions. He did all the “outside chores”. He mowed the yard, fixed the sprinkler system, re-tarred the driveway every summer, hung the Christmas lights on the edge of the roof, did all the automotive repair and care. He had a “work bench” in the garage and I loved sitting there making blobs of metal with his soldering iron.
I think my dad still has this sweater. He was tricked into picking out my my Granny. He went Christmas shopping with her and thought he was picking out a gift for my PawPaw.
My dad LOVED Sunday afternoon football. He had a few really good friends in our neighborhood, mainly Mr. Joe. I remember the men grilling burgers and drinking Budweiser, especially on summer holiday weekends. In those days, no one had their yards fenced. Our block….from one end to the other….was one long grassy plain. The block roll call went this way: The Capettas, Mr. Wayne, The Nelsons, The Sanders (my family), the Dorris family, Aunt Murphy and Uncle Peter, The Croghans, The Robinsons, The Welches and The Simpsons. Holiday weekends, like Memorial, July 4th and Labor day were always marked by grilling, kids running around, the adults drinking (probably too much), crank ice cream makers with ice and rock salt, and sparklers. The Nelsons had a pool and we lived across the street from a municipal pool.
Uncle Peter gave me my first cigarette. I was about 8 years old. All the kids wanted to do the fire crackers and sparklers. The adults wanted us to go away. Uncle Peter lighted a Salem 100 and showed me how to “keep it going” so I could light the fireworks. In those days, both my parents smoked. Shoot….all the adults smoked. I have a very vivid image of my daddy standing on the back porch at my Granny’s house. The family car, a wooden paneled station wagon is in the background, and he is smoking a cigarette. He had this way of holding his cigarette as if to cup it or hide it. It was iconic.
His Momma, my Memaw, lived down on the Creek in Mobile. My mother’s mom, my Granny, lived in town. We would split our vacations between Granny’s and Memaw’s. Memaw’s house was usually pretty crazy and unstructured. My cousins and my dad’s younger sisters and their kids all lived close by and were around. We got to eat Captain Crunch cereal for breakfast. I got to sleep with Memaw. I was so fascinated my her fancy satin pillow case. I could tell my Daddy loved his Momma. She was a kind and simple woman. We would swim in the creek or go “whomping”. Nowadays, they sell these expensive boogie boards for the boat. At Memaw’s house, it was a piece of 1/2 inch ply wood, cut into a circle and left to the elements. After a few summers, it would be cupped or bowed into a concave disk, perfect for standing on and getting dragged behind a john boat.
My dad was a serious man. So internal and introverted. I remember telling friends in college that he had 2 emotions….silent and angry. My dad was a slow reader, yet he was always reading. He was ambitious and successful. He was driven. He also had a whimsical streak, especially with his leisure activites. He liked to go spear fishing with the Hewetts. He once kicked a bowling ball while riding an ATV. He thought it was a red school kickball. He drove an olive green MG most of my childhood. My parents owned a piece of the Everglades, west of the levy in western Dade County. We would go out to that remote place and Dad would sit us on his lap in that MG and let us steer while he shifted gears. He would drive so fast and the white coral rock road dust would billow out over the Glades.
MyÂ middle sister once said, “You are the son dad never had.” IÂ have been driven, too. I wanted to be college-educated and intelligent and successful. I wanted to be a person of whom he would be proud. I remember him driving me home from college. I withdrew from American University in my junior year. My dad came, alone, to DC to pack me up and bring me home. He drove silently from Massacheusetts Avenue to Richmond, as I cried. My Daddy always protected me. I believed in him. I held onto his arm so tight as I walked down the isle to be married. He was my hero. I hope I have made him proud.