I still remember how tough the first Father’s Day without mine was. A quarter-of-a-century later, it is still tough. I meet a lot of people who tell me that they look forward, every week, to reading my “piece in the paper.” For every entertaining passage I have written, Homer Huckaby should get an assist. He was the first storyteller in my life. He was the person who taught me to be observant and to pay attention to what people said and how they said it.
Many of his stories I heard over and over and over. For instance, I heard a hundred times about the time Georgia played Yale in the inaugural game in Sanford Stadium. He lived in Winterville at the time. His father was a section foreman for the Georgia railroad. According to family legend, my father and his brother — that would have been my Uncle Roy — cranked a hand car from Winterville to Athens, where they got some people to help them derail the vehicle. They watched the game from the railroad trestle and then joined in the celebration afterward.
According to Daddy, people tied 55-gallon drums to the bumpers of Model T Ford automobiles and drug them over the cobblestone streets of Athens. People knew how to have fun in those days. All I ever got to do after a win was ring the chapel bell.
Daddy moved around a lot and went to high school in Arnoldsville. He used to tell me about a high school basketball player there — a girl named Florine Pickelsimer. According to my father, Florine averaged more than 50 points per game and single-handedly outscored the opponents in every game her senior year. He said that she was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not for scoring every point her team made against one rival team.
Like me, my daddy was prone to exaggeration. He never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, in other words — so I am not sure if the legend of Florine Pickelsimer was true or not, but that hasn’t kept me from repeating it on many, many occasions — just as he did.
My daddy had several sayings that he lived by and tried to teach me to follow. I am afraid he had more luck getting me to believe that Florine averaged 50 a game. For instance, part of his mantra was, “Have a place for everything and everything in its place.” He would roll over in his grave if he could see how disorganized his son grew up to be.
He also believed in the adage, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” He wasn’t stingy, understand, and would give you the shirt off his back — but he would give it to you. He wouldn’t lend it to you. And if he didn’t have the money to pay for it, he would do without until he did. I kind of failed to pick up on that trait.
My father also didn’t believe in handing out compliments that he didn’t mean or giving gifts just because a gift was expected. I remember only two gifts, in fact, that my father ever personally bought for me. One was a baseball glove — a Mickey Mantle model — that he brought to me at school when I was in the fourth grade. I used that glove until all of the padding was gone and the leather was barely intact. I still have it on the top shelf of my closet. The other gift he bought me was a stereo “rack system” that he bought at Sears for $99 when I was a senior in college. It hasn’t worked in years but still sits in a place of honor in our basement rec room.
My father smoked Winston cigarettes, drank Evan Williams bourbon, believed Ty Cobb to be the best baseball player to ever live and Charley Trippi to be the best football player. He believed Wally Butts hung the moon and refused to read the Saturday Evening Post after they wrote the outlandish article accusing Coach Butts and Bear Bryant of fixing a college football game.
Homer Huckaby never graduated from high school but was one of the most well-read men I have ever known. He taught me to read when I was 4 and made sure that there were always lots and lots of books in our house. He taught Sunday school in the Methodist Church his entire adult life and made sure I read the Bible every day before I read anything else.
He is an integral part of who I am, and this Father’s Day I find myself wishing I could thank him and wondering what my own children will remember about me 25 years after I am gone.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.