March 4, 2013
I think there comes a time in every writer’s life when she is faced with penning a very difficult piece. It may be that the subject matter is over her head. It may be that the emotional hurdle is simply too high. Today, I am writing such a piece, for you see, I am bidding farewell to my dad. At 93 years of age, he simply wound down like a fine timepiece at around 8 a.m. Saturday morning. He was tired.
Born in Tennessee in 1919, my father grew up in abject poverty, having lost his own father when Dad was just 14 years old. My grandmother, who took in other people’s washing and sewing to try to make a little bit of money, could not afford to keep her son in her home, so he was farmed out to relatives who were only a bit better off financially than she was.
For a time, he even lived under a bridge. He lived in the woods at one point in his young life. He trapped animals for both food and money. I remember a story he told me about having trapped a skunk quite by accident. When he checked his traps after school that day, the incarcerated skunk was none too happy about the new development, and he sprayed my dad’s new shoes — the only pair he’d be getting that year, and they had just arrived from Sears and Roebuck. For the rest of that school year, my dad had to sit in the opposite corner of the schoolhouse from the wood stove, because the heat really got the smell going. That story always broke my heart when I was a kid, to think of my dad being both poor and cold.
Imagine the things a man born in 1919 witnessed in his lifetime. Wonderful things; terrible things. My father lost his first wife to death and 20 years later, he lost his second wife to the same relentless stalker. Having endued that pain twice, he swore off marriage and held true to his word until the day he died. Oh he was a ladies’ man, make no mistake, and that held true almost up until the day he died. In fact, while he was in the hospital and about a week before he passed away, he asked a nurse 65 years his junior whether she’d like to go on a date with him that very evening, and he meant it.
My dad loved a good joke. He spun fascinating and entertaining conversations. He learned at the age of 19 that education was his ticket out of a life of poverty, so by shooting pool and racking bowling pins over the years, he earned enough money to live and to eventually go to night school at Vanderbilt University. He went to work for Burroughs Corporation as a very young man and retired from there (then, Sperry Corporation) some 40-something years later. That’s how it worked for men like my dad. You worked hard; you remained loyal to your employer, and the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow was a pension check, the last of which I imagine will be cut to my father sometime this week.
Daddy also loved fishing . He and I took the boat out, just the two of us, more times than I can remember. I don’t ever remember catching a whole lot of anything, but I do remember our adventures very clearly. I loved those days.
Gardening was another of Dad’s passions. Oh, the smells I remember as spring temperatures would begin to warm the earth, and the time came to plow that patch of ground for the first time each year. Over the years, the dirt became so rich and dark, a far cry from the sticky red clay we Georgians know as “dirt.” I’d walk beside dad, who walked behind his plow, and the same two fat robins would hop along behind the whole parade, gobbling up the bounty of earthworms the dirt gave up every year.
I wish spring would hurry up and get here. My dad passed on his love of gardening to me. I feel very close to him when I’m digging around in the dirt, planting seeds, weeding, peeking for new growth and developments, and harvesting vegetables. My husband, children and I had a great idea a couple of days ago, and that’s to plant a big dogwood tree for shade, place a bench under the tree that’s angled with a great view of our vegetable garden, and surround and fill the area with things he loved — plants, trinkets, even a concrete basset hound we gave him years ago. We’ll hang peaceful, tinkling wind chimes in the trees, and we’ll always keep a basket handy for the harvest. I think he would have liked that.
My dad leaves behind three biological children, four if you count my dear sister my mom brought to the party when she married Dad. He leaves behind many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I like to believe that, if even one of his traits makes its way into just one of those children, the world will be a better place. My dad was cool, one-of-a-kind. He lived his life the way he wanted to live it. But as I said, he was tired. Angels finally, kindly, led him to his new home, free of pain and sickness and, I’m convinced, enjoying sharp, 20/20 vision.
I’m glad we got to say goodbye and kiss his forehead just one more time. That, and the thousands of memories that come to mind when I hear the simple word “Daddy,” will keep him alive in my heart and my memory, and in my family’s, until we do get to see him again someday.
And when I see that first fat robin hopping around out in the garden this year searching for squirming earthworms scrambling to take cover, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, lean quietly against what we’re already calling “Papa’s shade tree,” and just watch Mr. Robin. And smile.
I love you, Daddy.
David E. Adams August 19, 1919 – March 2, 2013 A life well lived.
•Carole Townsend is also a Gwinnett Daily Post staff correspondent and author of two books: “Southern Fried White Trash” and her newest, “Red Lipstick and Clean Underwear” (released October 2012). Townsend has been quoted on msnbc.com, in the LA Times, USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor, been featured on FOX 5 Television News and CNN, and is often a guest on television and radio shows nationwide. She currently travels throughout the southeast, meeting readers at festivals and book signings, and speaking publicly at various events.•