When I was growing up, my father and I were very close. In the summers, I helped him on the farm by driving the tractor while he either tied bags of wheat being harvested by his large combine or loaded bales of hay on the wagon after the baling machine had done its job. Today bales of straw are mainly used for fall décor, but those bales of hay were vital to our cows for winter food.
During the school year, I rode to and from school with him each day. The 15-minute drive each way gave us a chance to talk and share our plans for the day or what had happened during the day. Often we would stop by his parents’ home just a few blocks from school for a brief visit.
On summer evenings, he usually led singing at “gospel meetings” at country congregations from one mile to 30 miles away. In the fifties and sixties, churches liked to bring in a guest preacher and a guest song leader for the week. Often the whole family would go with Daddy, but I liked it best when I was the only one. I felt special.
My dad knew everything and could do anything. Of course that is the exaggeration of a little girl crazy about her dad, but it was also the opinion of many adults who knew him.
Daddy was a science teacher, farmer, singer, and player of instruments—piano, organ, guitar, ukulele, violin, and saw. (Don’t question the saw-playing if you haven’t seen it or tried it!) Until I was married and living in another state, I didn’t realize that people hire others to fix electrical, plumbing, or carpentry problems. I thought the dad in the family always did it because mine did.
The spring that I turned twenty, I also became engaged. Steve went to Daddy’s high school and asked for my hand in marriage. Daddy liked Steve okay, I think, but he knew full well Mother did not want us to get married any time soon. He hemmed and hawed and finally said he’d talk it over with my mother. Steve left uncertain of the outcome, but with a greater understanding of how a couple makes joint decisions.
Meanwhile, I was doing my student teaching in the city and needed transportation to get to the school. Mother let me use her 10-year-old Chevy and she drove the 16-year-old Chevrolet she’d bought for 100 dollars. When I went home for a weekend, I was always eager to return and see Steve before my dorm’s curfew.
As I approached a yellow light in midtown Nashville, I remembered that it was a very long yellow and decided I could make it. Unfortunately, another driver on the cross street saw from the edge that it was yellow and figured it would be green by the time he got to it. Those two assumptions caused a crunching collision that only bruised both of us but totaled Mother’s car, due to its age and the angle at which it had been hit, bending the frame.
The police took me to the hospital to be checked and I called Daddy from there. “Are you all right?” was his first, urgent question, and I could tell from his voice that that was all that mattered to him.
After that Daddy let me drive his Ford Falcon, his first new car in his life, and he bought a junker to drive himself. I felt really guilty to be taking the only decent car in the family, but we all knew I had no choice. I certainly didn’t have money to buy a car. I was already working two jobs to help pay for my wedding in August.
Back at home between spring semester and my final summer school, I took Daddy’s car to our small town of Portland to pick up some sewing supplies since I was picking up extra money by sewing for some neighbor women.
The street had angle parking which I wasn’t used to, and I cut a bit too sharply backing out of the parking place. I heard a squealing sound of metal on metal as the bumper of the next car engraved a deep scar down the right side of the car. Daddy was not pleased, but he took it well.
Then one twilit evening just two weeks before our wedding, I rushed to finish a dress for Miss Etheline, a dear neighbor. As usual, I backed the car off the parking pad into the driveway to leave by pulling forward. Instead, I heard a piercing “CCRRUUUNCH!” as Daddy’s precious Falcon rammed into the combine that had been left in our driveway. I tried in vain to pull forward, but it was stuck. I saw a crease along the trunk and the back window glass was all over the place. I was horrified and had no idea what to do.
Of course Mother and my younger brothers had heard the noise and come out to see what had happened. They had no answers, but just quietly went back inside, as did I.
About an hour later, Daddy returned from his meeting and his car headlights lit up the miserable sight of his Ford Falcon crunched into his combine. His scream pierced the air. “Noooooo!” he yelled. “NOOOOO! I can’t take it!” And he burst into sobs, leaning over in the driveway, hands on his knees. For a minute I thought he would throw up, but not quite. Mother came out and he held to her and sobbed, saying no more. He’d said enough. I couldn’t believe I’d done this to my precious father.
But in two weeks, he got relief. With a broad smile, he walked me down the aisle to turn me over to Steve. All was forgiven.
On March 16, 1984, my father had a heart attack and died on March 18, 1984. Tomorrow’s post continues the tribute to him.