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Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 80 years old. Dad grew up in a tiny, tiny town in the back woods of Mississippi. He was the oldest in his poor family and to help the family income planted peach trees around the property when he was 12. He tended these trees, picked and sold the fruit to the neighbors. I also remember stories of stealing watermelons from the neighbor and hunting squirrels. As a young man he helped on his Uncle JR’s peanut farm.
He was the first to graduate high school. After which, he enlisted in the Army Air Core (which later became the US Air Force). He served 20 years, living in five countries while raising six children. A year before I was born, Dad retired from the service and settled in Everett, WA. He had flown through Seattle a few times during his service years and had always thought it looked like “a nice place to live.” He hired on at Boeing but that quickly ended with “the big layoff.” He then hired on at Everett Community College, beginning as a janitor. He ended up founding their Audio Visual department – repairing, planning, fixing and locating all AV equipment on campus. I have fond memories of going to work with him – working at the counter to check out materials to students and falling off the high stool with a huge crash, driving through the library after hours on the electric cart which would only go if your butt was firmly planted on the seat, but then my legs were too short so Dad would stack a pile of books up behind me and of course his desk, a huge pile of tangled wires, parts and tools (but he could always find what he needed, hmmm, a chip off the old block?)
Dad took care of three gardens when I was growing up, the largest was at my oldest sister’s where the corn, beans and who knows what else was. In our front garden grew peas, strawberries and the biggest crop of chard one year that none of us will ever forget. I always thought it was spinach but later found out it was chard – that’s why it kept growing back. One row of this stuff meant it was on the dinner table nearly every night that summer. Yuck! I still can’t eat it just cooked – a mess of slimey greens and I’ve learned to cope and cook with it in other ways – but I don’t grow it! I still have his work / gardening hat …
If Dad was here today, I would take him for a walk in my garden. I think he would be proud of my tomatoes, give advice on my beans (they’re still straggly) shake his finger at me for not eating my peas fast enough before they got too old and bemused by my need to grow so many flowers – no matter how she asked, he would never plant them for mom.
Dad was a quiet man – unless he had a good story to tell, he was extremely resourceful and could fix anything you threw at him. He didn’t get involved in the raising of us very much – that was Mom’s job. But he loved to be around his grandchildren. He could tell you all 20 of their birthdays and probably even the weather the day they were born. And he had a knack for settling them when no one else could. He was also a thinker and had an incredible mathematical mind.
In 1997, Dad quit smoking so he could fly to England for my wedding. I told him if I knew that’s what it would take, I would have gotten married years before. A few months after our wedding I flew back to the States and met Dad in Mississippi for a week’s visit. It was a great opportunity for him to show me around all the old haunts and share family stories. I’ll always treasure this time spent with him.
Two years later he was diagnosed with cancer and he went quickly. He was a remarkable man who touched many lives, but none so much as his youngest daughter’s.