Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not Nearly Long Enough

When I recall my first memory of my father's face, he looks only slightly older than he was in this picture. A slim man, with sandy hair and bright blue eyes, he was determined, enthusiastic, full of ideas. And always working.
Daddy had a strong faith in God. He never shouted his beliefs from the roof tops, but the way he lived his life spoke volumes. He was a strict disciplinarian; we all feared his wrath if we had done wrong, but I knew he loved us, and he showed that love in so many ways.
"Can I have a wristwatch for my graduation present?" I said a few days before my eighth grade graduation.
"I don't know, Brenda Gail," Mother said, "We'll have to see."
On the eve of my graduation, a small velvet box appeared beside my dinner plate. It was a delicate Bulova wristwatch. Daddy had bought it for me on his way home from work that night.
He loved the land, nature, all things that grew. And although his parents were prepared to send him to college, he chose to farm the Mississippi River bottoms. Like generations of Wilsons before him.
He was also a master carpenter, like his maternal grandfather. He built our big brick house in 1946-47; in 1979, he built the house in which he and Mother lived after we all left home. And he built Mary Ellen's house, which was down the road from theirs.
"How on earth do you have the patience to build a house?" I said one day in 1979, as he and I stood gazing at the footings, "It takes so long!"
He placed his hands on his hips and smiled, "You just build it one board, one brick at a time," he said, "and first thing you know, you've got a house!"
As time went on and our family grew, Daddy supplemented the family income by taking a job off the farm. He worked at a shoe factory, F. W. McGraw (the company that built Union Carbide in the early fifties), Union Carbide (but he left in the early sixties, after he and two co-workers were accidentally sprayed with an unknown chemical. I think it's dangerous to work in that place, he said). After that, he worked in maintenance at a hospital until he retired.
When his work day was over, Daddy couldn't wait to get home and hop on the old Farm Al tractor. My siblings and I ran barefoot behind him as he plowed the garden each spring, and when I think of it now, I can still hear the ear-splitting whine of the old tractor, smell the thick blue smoke drifting through the air, feel the cool, moist dirt between my toes.
Daddy was not all work and no play. He had a unique sense of humor, was playful with Mother (often calling her "Doll"), and spent one snowy Saturday afternoon showing us how to make "Jacob's Ladders" and other things with string. He also taught us how to make a small "tractor," using a spool, a piece of soap, a small nail, and two matches. The little thing actually rolled along by itself, and almost made it up Terry's leg!
In spite of never having had lessons, Daddy was an excellent pianist. "I had a burning desire to take piano lessons," he once told me, "But Momma wouldn't let me."
That didn't stop him; he played by "ear." Like Jerry Lee Lewis.
We all stood around the old upright piano many Saturday nights, clapping and singing along to his lively tunes, his foot tapping to the beat. (He was still playing in his later years. I took the above picture in the late eighties.)
I thought Daddy was indestructible. When my brother, Ted, was born in 1947, he came by Maw Maw George's house, where my siblings and I were staying while Mother was in the hospital. Terry, Pitty Pat, Mary Ellen and I all rushed out to meet him that day, and as he knelt to tell us we had a new baby brother, the wind blew his hat right off his head. As I watched it roll and tumble across the yard, I couldn't believe anything had power over him. Even the March winds.
In the early eighties, Daddy was elected Judge/Executive of Carlisle County. He worked hard for the county, and Mother worked as his secretary, without pay. They both felt a deep need to do something for Carlisle County. (I snapped this picture of him not long after he became Judge Wilson.)
Daddy knew the history of Carlisle County like the back of his hand. He was a delightful storyteller; I loved hearing him reminisce about growing up during the depression, the colorful old characters he knew back then. I had many philosophical discussions with him about the meaning of life, death, the hereafter. In later years he began writing. He published two small books and had started working on his memoirs. But he was unable to finish them. There wasn't time.

I could fill a book with memories of my father, but there is no measure of my love for him.  Today is his birthday, and I miss him. I had him for fifty-two years, but that was not nearly long enough.


Sandra Ree said...

Maybe it's a southern thing to call your Father, even as a grownup, Daddy, I do... it brings tears to my eyes every time I see it in print. Beautiful story about your Daddy, Brenda.

Suzanne said...

This made me cry.

Ashley said...

So eloquently put. Makes me wish I knew him, too.

-Ashley (from bosssanders.com)

Anonymous said...

I could smell the tractor smoke as you wrote. My Daddy is a farmer, too, Brenda.

mlh said...

I loved this story, Brenda. You spoke from the heart, and it shows! The moment you mentioned the tractor, I could hear one outside and see the dark brown earth turning over. Amazing!

Anonymous said...

Oh this was precious Brenda. I miss Grandaddy SO much. Thank you for sharing this. Love your niece, Kelli

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley