Sunday, June 15, 2008
Three dads, three very different memories.
A Polo-Collared Recollection of Dad
One never knows what will evoke a childhood memory. Sometimes it's a smell. Like the other day when the waft from a scented candle reminded me of walking past fragrant honeysuckle on the way to elementary school. Fifty years have passed since I was that 8 year old, but the scent is as fresh as ever.
An article of clothing emits memories of my father. It's a classic polo-collared shirt. Pale blue. Dad wore it whenever he puttered around the house or mowed the lawn past dusk with a hand-held flashlight and the moon's well-aimed beam guiding his course. He enjoyed tinkering and making things better. Trips to the hardware store were frequent, and I got to go along for the ride. Today, the smell of fresh-cut pine studs, paint and bulky bins of nails, nuts and bolts elicit thoughts of my father because he lead me there.
Back to the shirt. For 28 years since his passing, I've worn Dad's shirt whenever I tackle a painting job. Its fibers are aged to comfortable perfection and boast several holes that document its advanced years. A kaleidoscope of luscious latex shades have been dripped and dabbed on the shirt over time, creating a reunion of tattoos to the past and present.
Whenever I slip the soft blue shirt over my head, down my shoulders and onto my form, its fibers begin to breathe new life for my next painting project. The shirt fits me the way fingers feel as they slip into a finely formed glove. I take a deep breath and relive the comforting thoughts, sounds and scents of yesterday that brought me to today. They're classic, just like Dad.
-- Sharon Allen Gilder, Gaithersburg
A Class Clown of a Father
My father and I didn't have the kind of relationship you see on TV. We never walked the beach and discussed the meaning of life; nor did he ever go to Home Depot to find out how to build me a fort. In fact, when I was 10, I forced him to build me a basketball court in the back yard after the makeshift rim and backboard we had tied to the back of a tetherball pole landed on my head, sending me to the emergency room.
My father, along with seven brothers and one sister, grew up in a small Northwest Washington home in the 1930s. His childhood claim to infamy was that he accidentally burned down much of the family home when he was in second grade. His siblings all had to be sent t to live with relatives while the house was rebuilt. My father recalled that shortly after the incident, he went to confession and said, "Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I burned down the family house -- once."
It was at St. Anthony's High School where my father met my mother, who thankfully had a sense of humor. They began dating early on even though my father once gave her up for Lent. As others have told me, my father was not only the class clown, but the clown of the entire school -- even though he stood only 5-6, weighed about 110 pounds and was called "Flea" by his basketball teammates.
His penchant for irreverence continued into his adult life. He worked in construction but never took work, himself, or life all that seriously. He often had to find an extra job to help make ends meet, and once, while applying for work at a local grocery store, he was asked how far he planned to go in the company. My father replied, "President." End of interview.
Having such a card for a father was not always easy. In my junior year at DeMatha, my baseball coach (Bill McGregor) told the team that we needed to go sit on a hill and "focus" on the big game ahead.
My father showed up and began telling jokes.
Coach, who had gone to his car, returned annoyed that his instructions were not being followed. McGregor looked at me and said, "Who is this nut?"
I replied, "Never seen him before in my life."
-- Thomas Ponton, Columbia
A Blueprint for Life From Mr. Fix-It
I grew up thinking that men were born knowing how to do everything. I thought they all knew how to take a car apart and put it back together. I thought plumbing repair and a knack for do-it-yourself projects were gender specific, that every man in the world could fix anything.
And then I went out into a world where many men can't change the proverbial light bulb, let alone deal with a fuse box or install a dimmer switch.
In the years since my dad has been gone, I've realized I inherited from him a love of animals, a tender heart, a tendency for denial when it suits my needs and -- thank goodness -- his common-sense approach to life.
My dad had dropped out of school in the eighth grade. It was during the Depression and he went to work in the East Texas oil fields with my granddad.
His formal education was short, but there was never a topic he wasn't interested in learning more about. When he got home from the graveyard shift in the middle of the night, he would shower, eat and then read the paper before going to bed. He could talk with someone for hours, putting them at ease with a simple conversational technique: He would acknowledge how little he knew about the subject at hand and then just ask questions.
Growing up, I didn't appreciate him. In fact, to me -- a small child -- he was big, burly and kind of gruff. Since I lived with him only intermittently because he and my mother divorced before I was born, I didn't feel very close to him. I remember "helping" him as he worked on his car. Mostly I was playing in the yard just to be near him. He would ask me to hand him whatever tool he needed, and I would scramble for it, wanting to please him and afraid I'd pick up the wrong one. That's how I know about Phillips screwdrivers and Allen wrenches, and it's why I still love rummaging around hardware and auto-supply stores. My dad made sure my sister and I knew how to fill our own gas tanks and check the fluid levels of our car. This was the late 1960s, so that was rare. He also made sure we knew the mechanics of changing a tire, but I never had the physical strength to do it.
My father was gone by the time I finished college, but he'd been largely responsible for my getting started. He'd said if I would get a part-time job and maintain passing grades, he would write the tuition checks. I owe my work ethic to him, along with my tenacity and my ability to break down obstacles to get past them.
I used to think my dad had wanted sons -- surely boys would be quicker at getting the right tools, and they would catch more and bigger fish -- but I learned in the weeks following his death, from so many people who reached out to us, that his girls were a great source of pride. I miss him every day, but mostly I'm grateful for how he continues to influence my life. I was with a friend recently who was attempting a minor but frustrating home repair. I came up with a solution and he asked, "How did you think of that?" I smiled and said, "Just channeling Vernon Lamb."
-- Vikki Lynn Lamb Doss, McLean