My father died several years ago, but he’s still with us every day. I see him in my two sons and in the ways they are raising our seven grandchildren. I see him in my daughter when she looks pensive and when she laughs, and in her fierce devotion to family. He’ll be with us on Father’s Day when I raise a toast.
Through his gifts to us, he will always be here.
He left behind no money. He never had that much to give. All that he received on payday was placed on the table in front of my mother. He never gave his three children an allowance. But he taught us the value of money and how to earn it.
He showed us how to collect discarded soda bottles and take them to Colodny’s store at 23rd and L streets NW to receive the two-cents-a-bottle refund. We kids usually scrounged enough bottles in the neighborhood to cover the 12-cent entry fee for the afternoon swim session at the Francis Pool. Morning sessions were free.
I’ll forever remember the time the Kings hit the jackpot. Our decades-old coal-fired furnace was replaced with a natural gas unit. Daddy wouldn’t let the installers cart away the old furnace parts. Instead, he got my brother, sister and me to help him load the pieces of iron on my wagon. With Daddy pulling and the three of us walking beside and behind the wagon to keep the load from falling off, we hauled the parts four blocks to the dump at 20th and L streets, where Daddy placed the load on the scale and collected $75. We were so proud of his ingenuity. Who but our dad would have thought of that?
That’s what it was about my father. He took pride in raising his children. He never told us to do things. He showed us how to do things.
Don’t throw away anything that’s broken. Fix it. Fix it not just to save money. Fix it because it needs fixing.
In all of our nearly 20 years at 1101 24th St. NW, we never had an electrician, plumber or carpenter enter our home. Daddy fixed everything while, of course, we watched. So what if the light switch read “No” instead of “On” when Daddy got finished? It worked, didn’t it?
Everybody knew, or so Daddy demonstrated time and again, that all plumbing problems could be solved with either a washer or a tightened bolt on the faucet. Just tighten that sucker.
Hammer and nails were as essential as air. Nails were not to be wasted. A bent nail? Straighten it with the hammer. A discarded piece of wood with a nail in it? Pull out the nail. No nail in the King household was ever used only once.
He brought that lesson to the raising of his children.
We belonged to him and his wife. No one else.
We were like that nail. Never to be wasted. Never to be discarded. If we were bent, he would see to it that we got straightened. That was his job, his duty, his reason for being.
Part of his calling was to be entertaining. Our family never had enough money to go to the circus when it set up on the lot at Benning Road NE. On occasion, our parents could scrape together enough money to take us to the sideshow. But I never made it into the big top until I was a grown man with children of my own.
No matter. Daddy was entertainment enough.
His storytelling and songs were the best. He kept us spellbound night after night with tales drawn from his imagination and selections from a tattered songbook.
That’s probably what I remember most about being around my dad. He kept us laughing. We laughed with him and about ourselves. About things around us.
We didn’t grow up in a pretty world. We didn’t have to be told that some of our neighbors had it hard. Or that our family lacked what some others had. We were kids, but we could see it for ourselves. Years passed before our icebox and washing board were replaced with a refrigerator and washing machine.
But my father had a way of lightening the mood, of getting us to see the fun side of things. I didn’t know it at the time, but, looking back, I realize we found hope in our laughter, in knowing that things weren’t always going to be that way.
He infused us with optimism. He showed us that no matter how hard things may be, they can be fixed. And that we, his children, can fix things, too.
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