Kenneth, my daddy, was one of three boys, and his brothers had three boys. I was born with the "responsibility" of being the only little girl born into the family in a long while. I don't know what that really meant, but it may explain why my father was always so proud of me no matter what I did.
Also I was an only child, and my parents waited nine years for me to come along. The doctor told them they would never be able to have a child but I proved him wrong. It was with great relief and excitement that the whole family welcomed me to the fold.
While Mother was in a difficult, long labor, Daddy was in the hallway of the hospital making merry by wheeling himself around in a hijacked wheelchair and passing out cigars to the nurses even before I was born.
I heard that story many times.
At the time of my birth Daddy had advanced his position in life to that of butcher at my grandfather's grocery store. His father-in-law had bestowed 28 acres and a house to him and Mother, so they had a nice but modest place to bring a child home to.
When I was just six months old, Daddy brought home a black and white Fox Terrier puppy which they named Sissy. It was my first and best gift ever. Sissy became my faithful companion and endured many years of being dressed up and pushed around in a doll carriage.
Every time Sissy had another litter of puppies, I cringed when Daddy cropped their tails with his pocket knife. I thought it was cruel but he was just doing what he thought was best. It was the same pocket knife he used to castrate pigs, clean his fingernails, and cut various items on the farm. Years later when Daddy died, we found several old pocket knives that he had carried around in various stages of his life. All of them were worn slick from serious use.
I was a Daddy's Girl and often tried to imitate what he was doing. At the Gulf Gas Station he built and ran, I put orange colored grease rags in my pocket and pretended I was a gas station attendant. I rode in the pickup with him while he fed the cattle. Dove hunting was especially fun. We would drive up to a spot, roll down the window, and shoot dove from the truck. I will never forget the kick of the shotgun on my shoulder when he let me shoot.
Daddy hired my cousin who ran a bulldozer to come out to our pasture and dig a deep stock tank. Before the rain came and filled it up, we drove our Army Jeep straight up the side of the dam. It was so much fun that I regretted the rain coming and spoiling our amusement ride.
The Jeep was the source of a big secret my father and I shared. It had an open top and was just a bare frame of a vehicle much like those seen in war movies. When I was seven years old I asked Daddy if I could drive the Jeep. He told me I could if I wouldn't tell Mother. He put it in first gear, and I had my first driving experience. I couldn't reach the gas pedal but that was okay because the Jeep had a governor on it that made it go about five miles an hour in low gear. Eventually Daddy decided I was good enough to drive alone while he fed the cattle. He would put it in first gear then jump out, and I would drive in big circles in the pasture. There was really no chance of harm because the Jeep went so slow.
This went on for weeks, and as promised I didn't tell my mother. Daddy knew he would get in big trouble if she found out. The pasture was across the highway from our home. One day as we were doing our secret maneuver in the pasture, we forgot it was dinner time. Mother came across the road to call us for dinner, and when she got to the top of the hill, she saw Daddy standing in the pasture and the Jeep going in circles. That was the last time I got to drive the Jeep. I never heard a quarrel from my parents but I feel sure Mother laid down the law that night.
By the time I was 12 I was driving the family car everywhere with my dad sitting in the front seat beside me. I was trusted with it alone to go "down the lane" to
Hollingsworth's to buy a fresh chicken for Mother to cook for dinner. I remember one exhilarating moment when I was driving with Daddy in the front seat and Mother and Big Mama in the back, and Daddy said, "Floor board it." So I did and loved the squealing response I got from my passengers.
Toward the end of his life I had to drive my father everywhere as he was too sick to drive himself. We took road trips to Louisiana so he could play craps at The Horseshoe. During the five hour trips I don't think he took his eye off of the road one time. I drove perfectly without a bobble because I knew he was waiting to see if I would cross the line or mess up. He never said a word about my driving, so that let me know he was proud of the skill he had taught me at a young age.
My dad had a dry sense of humor. He would say things unexpectedly and with a punctuating point. If only I could accurately repeat some of his off color remarks. He was even funny while he was dying. My son Jeff and I took care of him, and every day the hospice nurse would say he couldn't last another day, but he did, and for three months at that.
One day he was lying in his hospital bed we had moved to the living room right where his recliner had always sat. There was a painting on the wall of a country scene with some trees and an open gate. Daddy was in and out of sleep and consciousness. He called me over to the bed and quietly whispered something to me.
One of Daddy's hobbies was his garden and thus starting plants from seeds. He had found some acorns which he put in pots and grew little oak trees which he gave away to visitors.
What he said to me when he whispered was, "Judy, I want you to do something for me."
He pointed to the painting. "I want you to take one of my live oak trees and plant it over there by the steps of the Don Jones Bridge and put my name on it."
He was confused and thought he was in the scene of the painting and believed he was at the City Park. Sad as it was, both Jeff and I smiled that even as he was dying he was trying to perpetuate the trees he loved so much and be remembered in his home town for the tree planted by the bridge.
There is so much more I can and will write later about my father but this is enough said for now. He was a fine man, a good man, and a great parent.