My dad grew up on the stage in Vaudeville. He was in his parent’s act. At a young age, he was on stage singing a song-“Mush,Mush.” I found this out years later from an old friend of his.
He was a great dancer and jitterbugger. His friend Ralph, told me he went out with dad and 5 other couples, all packed into a ’37 Ford. Dad looked like Tony Curtis and the women all loved him. Hell, everybody loved daddy. He could charm the wings off a butterfly.
He was smart too and funny. Always cracking a corny joke to anyone who would listen long enough for the punch line.
On October 8, 1945, he enlisted in the Army. His records state he was married at the time, but I have yet to find out to whom. I am still researching this.
Mom and Dad married on October 31,1952 in Galveston County, Texas. I know this because I have their marriage license.
He and mom divorced when I was two. A few months before, mom went to run errands and left me with dad. When she came home, she found me outside in a wheelbarrow, playing with something. She moved closer, and couldn’t believe what her baby girl held. There I was, in my diaper sitting in a wheelbarrow playing with a dead owl. It was in that moment she knew the marriage was over, or soon would be.
Mom or I never knew when he might show up on our doorstep. He was a gypsy, moving through life with little regard for others. He would call out of the blue, say he was going to come see me. I would get excited, put on my best dress and wait on the front steps all day long. I refused to come in, worried I would miss him. Even made mom give me my lunch on those steps. As darkness approached, mom would come and bring me inside. I would cry, she would do her best to comfort me to no avail.
The times he did show up, things felt ‘off’. I guess he must have been drinking. When I was older, mom told me at one point in his life he got hooked on some kind of cough syrup they would sell in a gas station. She seldom let him take me on his own, but there were a couple of times I remember.
He picked me up one day, and put me in the back seat of the car. I was about 4 at the time. I remember it being an old black Chevy, with the rounded fenders. As I settled in, I saw a quart mason jar sitting next to me. As any child would do, I picked it up, peered inside and saw a snake.
Dad must have remembered it was back there with me, and said “Linda don’t open that jar. That’s a rattlesnake I milk to sell the venom to the Houston Zoo.” He possessed zero parenting skills.
One other time, he picked me up and I was staying the whole weekend with him for the first time. Before we got to my grandma’s house where he lived, he said he needed to make a stop. He had a trot line in the river, and needed to check it. Told me to stay in the car and he’d be right back.
Well, I sit and then sit some more. It’s starting to get cold and dark outside. Frightened, I start crying. There was only one house on the dark road. A man came out of the house and approached the car. He peered in and saw me there, alone. He talked to me, and then left. He came back with his wife, and she talked me into coming into the house. Mom always told me never talk to strangers, much less go with them, but I was desperate.
They took me inside, gave me ice cream, and put me to bed in a big old recliner. I fell asleep, exhausted from the day’s events.
The next morning they fed me breakfast and asked me questions. They were able to figure out where I belonged from what I told them. My grandmas house (where my dad lived after her death) had a big round driveway and I knew the name of the street- Redbud. They took me there. They pulled away, leaving me on the porch.
I will never forget what happened next. I walked in the door. My dad was laying on the couch watching TV, looked over at me and said “Where have you been?” Now, I was only 8 or 9 at the time, but even I knew this wasn’t right. I broke into tears and ran from the room.
I was not allowed to go anywhere with him ever again.
Bursting in/out of my life like a shooting star rushing across the night sky; that was my Dad.
He lived out of the boundaries of society’s expectations. He got along better with animals than people. My love for animals comes from him. He was amazing with them; I remember this. Once saw him put a puff adder snake to sleep by rubbing its belly.
I love him, because he’s my dad, but I never knew him as a person. If I had, I know I would have liked him as well.
I forgave him a long time ago for being different. I forgave him for his inability to be my dad in the most conventional sense of the word.
Today, I called the assisted living home to check on him. The nurse says he sleeps and eats and that’s about it. He’s 90. He no longer speaks. His dementia is rampant now. He can’t see or hear, so I cannot tell him I love him in the hopes he will do the same. I want with all my soul to believe he loves me.
In her words, he’s like a baby now. My heart is heavy with this knowledge.
I hope when he sleeps he dreams about the little girl he named Linda, because it means beautiful in Spanish. I hope he remembers mom with fondness.
I’d like to believe he walks in the woods with his dog, Pepper and all the other dogs he had in his life. And he puts his cows out to pasture,feeds them, and watches the sun set from the front porch.
I pray to God he is at peace and is in no pain, mental or otherwise.
I cried for him again today, something I have done a lot of in my life. But that’s okay.
I love you Dad.