He had the most beautiful hands I had ever seen. His fingers were long and slender, each one a twin of the next. Sometimes, he would let me hold them as we strolled into a store. His arms and legs were oh so skinny. He never went without a shirt. When he was a child something happened and his spine had an unnatural curve to it. It was some kind of fever that caused his spine to bend, according to my mother. I would watch him as he worked in the garage. His thick black hair would often fall into his eyes when he was working hard at painting a car or a boat. I would bring him coffee whenever he asked for it. It was my pleasure to get him a cup, well, not always. He smoked like a chimney and going on trips was almost unbearable for those of us who sat in the back seat. Fishing was his passion and he spent many Saturdays sitting on a riverbank somewhere. I cannot say that he was handsome, nor will I declare that he was the opposite. He always had a job and we never went hungry. This man I am talking about is my Dad. He has done things to make me happy and has, also, disappointed me. Yet, still, he is my dad.
Charles is his given name. A few people called him Charlie, some called him Chuck, but Mom always called him Charles. My dad was by no means a literate man. If I remember correctly, his education didn’t go past the fourth grade. He read the paper sometimes. Sherlock Holmes was one of his favorites. Then there were the fishing magazines; there was always one sitting on the table beside his chair. Many nights he took a nap before dinner and went to bed early so that he could get up at four in the morning to start all over again. He was in general a quiet man at home. Arguments were always started by my mother and he never raised his hand to her.
Dad took great pride in being a spray painter. He painted tractor trailers for Fruehauf Corporation. A perfectionist to the last detail. I remember one time he took my brother and I to see a trailer that he had painted for the company. It was a special edition trailer and it traveled to various places around the country. His face lit up as he talked about his work. As we toured the factory, my brother Randall and I were able to see his work station. We met his good friends, Corny and Brock. During the times that he was laid off, he would paint cars to supplement his income. This was when I realized that he was his own person apart my mother. Part of his life was outside of our humble home. It was a place where my mom would never be included.
Music was a big part of our lives growing up. We had record players and radios on nearly all of the time. Dad sang whenever we were in the car. He whistled while working and he loved Jerry Lee Lewis. Whenever my parents would have an argument, with a long sorrowful face, he would listen to, Who Will the Next Fool Be, made popular by his favorite singer. We never lacked for musical instruments. We had a piano, guitar, and drums. I couldn’t play a note on any of them though, my brother has that gift. Luster Laws, a neighbor from down the street, had a twin brother Lester. Dad had invited Lester to come over one evening to play his guitar. We all gathered in the family room. Sitting on tall stools, my brother played his guitar right along with Lester. It was like a scene from, O Brother Where Art Thou? We were just plain folk sitting around singing and listening to the music. Even though Dad was a good singer, he was too shy to participate. He sat on the sofa and listened, while I sang loud enough for the both of us.
Many weekends he brought home enough catfish to fill the bathtub. Some were as large at the tub itself. It kind of grossed me out to think that fish were in the place where I bathed. There was a peace and quiet he experienced when he went fishing that was hard to duplicate at home. Often my mother or brother would go with him. I rarely went because I was a Sunday school teacher and spent a lot of time at church, but on one rare occasion he let me come along. Early one Sunday morning, we loaded the car with the fishing poles and tackle and then headed out. I cannot remember the lake or the river we went to. Time alone with dad was something that I longed for. I don’t ever remember getting many hugs or kisses. It wasn’t that he didn’t love us; he just didn’t know how to show it. We settled in a spot on the water. Cast our lines and waited for bites. We talked as we fished. He told me how proud he was of me. “Teaching Sunday school is such a wonderful thing”, he said. Even though he enjoyed having me along, he said that the children at church needed me more. My heart sank. I needed time with him and his love more than teaching a Sunday school class. That day was my last time to go fishing with him. A year or so later he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. If only I could have had more time with him. I never saw him as an old man when I tried to imagine him 20 years down the line. Maybe my spirit knew that he would never grow old. I just wish that he could have stayed a little longer.