When I was little, I thought of my dad as a very formidable man. He had the ability to quell a tantrum or stop an illegal action with a single look from a gimlet eye. At 5’9″ and 150 pounds people often described him as wirey or scrappy. But underneath his austere surface he was a teddy bear with a huge heart.
He didn’t always make the best decisions. When I was about five, he left his sheriff’s gun on the table after he’d come home from working his beat. My brother and I got up at 5AM, parents sound asleep. We decided we’d play-act “Born Free.” Some of you won’t remember this show, but it was about a husband and wife who raise an abandoned lion cub and then release it into the wild. So when my brother, who was 7 yelled, “shoot the wild tiger!” and pointed to the gun on the table, I picked it up and shot it. It was a 357 magnum. The bullet thankfully went into the wall, without hurting anyone, but even though I was only five, I will never forget the sight of my dad flying out of the hallway in his underwear, his blackish-red, irish hair standing on end with his eyes bugging out of his head. I told my mom later that I didn’t remember getting in trouble for touching dad’s gun. She said, “You didn’t. He did.”
He didn’t tolerate sniffling and whining. He thought you should buck up to adversity. So when we went to get a swirled cone on a hot summers day (and in Bakersfield, it could easily be 112) and my whole ice cream top slid off the cone and on to the sizzling hot pavement, I stared at it while biting my lip, trying not to cry. I think I was about 7. I looked up to see my father watching me, a slight smile curling his lip, waiting to see how I would react. I gave him a sad smile, and he started laughing, and asked me did I want another one. I think that was when I learned that the little things are just that. Little things.
He loved going to Disneyland when I was little, and his favorite ride was the Matterhorn. I would always sit with him in back of me, the air whipping by while he squeezed me tight as we rounded the corners at high speeds.
My other favorite memory of him was at the Kern County Fair. He couldn’t go without having a giant corn on the cob on a stick (which I referred to as cob on the corn until someone explained to me why that was incorrect), and one of their massive baked potatoes. It was just a thing with him, and I think of it every time I see corn on the cob, even now, 43 years later. At the end of the evening when we were exhausted, he would put me on his shoulders so I wouldn’t have to walk. I can still remember what that felt like, his whiskers scratching my legs, my tiny hands grabbing at his cheeks while I bobbed along looking down on everyone.
When I went from 6th grade to Junior High, I remember sitting on my bed, terrified. He came in to ask me what was wrong, and I said to him, “I can’t go to 7th grade. I’m not smart enough.” He calmly pointed out that they wouldn’t send me on to 7th grade if they didn’t think I was smart enough to do the work.
When I went to High School, I went to his alma mater, North High. There were pictures of him in the window of the cafeteria from his time on the boxing team there. I was so proud that I went to the same High School that he did. I joined the diving team, and he came to my meets, frequently filming them on the old reel film. I think his favorite moment was when I did an inward 1-1/2 off the 1 meter and did the most spectacular belly flop which he, of course, recorded for posterity’s sake.
A couple of years after high school I moved from California and went to live in Oklahoma where I went to college. It was there I met my husband and it was there we married. My dad, who under no circumstances would get on a plane, got in his truck and drove from California to Oklahoma so he could give me away. He didn’t have a lot of money, but when he won $5000.00 in the lottery, he used it to help me with wedding expenses.
He loved to dance. He started dancing when he was a kid, taking professional tap lessons before he turned 10. One of my favorite moments with him from the wedding was actually after the father daughter dance, when we bumped into each other by the cake table, and began dancing on the carpet.
He was thrilled when my boys were born, and as the years went by, he talked more and more to them about the things he loved, such as fishing, hunting and camping. His last story he shared with Bugs was of a buck he missed at 70 yards on a hunting trip just two weeks prior.
My dad passed away on the 17th of October. I can’t begin to describe the ache inside. I should be happy that he was active until the last moment when he escaped his earthly confines. It was the way he wanted to go. But I miss him terribly. I love you, Dad!
June 3, 1941 – October 17, 2011