Someone wrote and asked a question that comes up from time to time, a question for which I stumble, even stutter, for an answer.
“My mama wants to know when you are going to write a book about your daddy,” she wrote. “Mama said to tell you that she’s 90 years old and she’s trying to hold on long enough to read it.”
In my writings, Daddy often takes a backseat to the astonishing wit and quick tongue of my colorful mama. She seldom, if ever, held her tongue while Daddy kept his counsel solemnly and studied quietly on situations.
Make no doubt about it: He was the rock-solid foundation of our family and was dedicated to providing for and protecting our family. His faith never blinked. The direst of times, the toughest challenges, could not cause the slightest slouch of his shoulders. Instead, he pulled himself to his full 6-foot height, squared his shoulders and quoted his favorite scripture from King David: “I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor their seed begging bread.”
It was a good way to roam through childhood and reach the age of responsibility — safe, secure and grounded in a higher power.
A woman who I know not tracked down an address for me a few years ago and sent three handwritten pages I shall cherish always. She wrote how rough and lawless her father had been. Unlike my daddy, hers refused to submit to a higher power. It was sometime in the 1960s when death begin to crawl toward her father. In a hospital for weeks, he laid waiting for death to overtake him.
“Your daddy visited him every day and before he left, he would always say, ‘Before I leave, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.’ A few days before he died, he said, ‘Ralph, I want Jesus as my Savior.’”
Together in that bare hospital room, they prayed and the man “made his heart right” as the mountain people like to say.
“I will be forever grateful,” she wrote. “Thanks to your father who did not turn his back on Daddy when others did, I will see him again one day.”
Daddy, despite a lack of formal education, was remarkably wise. He strived to be like Solomon who had asked the Lord for wisdom, knowing that wisdom would open every door necessary and solve every conceivable problem. While many people thought through no further than the next day or the next week, Daddy’s careful thinking went down through the years.
When he built the simple brick house where I was born and raised, Daddy instructed the carpenter, “Make that front door wide enough to bring a casket through it.”
From the Appalachian Mountains came both of my parents as well as the tradition of sitting up with the dead. Folks brought home the simple coffin so the loved one could lay “a’corpse.”
By the time that Daddy and Mama left this mortal coil, that tradition had long passed. However, about 10 years after Daddy had given that mandate to the builder, my 6-month-old nephew died unexpectedly of instant pneumonia. I was three weeks shy of my sixth birthday. I stood quietly in a corner and watched as they brought that small casket through the front door then, solemnly, set it on a draped pedestal in front of the picture window.
When people share a story about Mama, they are inevitably laughing and shaking their heads. She was a character who never failed to entertain. When they recollect Daddy, it is with admiration and almost astonishment that once such a noble man existed.
“He never saw a soul in need that he didn’t stop to help, regardless of the color of his skin,” one man said. “Of course, he had no use for a downright sorry man. That’s for sure.”
Daddy’s life story, when all is said and done, is book-worthy. Perhaps the time has come.