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I was a daddy's girl.  And, since he died two weeks after my 14th birthday before I had reached the age when I would have referred to him as my father, to this day, when I think of him, I still think of him as daddy.  I was so bereft when he died, I couldn't cry.  It felt as if I had been orphaned because he was the only one in my family who knew me.  He had been my mirror and with his death, I no longer had a reflection.

Every phase of my life was profoundly affected by his life and early death; my love of, and respect for, nature, my love of animals, my curiosity about different cultures, my love of car trips, my fear of losing someone close to me, my fear of revealing too much of myself, my fear of loving someone too much.  I never really dealt with his death nor did anyone else in the family because there was no time for grieving, and, in a small town in Oregon in 1957, there were no resources available.  My mother was widowed at the age of 34 with three children still in school, the youngest just six years old.  We continued on with life as best we could and, for the most part, did fine.

Then, during a telephone conversation with my mother when I was fifty-one years old, she said something that left me so bewildered, it started me on a mental road trip that resulted in an almost insatiable desire to put in writing that which had been percolating beneath the surface of my subconscious for almost forty years, and which resulted in a collection of musings about my early childhood memories leading up to my father's death.

I now, with some trepidation, invite you to participate in a small part of that sometimes painful, but more often joyous, journey I took on my path of discovery, starting with that phone call and with

                              SIMILARITIES LEARNED LATE

It happened during a conversation with my mother when I was fifty-one years old
          and I stated that she had never understood where I was coming from
                       and she said, "Honey, you come by that naturally.
                                          I never understood
                                          your father either."
Such a casual comment, certainly not of the magnitude to match the questions
          which immediately started to form in my mind such as, "Did I take
                       after my father?  Did I have the same traits as this
                                          man who had seemed
                                          larger than life to me?"
The comparisons had always been made of my older brother, the only son, who
          had my father's dark complexion, black hair, and green eyes, as did
                       my older sister, while I had blond hair as a child with
                                          a fair complexion, blue
                                          eyes, and freckles.
For years, I lived with the conviction I had been adopted, the illegitimate child of
          a wayward aunt perhaps, taken in by family to spare her the shame,
                       but the stark differences in my appearance were there
                                           for the world to see
                                           like a scarlet letter,
For how could I have come from the union of this man and this woman and not
          resemble either of them in appearance or temperament as did the
                       other children who needed no reassurance for they
                                           could see our parents
                                           in themselves.
I always felt a little like an outsider, not a part of the whole but separate, an
          appendage, an oddity, and my father had been dead for almost
                       forty years before I found out quite by accident
                                           that I resembled him
                                           more than anyone.

My earliest memory of daddy was in Texas when, I think, I was around 4 years old; he was going to town in a flatbed truck and I was

                            LEFT BEHIND

 I don't remember where daddy was going or why, just
               that I wanted to go and he wouldn't let me
                            because I was too young
                            and might fall off.
     I stood with my face pressed against the screen with
               great, gulping sobs bursting through the tiny
                            holes as he drove off
                            down the dirt road.
     I could see my older siblings and cousins sitting on the
               flatbed truck and could not understand
                            why he would let them go
                            and leave me behind.
     Didn't he know I loved him and would not have fallen off
               but would have sat there, still, until he held
                             out his arms for me
                             and held me close?

We spent the summer after my 1st school year in the hill country of Eastern Texas where one of my most vivid memories took place.  It is a memory of the type of punishment meted out in much of the country in those days to children who engaged in "high crimes and misdemeanors"; it involved

                                        THE RAZOR STROP

In those days, kids were raised with a great deal of discipline and things were
         either black or white, no gray areas, when it came to right and wrong,
                          and the last thing you wanted to hear your
                                        mama say was, "Just wait
                                        til your daddy gets home!"
In our house, as in most houses in those days, daddy was the rule-maker and
         mama was the name-taker, and when your name was tied in with rule
                          breaking, you knew you were in for a real
                                        whipping, not just the
                                        sting of a willow switch.
Today I guess it would be labelled abuse but I never thought of it that way then
         nor do I think of it that way now because we were never whipped without
                          knowing why we were being punished and
                                        we never broke a rule
                                        without weighing it first.
Of course, we always hoped we wouldn't get caught but we always did and the
         razor strop left angry red welts across the backs of our legs as daddy
                          held us by one hand and whipped us in the
                                         order of our age, the
                                         eldest to the youngest,
Which meant I had to watch my older sister and brother get whipped before it was
         my turn, and by that time, I was already crying, having felt every one of
                          their licks, and once, just once, daddy took
                                         pity on me and let me
                                         off without a whipping.
Looking back now, remembering how he always told us it would hurt him more than
         it hurt us, I realize now it must have been true because he had to whip us
                          without the benefit of actually catching us in
                                         the act of wrongdoing and
                                         without the heat of anger.

I was blissfully happy during my early childhood.  I never had any interest in dolls or other "gender appropriate" pastimes and once I was old enough, tagged along with my brother and his friends, trapping quail & cottontail rabbits, shooting marbles, searching for arrowheads, etc., keenly aware of my daddy's respect for

                                     NATURAL INSTINCTS

No matter where we lived in Texas, daddy would build my brother and me a pen out
            of chicken wire and scrap lumber so we could catch prairie dogs and
                    cotton-tail rabbits, keeping them in captivity
                                            for a week or two,
                                            then letting them go
Because daddy said it was a crime against nature to keep wild animals caged for
            long, robbing them of their natural instincts and taking away their joy
                    of living and dying as nature dictated which
                                             I always felt was
                                             the Cherokee in him.
My love and respect for nature is the most obvious gift my daddy gave me, yet I
            suspect my restlessness was sown by the seeds of his dissatisfaction
                    with day to day life, he seemingly in search
                                             of something that
                                             remained elusive.
Could this have also been the Cherokee in him?  Did this relatively small piece of
            genetic makeup, one quarter of the whole, refuse to allow the spirit
                    of this man to be caged under the guise of
                                             husband and provider,
                                             til death do us part?

Life was hard for most people in Texas in the 40's and 50's and my family was no exception.  I didn't realize it at the time but we were dirt poor as were all the other families in the small towns and communities in which we lived, so everyone pitched in and did their part to help provide for the family.  As I recall, it was a

                                     LABOR OF LOVE

We used to get up before dawn so we could be in the cotton fields while the dew
       was still heavy on the ground and the cotton bolls sodden, guaranteeing
                            our first load would be heavier
                                    than any other load
                                          of the day.
The long canvas bags would trail in the Texas dirt behind us like caterpillars as we
       worked our way, stooped, up and down the rows of cotton, plucking the
                            bolls and cutting our fingers
                                     on the sharp edges
                                          of the pods.
It was a family affair during one summer with daddy, mama, and my siblings and me
       picking cotton under the searing Texas sun which created a surrealistic
                            landscape of undulating cotton
                                     rows and a stand of
                                           cottonwood
Trees under which we would picnic at midday, eating sandwiches and drinking milk
       straight from our individual cartons, permissible only in the fields, and putting
                            all money earned in the same pot
                                     because that's how
                                           it was then.
It never occurred to me or my siblings that we should keep the money we earned
       for ourselves, nor did we get an allowance for chores done or even know
                            that such a thing existed because
                                     we were family and
                                           did our part.
And we had such fun in the fields, laughing and singing, challenging and competing,
       sharing stories and sandwiches, not minding the cut fingers and aching
                            backs but rather savoring the time
                                      together, making
                                            memories.

My life in Texas was blissfully happy for the most part.  I was the baby of the family, I adored my older brother, and I was eager to start each new day with the expectation of being either amused or amazed.  I had no idea how my world was going to change once I was

                                             DISPLACED

For seven and a half years, my family consisted of daddy, mama, my sister, the first
     born, my brother, the only son, and me, the baby of the family, a coveted
                              position as far as I was concerned, the
                                        only one more enviable
                                        being that of son
Because then, as now, having a son was special to a man and even though I did
     feel special as the baby of the family, I knew the only thing that defined me
                              from my older sister was the order of
                                        our birth since we had
                                        both been born female.
I knew my place, taking full advantage of it and for good measure I was a tomboy,
     enjoying all the advantages of growing up in Southwest Texas having an older
                              brother to follow around, living
                                        life as close to being
                                        born male as possible.
Then my life turned upside down when my mama gave birth to my baby sister who
     took my place in the family dynamic, leaving me with no special place of my own,
                              and my daddy sweet talked the nurses
                                        into sneaking me up to
                                        see the new baby
In the hospital nursery, realizing, perhaps, I was feeling left out and trying to make
     me feel special again, but I resented my baby sister for 6 years and really only
                              forgave her when my daddy died
                                        and I saw how much
                                        she missed him, too.

I don't want to end this diary on a sad note so I have saved my favorite memory of me and my dad with which to end our journey together.  It involves a part of America that too few experience in our fast paced society today, so I would suggest that every now and then, you allow yourself the luxury of a road trip on a

                               TWO LANE HIGHWAY

My daddy would load us all up in the car and take off at will it seemed,
  most of the time going to visit friends or relatives for an evening or more
             but sometimes moving from one town or state
                               to another, leaving all our
                               possessions behind.
The short trips were always fun but my favorite trips involved driving all
  night because everyone would fall asleep except daddy, who did all the
             driving, and me, and he would point out things
                               he wanted me to know
                               like shooting stars,
A ring around the moon, the milky way, or a far off mountain range
  barely visible in the subtle shadings of dawn, and sometimes we would
             just be quiet together, he with his hands on
                               the wheel and me with
                               my own musings.
When I recall these memories, they always appear in black and white,
  like an old movie, because the prevalent image is of my daddy's hair as
             black as soot and my hair as white as cotton,
                               in soft moonlight on a
                               two-lane highway.

Happy Father's Day, daddy. I love you and miss you, still.

Originally posted to Ellen Columbo on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 04:08 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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