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