My daddy died twenty-six years ago today, ten days before he was going to turn sixty-eight. I always called him “B.” Mama never taught us to call him daddy.
B was cremated but mama put together a sort of “service” at the church. I noticed my children watching me as we stood there, listening to mama sing his favorite song. They were looking for tears but they found none. If anything, they may have detected a quiet, subdued anger.
Bs’ only surviving brother was at the service. This is the man who wouldn’t give my daddy the time of day when he was alive, yet there he was…pretending to care.
I wanted to slap him. I wanted to ask him what the Hell he was doing there. I wanted to tell him to get the Hell out of there…but I didn’t. I held my tongue because I didn’t want to embarrass anybody or upset mama.
B could be described, in Southern speak, as a “good ole soul.” I think he would have been a loving daddy under different circumstances and I wish he had spent more time talking to me.
He was the oldest of three boys, born to my beloved grandma and grandpa. He was named after his daddy and my second daughter bears their middle name.
B wasn’t very tall but his daddy and both of his brothers were tall by most standards. My grandma said that when B was born, she almost starved him to death. She didn’t know that she was incapable of producing any milk. She kept breast-feeding him but he was getting no nourishment. My grandma said she thought “well, if he dies, he’ll die in my arms.” Somehow, they were able to scrape up enough money to buy a cow and it was just in time.
B was clearly intelligent beyond his years. He started school at age four…but he hated it. He would hide out behind the barn until my grandma would catch him and send him on to school. He hid out one day and it was bitter cold, so he decided to go back to the house. My grandpa said he knew he was out there, knocking on the door but he thought my grandma would go open it. She didn’t hear him so after a few minutes, B kicked the door and said “open door, sunbitch.”
My grandma had a bad back, so my grandpa and B slept together. My grandpa was an uneducated man who only went to the fifth grade, but he was smart.
My grandpa told me that after B got used to going to school, he told him to study hard and he would take care of him. He said, “and then when I get old and gray, you can take care of me.”
My grandpa said he thought B had gone to sleep, but “directly” he threw back the covers, sat up in bed and said “Papa! Who’s going to take care of us when we’re both old and gray?” B wasn’t even five years old, yet he already had that kind of reasoning.
B had it in mind to be a doctor. He studied hard and made good grades. Graduation day was nearing and he didn’t have a decent shirt to wear to the ceremony. My grandma cut up a sheet and made him a shirt out of it.
B said that when he walked across that stage to get his diploma, everybody in the room just howled. It was at that point he decided nobody was ever going to laugh at him again.
I asked B what he did for fun when he was a little boy. He had a vertical scar that ran from just above his eyebrow almost to the top of his hairline. He said that he and his brothers used to throw hatchets at each other. He had a twinkle in his eye when he pointed to his scar and said that was the only time he ever lost.
He said that the most fun they had as young boys was when they took off their shoes at the top of a hill and then raced to the bottom. Whoever made it all the way down without stepping in cow manure….won.
His dreams of being a doctor were never to become anything more than just dreams. He was called into the service when World War II started. He became a surgeons’ assistant. I wanted to know what he did but he would never talk about it.
I get asked all the time “what was the worst call you ever had?” People want to hear about gore and death. I wanted to hear about how many lives he saved. I wanted to know if he had made any promises to those young men before they died and if so, did he keep them. When he got out of the army and tried to enroll in medical school, they told him that he was too old. He was only twenty-five.
Apparently B learned to do the Hula when he was stationed in Hawaii and rumor has it that he could rival the most seasoned hula dancer.
I had never seen my daddys’ legs. I once asked him what they looked like and he said “youngun’, many a woman has cried themselves to sleep at night because they didn’t have legs as purty as mine.”
B could carry on a conversation with Loser as if he, himself had gone to H****** but my daddy also suffered from the “good ole boys” mentality. He would tell me to get up and get Loser a cup of coffee…or go fix Loser something to eat. Loser would sit there and smile.
I would be tending to our small children so I finally said “B, Losers’ legs aren’t broken…if he wants a cup of coffee, he can get up and get it himself.”
B was horrified and said “that’s your husband, youngun’….you ought not talk like that.” B thought that I should wait on Loser hand and foot because he was such a “highly educated, brilliant man.”
Loser suffered from a bit of that as well…thanks to his mama raising him thinking that all women (except her and whoever his WTC was at the time) were subordinate.
One time when Loser came home, I literally had one child on each hip, trying to open the refrigerator door. Loser came over to open the door for me and said “the top of the refrigerator is dusty.”
I looked at him and said, “okay, Mr. Eighteen-foot tall man….hold the children while I run get the ladder real quick and dust it off for you.” He laughed but even then, he didn’t even think about picking up a cloth and dusting it.
B had very little interaction with my children. When he did see them, he was nice but he reserved his greatest love and affection for P****s’ son, just as he reserved his greatest love and affection for her.
I left town right after high school. When I came back almost three years later, I went to see B. I asked him if he missed me and he asked…..”were you gone?” I think that answered my question.
I don’t think B hated me the way mama did but I’m not sure he liked me. I think there were times when he felt sorry for me but I also think he knew “the good of the many outweighed the good of the few…or the one.”
Like I said, I asked him if he ever wondered why I was bruised and battered and he said “your mother said you were sassing her.” I guess that excused the marks and swollen eyes.
I gave B a book and asked him to write things down for me…things about his childhood…his life….just anything he could remember. He wrote a few pages but there wasn’t much. Mama said he wrote in it the night he died.
B never called me or came to see me or wrote to me. I have one lone Christmas card that he sent me many, many years ago and I framed it. He signed it “your daddy.”
I guess if we had been closer, I would miss him more. I do think about him now and then, though.
I have some of his ashes that I keep in an urn. I will pick it up now and then and just say “hey B.”