Thursday, June 12, 2008
Good Old Boys Make Good Daddy's
My Daddy was a man's man, a mama's boy, and a good old boy. Folks who make fun of those good old boy’s down south don't know what they’re talking about. They'd be lucky to meet one, befriend one, or marry one. A real one. Not that Hollywood game.
In 1933 my Daddy was born in the back woods of North Florida. He was born there to a life that never came easy. Raised on a creek in the woods that offered him a magic so strong that it became his touchstone. An army man for life, he traveled the world over on duty and on leave and when asked where the best place in the world was he laughed and said, “Right here,” standing there on that swampy piece of creek in the backwoods and he meant it.
When my mother first met him he was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne with ‘those pants tucked tight into his shoes and I mean to tell you,” and she raises an eyebrow and smiles as if to say, “what choice did I have?” Of course, when she first met him it was at little bar and restaurant on the beach called Jimmy’s which has now turned into the infamous Breakers Club but back then it was just beer and barstools and hamburgers and the living was easy in the summertime. All waves and sunshine and southern boys on a quick three day pass. When she first laid eyes on him, and I swear this is true, he was teaching waitresses how to jump out of airplanes by taking them up to the roof and holding their hands while they jumped off into the sand dunes below. The true tale goes that the waitresses were more than just a little lovin’ it. He took one look at my mother as she was dropping her niece off that morning for work and made her the same offer. She said, ‘no thanks.’ Even to the tough pants, the green eyes, the easy smile. She was a serious woman after all. Had real work to do. No jumping off roofs for her that day.
He was waiting for her when she returned that afternoon. Apparently, he had come up with a different offer. Apparently, one she ended up jumping at in the end after all. And the rest, as the man says, is history. And a part of that history was in me coming to be.
I saw my Daddy jump out of planes thousands of feet high, and saw this tough man cry with a broken heart over an open coffin.
Saw him return from Vietnam with a Silver Medal and stories he wouldn’t tell except to say years and years later, “We had no business over there.” But he was a soldier and a soldier follows orders, fulfills the promise of his oath, and my Daddy was a good Soldier. Even if he was a good soldier followed by all the ghosts of young boys who died too young.
I've seen him make a small man feel important. Make the lost feel found.
He had a heart tattoo that said, ‘MOM’ on it. And I know no matter how many beers he might of had at 19 to get that engraved there, my Memaw must have loved it. She being the one that made those Peanut Butter cakes for him that were seven layers tall and who always called him ‘my boy’ long after he was man.
We didn’t always travel with my Daddy. We (my mother and me and later me, her, and baby sister) stayed put and kept the home fires burning, took care of two sets of elderly grandparents, made care boxes to send here and there and overseas. Then Daddy retired and came home to stay full time in this strange house full of women who had strange female habits like sleeping late in our most unmilitary ways.
And I can say these things to my Daddy’s credit.
He didn’t try to change us. He didn’t bark orders. (Although he could give us a look that meant we better shape up quick faster than a thousand words from Momma). He taught me by example not to judge a man by his skin color, by the size of his wallet, by who his Daddy had been, or which side of the tracks he came from, but instead by the look in his eyes and by his actions.
He taught me to go easy and to know that sometimes what might seem insurmountable was just a bump in the road. He taught me, by watching him, that growing older can be good for a man’s soul, align his priorities, help him to say, “I love you,” as easy as a breeze.
When I told this backwoods good old country boy that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, he didn’t laugh. This man with a tenth grade education and a GED under his belt, this man who didn’t read much, believed me. Believed in me. And sent me a huge old Thesaurus from Ft. Polk Louisiana Army camp with a note that said, "I heard all good writers need one of these."
I had hoped with all my heart that my first novel, The Gin Girl, would make it to print before Daddy died but it didn’t work out that way. Such is life. But he knew it was on its way.
“So it’s really going to happen?” he asked me in those final days. And I said, “Yeah, it’s really gonna happen, Daddy.” And so it did.
He’s been gone six years now but it seems like yesterday. Mother, sister, and I are still stepping easy around the empty spaces of where he isn’t. And, as I prepare this morning for a phone conference with my editor and agent on another new novel, one set right smack down on that creek in those back woods of Florida where my Daddy showed me all it's mystery and magic, I just want to say thanks to that Good Old Country Boy for believing in me.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy from your writer girl on this side of forever.
RIVER JORDAN is a storyteller of the southern variety and has been cast most frequently in the company of Flannery O'Connor and Harper Lee. The Messenger of Magnolia Street was applauded as "a tale of wonder" by Southern Living Magazine, who chose The Messenger of Magnolia Street as their Selects feature for March 2006, and by other reviewers as "a riveting, magical mystery" and "a remarkable book."
Ms. Jordan teaches and speaks on 'The Power of Story' around the country and produces and hosts a radio program on WRFN, 98.9 FM, Nashville Saturday's at 4:00 CDT, www.radiofreenashville.org. She recently completed a new work of fiction, Souls In Limbo. Jordan and her husband live in Nashville, TN. You may visit the author at www.riverjordan.us