Sunday, June 21, 2009


Sometime about 1959 or '60 my mother was living in Eugene, Oregon with her older half-brother. After twenty years of marriage, she'd finally left her abusive prick of a husband down in the Deep South, taken their eight children and moved away. Two decades of physical and emotional abuse had left her disillusioned with marriage and with men in general and she had determined that she was finished with the whole mess.

My uncle (whom I never met) was working as a mechanic at a shop that serviced the big logging trucks and one day he told her, "that logger I told you about, the one with the great big hands, lost his wife and now he's raising all those kids alone." Mom didn't remember him ever mentioning a logger with big hands, but she recalled this conversation later.

Some time after that (I'm not too clear on the timeline) Mom had moved into a house of her own. A couple named Harold and Margie lived up the street from her. Harold's sister had died of cancer and they kept her kids a lot while their father was working. Margie constantly sang the praises of her widowered brother-in-law, but Mom wasn't buying. Still, after a while she got curious enough to want to meet him. One day when she saw his car parked in front of their house she took a cup of sugar she'd never borrowed over to "return it" to Margie. That was the day my parents met.

Daddy was a big man, in every way: Physically big, big-hearted, great of spirit. Standing six foot two, he had to turn his shoulders to go through an ordinary doorway. You could drop a quarter through his wedding ring. And he was the kindest person I've ever met.

Children and animals adored him. Most of the pictures we have of him show him with a baby in his arms, a child on his lap, a cat on his shoulders and/or a dog at his feet. At one point we acquired a Shetland mare who'd come to us from an abusive home and had lost one eye. Dad was the only person who was ever able to approach her.

Though he'd never gone beyond the eighth grade, he was an intelligent person with a quick wit and an unexpectedly sharp sense of humor. (My mother told him once she was going to town to get bread. He replied, "okay, but don't hang my name on it.") He loved Louis L'Amour books and John Wayne movies (people have told me John Wayne reminds them of Dad), and hated cruelty, bigotry and injustice. He appreciated good comedy and was sucker for a happy ending, where the good guy gets the girl and the bad guy gets what's coming to him. I can still see him in his late seventies, when he was in the thrall of his last illness, sitting in his old recliner, bright eyes faded to a watery China blue, chuckling his deep, gentle chuckle at the end of some movie and surreptitiously wiping away tears.

If it sounds like I'm describing a saint, that's because in my mind, I am. I know he had flaws; that he wasn't perfect. He was human and never claimed to be anything else. But, whatever there was to detract from his sterling character, I cannot call it to mind, nor do I want to. In my memories he was all the best that a person can be: Kind, gentle, warm, wise, strong, safe, funny. Good. He died in April, 1991, after a lingering illness, at the age of 78.

I miss him still.

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