Sunday, June 15, 2008
Happy Father's Day, Daddy!
I surely do wish there had been technology like computers and blogs when my daddy was alive, not that he'd have used either one, but he'd have enjoyed reading about himself . . . a little tribute from his daughter, his favorite girl.
This morning in church, we all had the opportunity to say something about our dads. I loved telling everyone about Arlie Weaver Cheatham, my dad. On Mother's Day, I'd told them about funny sayings that my mother had, little saws that she'd used to bring me up right; however, I didn't have any of these for Daddy. Instead, I told them that he was a wonderful Christian gentleman who wasn't actually a Christian for most of his life. He had all the fine moral characteristics of one, but in his heart he hadn't accepted Jesus. That all changed somewhere around 1956.
At Brownsville Baptist Church in Pensacola, our preacher called for rededications of lives to Jesus every Sunday. One little girl went forward just about once a month . . . and she probably needed to. Just before I was to have probably my fourth ear surgery, I, too, felt the need to rededicate my life. Much to my surprise, my dad beat me to the front of the church. As I was rededicating my life, he was asking Jesus to come into his heart. You can imagine that my heart soared!
Just as I did for Mother on her birthday, I'd like to share with those who read this post the main entry that I have about my dad in my autobiography, Grammy Then and Now. My dad was the most special man in my life until Frank entered the picture. My autobiography was written to Corey, so whenever it seems as though I'm talking to someone, I am . . . Corey. Ta da! Here's Daddy . . .
My daddy . . . how can I describe this extraordinary man to you? If only you had known him! He would have been one of your favorite people, just as he was a favorite to ever so many who knew him. I can honestly say that I never heard anyone say an unkind thing about him. Well . . . Mother sometimes ranted and raved, but the faults that she saw really were faults. When we were all younger, he had something of a drinking problem, and that really made my mother stew. I don't blame her. I vividly remember the last time that he drank anything. It was on Christmas Eve in 1952; we had been to the office party at his boss's house. (The odd think about this particular Christmas party was the fact that the Browns were Jewish. But they always had the hugest, most beautiful Christmas tree and also gifts for the employees and their children. I loved Christmas parties with our Jewish friends!) Daddy and probably almost everyone else got drunk. I cried myself to sleep that night after we completed the rounds of short visits to the homes of friends. I was embarrassed for him because I realized how foolish he looked in that inebriated condition. For some reason, he never drank again. That next summer, we moved to Pensacola (August 17, 1953), and a few years later, he became a Christian. After that important decision in his life, I'm sure that a team of wild horses could not have made him take a drink. But I'm wandering . . . I need to tell you about my early memories of Daddy.
I really don't remember much about him at all in Mobile. He worked very long days as manager of the Western Auto store downtown. I do remember a particular evening when Mother and Daddy were having friends over for dinner, though, not for a specific incident with Daddy, but I know he was involved if only passively. I was about three years old. I sneaked into the dining room, where Mother had the table carefully set with the best dishes and a brand new stick of butter. Now, that butter won't mean much to you because you see a pound or so of it in our refrigerator all the time, but 1943 was during World War II, and lots of foods were rationed. That means that a housewife could buy only so much of any one thing, and butter was definitely rationed. I really don't know how much she could buy or how often she could buy it. All I know is that it was precious and that she was serving it at a very special occasion. She probably had no more. As quickly as only a three-year-old can, I grabbed the priceless stick of butter and ate about half of it before Mother discovered her little girl devouring the "bb," as I called it. I guess if the HRS had been in existence in the 40's, my mother would have been jailed for child beating many because she could wallop the daylights out of me in no time flat? Just with her hand or a little switch, you understand. I assure you her spankings hurt. And the marks ceertainly stayed more than thirty minutes! Anyway, I'm sure Daddy was around, and he didn't inteerfere in the disciplining. He approved of my mother's correcting me, but he didn't want to do it himself.
Daddy's dealings with me always involved the softer side: lots of hugs and kisses, gifts for no particular reason, singing and dancing, praise for even the least little accomplishment on my part. I never saw at this time of my life what I saw years later in Daddy's absence, after he died. In watching Mother's great grief at losing him, I began to realize that within this mild-mannered man was a strong family leader. My mother was the voice for the two of them, and I'm afraid she was blamed for strict discipline when really Daddy had just as much to do with it. He just couldn't bear to discipline me himself; he depended on her. But in her agony, I saw that she, too, depended on him . . . far more than I ever realized during his life.
My daddy took me places, too. You'll be very much surprised when I tell you where he took me. To bars. Yea, to bars. And I played the slot machines. Can you imagine your Grammy, who wouldn't put even a nickel in those one-armed bandits today, putting coin after coin in when she was eight or nine years old and winning? It's hard for me to believe, too.
We didn't have a car until I was about eight years old (an old Packard), but I vividly remember Daddy and me riding around and him asking me to sing for him. He's the only person in the world who ever thought I had singing possibilities. Sometimes we'd sing together; he had a truly beautiful tenor voice. "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leafed Clover" was our favorite. We weren't so bad.
I mentioned earlier that he traveled during the week. I have a really strange remembrance of him on Saturday nights during those years. Every Saturday evening after dinner, Mother and Daddy would sit down in the living room to do their weekly routine. He would sit at one end of the sofa, and she would sit on a chair next to him. As he rested his arm on the arm of the sofa, Mother would become his manicurist. Yes, she cut, filed, and polished (clear nail polish, you understand) his nails. I get my long, skinny fingers from my dad. In fact, most of me is like him: height, eyes, feet, hands, clumsiness . . . everything except the gorgeous naturally curly hair. Drat! His hair turned wavy when he was seventeen, so he told me; therefore, I figured that since I was like him in so many ways, if I followed his lead in that respect, too, then I also would have the miraculous change in my hair when I reached seventeen. It didn't happen, not even after I ate what probably amounted to truckloads of brread crusts as my mother instructed me to do if I wanted curly hair.
Parents didn't cry in front of their children in those days. Mine were no exceptions. I already told you about seeing my mother cry for the first time (when her parents' house in Logansport, LA, burned). I also remember the first time I saw Daddy cry. Mother had surgery, a hysterectomy, when I was in seventh grade. Daddy was so worried about her. I wonder if he thought she might die and leave him with a pre-teen to rear all alone. One evening we visited her in the hospital. I guess it was the day of or the day after the surgery, and she was still loopy from the anesthetic. She had said something strange, funny to a twelve-year-old, that evening. I still remember exactly what she said: "Hand me the soap . . . s-o-u-p, soap." That was hilarious to me, and when I recalled the incident later that evening after my dad and I were back at home, he burst into tears because I was making fun of Mother. That really made me feel bad because I couldn't stand to think of hurting my daddey's feelings, nor did I want to ridicule Mother. I had a tremendously active conscience, one that kept me awake at night. I don't remember sleeping very well that night.
My dad's job was his life. He ate, talked, slept, lived his job. I never remember him taking a day off. Even on Sunday, he would call the managers of the stores which he supervised, asking them about closing reports for the week, always wanting to con firm that Auto-Lec Associate Stores were doing fine. He always had a little piece of paper in his wallet, and on that paper were the results of his calls to those managers. Even after he opened his own Auto-Lec Store in Pensacola, he had a little list concerning his own business. I have the last one that was in his wallet. It is a treasure. Speaking of his not taking any time off . . . I remember only one family vacation. We went to Biloxi and stayed in a little motel with a kitchenette. Mother was not particularly happy about that part because she didn't think it much of a vacation if she had to cook every meal. What I remember about Daddy during that week was that I didn't see much of him. He spent most of his time in the Auto-Lec stores in Biloxi and Gulfport, doing what he always did . . . certainly not vacationing. We went home before our vacation time was over because Daddy just had to get back to work. That's the way I remember it, but I'm recalling the time from a great distance.
Daddy wanted me to be a doctor. I learned that early on. Because that's what he wanted, that's what I wanted, too. He was so proud of my good grades that he was convinced that medicine was the field for me. Thank goodness, when I grew up and decided to become a teacher, he didn't try to hold me to the vocation that he had chosen for me. I would have made a pitiful physician! I can't stand the sight of blood, and I get queasy just watching someone else get a shot. He always thought I was best at everything. It's a good thing I lacked self-confidence when I was growing up, or I might have believed all the wonderful things he said about me. He thought I was the most beautiful, the smartest, the most talented girl in the world. I could look in the mirror and at other kids' report cards and listen to others play the piano and know that he was wrong. I was good , but not great. But that was my daddy. both of my parents always built up my ego. For that I am thankful . . . very thankful.
This mutual admiration society that my daddy and I were members of never dissolved. We loved each other unconditionally until he died on March 24, 1973. And I still love him!
And that's what I wrote in my book. On this Father's Day in 2008, I've been thinking about my dad all day. I can't close without mentioning one Father's Day regret. I don't remember the exact year, but our children and I got so involved in celebrating the day with Frank that I forgot to call my dad on his day. I was so embarrassed and heartbroken because of my neglect when Mother called to see why I hadn't even called. Since my tear ducts are so easily moved, I cried and cried and apologized profusely to both of my parents. I just know that I hurt Daddy very much that day, and I'll always be devastated by that. It was a case of spilt milk, but I'll never forget. To be truthful, Daddy probably never even gave it a thought. But my mother always said, "Do anything you want to me, but leave my child, my husband, and my money alone (not that she ever had much of the green stuff)." I had injured her husband, and she didn't like it one bit.
Sometimes everything in my life now would be even better if I could just sit down for a little father-daughter chat with Arlie Weaver Cheatham, Daddy to me, PaPa to our children and Frank. My, how I loved that man!