Editor’s note: This George Smith column was originally published June 17, 2012.

* * *

IT IS IN the gloaming somewhere in Louisiana, autumn of 1940, and the father of three, including a brand new baby girl, is at the wheel of a dark-green ’39 Ford.

In a time of no interstates or McDonald’s, the father pulls off the road and down a slight incline into a clearing on the banks of a silent-running creek.

The family piles out, Mom spreads a red-checked tablecloth on the hood of the ’39 Ford. I head for the creek.

Shortly, there is a call from the father: “Let’s eat.”

On the hood of the ’39 Ford are open cans of sardines packed in mustard, a box of soda crackers, and several bottles of warm Cokes.

To this day, it’s the best meal I have ever put in my mouth.

* * *

IT IS A cold, bitter day in early March. My dad and I are putting in the floor system on a bedroom addition at my house. I look at my father, look at his skinned hands, know the carpentry profession that had fed his family of seven had been a long, hard life.

I wondered why, despite other jobs he’d held, he always came back to the hammer and the saw. I asked if he liked what he did.

“I sure do, son. When I was a boy and we came in from the fields, I’d get Dad’s hammer and saw out and build something. That was fun for me.”

Somehow, after that, I felt a lot better about my dad’s life.

* * *

MY DAD WAS not exactly the silent type, but when he had a message for his oldest son, it was brief and to the point. My rules for living under his hand were just two:

“Boy, if I catch you lying or stealing I’ll kill you.”

Best I remember, that came somewhere in my pre-teen years. And while I knew he wouldn’t really kill me, I knew he’d make me wish I were dead. The discipline of my formative years was hard ... and expected.

* * *

TO SAY MY dad used colorful language is an understatement, to say he liked the bottle on weekends is a fair statement. But not once in my entire life did my dad ever raise his voice or touch one of us when he was “on a toot.”

* * *

IT IS A Sunday morning and Dad and his brother, my “Uncle Tony,” had fished the previous day away. Liberal doses of white whiskey had been consumed.

Out in the yard, I walk past Dad’s ’36 Ford panel truck and notice that the choke (on the dash) has been pulled out and bent down at a 90-degree angle.

Dad’s answer?

“Aw, it was your Uncle Tony. He was driving too fast so I just pulled the choke out and bent it. That stopped him.”

Later in the day, I mentioned the bent choke to Uncle Tony.

“Your daddy was driving too fast and I couldn’t get him to slow down so I jerked the choke out. That stopped him.”

To this day, I have no idea who was driving and who was doing the “choking.” It’s a good bet neither of them remembered, either.

* * *

MY DAD was not one to tarry at anything, even in his going away.

On a Sunday morning, he suffered the last of several strokes. This one was major.

On a Monday afternoon, May 8, 1990, I am standing by his bed in intensive care at RMC. He has not spoken or opened his eyes since the stroke.

I am holding his hand. I say, “Dad, I love you. If you can hear me, squeeze my hand.”

He squeezed my hand ... twice. A few minutes later, he was gone.

He was five days shy of his 80th birthday. He had always said he wanted to live to be 80. In the obituary, I listed his age as 80.

It was the last thing I could do for him ... except to hold close the memories of the parts of him I know are in me.

Thank you for listening ...

George Smith may be reached at 256-239-5682 or e-mail: gsmith731@gmail.com.

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