I was going to spend some time today talking about some of the men (dads) in my life that have made a difference, for better or for worse, in who I am today. Obviously, the one man that I owe everything to is my own father. I call him Pop. This man has given me everything and more. I should start out by saying he has given me his name; not just the surname, but his first and middle names as well! Yes, I am a ‘junior’ and that is quite a burden for the firstborn son to carry. Every son should want to be like his dad and I was no different. Growing up, however, I found my dad was a mystery to me mostly because he worked long hours and many weekends.
Only now can I begin to appreciate what I could not many years ago. My dad grew up below the poverty level. He would tell me stories of how rough he had it growing up. I remember stories that he grew up eating cornbread and beans and maybe a ham bone went into the beans on the weekend. Stories of hunting jack rabbits for meat. Stories of living without indoor plumbing or having to wear the same clothes for a year or two. Stories of taking a hard biscuit wrapped with a strip of bacon fat to school so he could have something for lunch. I look back and I am ashamed to remember, not only my disbelief, but also my indifference to his own past and ingratitude for what he did to provide for his own family so they might have it a little bit better.
My dad told me he quit school so he could go get work in the oil fields in nearby Bryson TX. When the US army offered him a way out he went in with the dream of being a helicopter pilot but an eye injury that occurred when he was a kid kept him grounded. He was able to get out of Texas and he earned his GED. He traveled around the country from post to post. While he was stationed in Virginia he was introduced to a very attractive woman from New York. He would spend time in Germany before he was discharged. After he got out of the army he married that Yankee sweetheart and took a job at a service station pumping gas and being a part time auto mechanic. Whatever his hand found to do he did with all his heart. He had a gift for mechanical things and he became a very skilled mechanic. Things in the Big Apple were foreign to this country boy from west Texas. I remember my grandfather told me that he once saw my dad stand on the subway platform and missed the train because of manners instilled in him by his upbringing. He said my dad was holding the door open to let the women in first. The car quickly filled up and he found himself still standing there waiting for the next train to arrive.
My dad was able to provide for his wife and new son. They had scrapped and saved to buy a brand new Chevrolet convertible which was stolen within the first year. A few years later another car was stolen and he decided it was time to move the family back to Texas. For better or for worse, he only made it as far as Missouri before he pitched his tent.
He put himself through diesel mechanic school and afterwards took on a job at a diesel repair shop located off Interstate 70 in Wentzville. He perfected his craft and worked as many hours as he could, ever keeping that young family of his with a roof over their head, clothed, well fed and the bills paid. If an opportunity came along to improve his lot in life, he took it. We moved many times before we settled down in a little town called Imperial.
My dad was able to get a union job as a construction mechanic. He went to more schools to learn how to work on the big heavy duty equipment. He was given his own service truck with a big boom on the back of it. I was so proud of my dad and his big truck. There is a special smell of sweat, diesel fuel, grease and Joe’s Hand cleaner that, to this day, smells like my dad’s truck. My dad worked long days and many weekends. He had tools bigger than me and I could barely lift them up. Whenever I would try there would be that “awe . . .git! you’re gonna get all full of grease Carl Junior . . .”.
My dad would work in all kinds of weather too. In the summer his wrenches would get so hot from the sun that they would burn my hand when I tried to pick one up. In the winter, his wrenches would be so cold I wondered how he could hold them without gloves. My mom made sure he had the best steel toed boots, the best coveralls, and the best thermal underwear. My dad never called in sick either. He went to work even if he had the flu. If he came home at 11pm, he was still up at 5am, and even earlier if he had a long drive. He never took vacations as he would often sell his two weeks back to the company in December so his kids would not be disappointed at Christmas. He wore one of his many company uniform shirts just about every day for as long back as I can remember. The only reprieve we had from the monotony of it was when the company changed logos, designs or color. It was not until he retired a few years ago that we were able to see him wear anything else. He did these things for his family and now I try do these things for mine.
Anyway, I was going to write about some other’s that made a difference in my life. Yes, there have been a few. But this is Father’s Day and it is only appropriate that I save those stories for another time and tell you, and remind myself, what a great dad I have.
Thanks Pop! I love you! Happy Father’s Day