My Dad died in 2008. I think about him often, but nothing sad or maudlin mind you. As he said a couple of days before he died: “No one wants to see a middle-aged man moping around about his poor old father.” I’m glad Dad lived long enough for me to know him as a man. He wasn’t a saint or perfect. He was a good friend and father. He could be funny, profane, impatient and exasperating. Mostly, he was just nice to me my entire life.
If you didn’t know him, this will tell you a bit about him. His long-time friend, J.W., tells a great story about how they met. Dad served in the Navy in WWII and then went to college. He graduated and joined the Air Force as an officer. In 1952, he was called up to Korea. The men from Harlan County all got on a bus in Harlan. J.W. was an enlisted man, and the bus was full of men who either volunteered or were drafted. Dad boarded the bus in full uniform. He was a lieutenant. J.W. said they didn’t know what to do when they saw him. Should they stand and salute? Now, my Dad was very fastidious about his appearance. I imagine his uniform cleaned and pressed, his hair slicked back and shoes spit-shined. Dad took the seat next to J.W. and introduced himself. He talked to J.W. for the whole bus ride. (If you knew Dad, that’s not hard to believe. Someone once said: “I’m not worried about the Japanese capturing Earl. He’ll just talk them to death.”) Dad never lost touch with J.W. after that day. They remained life long friends, even after J.W. ended up in Arizona. Later in life, J.W. worked for a clothing store and would send Dad shoes. Dad died in 2008 with 45 pairs of shoes, most of which came from Arizona.
I probably have some details of that story wrong, given that I heard it second-hand, but the gist of it is true. I watched a lot of ball games with Dad, talk politics and –when he got old–health issues. He’d repeat himself and tell me the same things over and over. Honestly, I got tired of listening to a lot it. Having said that (one of his favorite expressions), I’d like to have another of one of those phone calls.