Monday, April 17, 2017

Ten Things About My Dad

1. He and my mom were best friends and head-over-heels in love. I never saw them fight, and I only saw my mom mad at him one time ... and he deserved it and made it right. They did everything together. Several people who came to Dad's funeral expressed their love for my mom as well and said it was impossible to think of one without the other. They were a perfect pair.

2. He had some fun stories. Somehow my Uncle Bill (Porterfield) had an extra press pass at NASA in Houston during the moon landing in 1969 and offered it to Dad. Of course he took it! He said Bill assigned him to interview journalists from other countries and get their opinions and reactions to the big event. He also used to tell the story about the time he was in high school playing touch football with some friends on a weekend, and a limo rolled up ... and Elvis stepped out! He asked if he could join the game, and thus an epic game of touch football was written in my dad's history book.

3. He loved tennis. He and Mom used to play tennis every weekend and several times during the week. I remember playing at the Country Club, and later at the OB City Park, while they played. He also had the opportunity to call games during a celebrity tennis tournament that came to Memphis once a year. He took me a few times and I got to watch some true greats. He also used to bring home autographed score cards, from players like John McEnroe, Billy Jean King, Ilie Nastase, and Andre Agassi. And one time, I met Jimmy Connors in the hallway and got his autograph myself! He and Mom (mainly Dad, actually) wanted to see all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, and a couple of years ago he did it! He went to the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open all during one summer, then about a year and a half later he went to the Australian Open.

4. Dad was a romantic at heart, but his approach to life was always level headed and logical. He had some great one-liners. A few that I can remember from my childhood ... When I was acting up, he would say, "I love you no matter what, but I want other people to love you, too." Or, "Nobody cares how you feel; they only care how you act," which seems pessimistic, but pretty accurate when you think about it. (And he always cared how I felt.) It was his cynical-sounding version of 'put on a happy face.' He also used to say, "I may grow old, but I'll never grow up!"

5. He was the principal of the Olive Branch Middle School for more than 30 years. At the time (I'm sure it's different now) paddling was an acceptable punishment at school. His former students have said to me that when they got sent to his office, he always talked to them about their choices, never raised his voice or showed anger, and often gave them words of advice. He then would offer them the choice of a paddling at school or something else, like a note sent home or in-school-suspension, depending on the severity of the offense. As far as I've heard, he always showed respect for the students, regardless of the circumstances. Even when one of them had to come see him in the office, when he saw them later in the day, he would pat them on the back and smile. And no, he didn't use the paddle at home, and since I had a summer birthday I never had any 'licks.'

6. Dad loved history. He studied English and Anthropology in college, and he loved visiting new places and learning about the culture and the people there. He knew all sorts of interesting facts about almost everything.

7. He was always willing to help, more than I realized. For 35 years he volunteered as the emcee of the OB Christmas Parade. It was a lot of work, took an entire Saturday, and often he had to sit out in the cold or the rain, but he did it. Since his passing, family members, students and friends alike have reached out to share stories of times Dad helped find a job, provided motivation to keep them from quitting college, provided words of advice at a pivotal moment or pointed them in the right direction when they were having trouble finding their way. He spent hours personally installing lockers at the middle school to save the school money; he wrote letters of recommendation for former students and teachers; he was always willing to lend a hand.

8. He had a great sense of humor and a huge laugh. He taught me to find the humor in everything and even to laugh at myself. When Mom was alive he laughed easily and often. In recent years he lost some of that spark, but I am sure he and Mom are having a great time together now. Probably laughing at me. ;)

9. He loved his backyard. Mom put in flowerbeds in 1989 and always kept azaleas, impatiens, hostas, nandinas, and other beautiful things. Dad used to have birdfeeders in the yard until he just couldn't stand watching the squirrels steal the food from them anymore. He also had a system installed that sprays an organic mist (from chrysanthemums) twice a day to repel mosquitos and biting flies, so he could sit in his backyard and enjoy the birds and the flowers. He told me one time that he felt closest to God when he was sitting in his backyard on a beautiful day enjoying nature.

10. He enjoyed art, in all its forms. He and Mom bought season tickets to the Orpheum in Memphis for years, and he continued going after her death. He loved going to see shows there. He also decorated his house and his condo downtown with beautiful original paintings. He would look at them and talk about how much he admired the colors, the lines, etc ... they brought him joy. He loved going to museums, which was one of my favorite things to do with him when I was a kid. He viewed nature as art, whether he was soaking in sunshine in his backyard, looking for a bird he had never seen before on a vacation, or admiring the colors of the desert in Arizona. He could get lost in a book of poetry, another one of my favorite pastimes with Dad. He had great respect for anyone who could paint a picture with words. He memorized his favorite poem, "Sea Fever" by John Masefield, and always teared up when he recited it. We had it printed inside the program at his memorial service. It was perfect.

                                       Sea Fever
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; 
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.