Four years seems so short and so long, all at the same time. It’s becoming harder to recall his face without having to think hard about it. Sometimes, I recall something he said or did, and then I’m not sure if I’m mixing memories. That hurts, and there are some things I want to always remember for sure. I want to write them down, so if I ever forget in the future, I’ll have proof. I remember these things.
1. He had a one-of-a-kind laugh. He wasn’t embarrassed by it, and he never held it back. It was a loud, eyes-closed, mouth-opened-wide, body-shaking laugh. I have the girl version of it. It probably embarrasses people around me, but I’m not ashamed because I know it’s straight from him.
2. He had a very distinct cough. Anytime we went shopping, if I couldn’t find him, I would just wait until I heard his cough or laugh and I would know exactly which aisle he was on.
3. When I was a kid, he used to lay down on the floor to watch TV. He would lay on his side and prop his head up with his hand. His arm, head, and neck would form a triangle and his legs would be stretched out on top of one another. I really thought he was the only person in the world who watched TV like that, and it looked very important and complicated to me. I would try tirelessly to copy it.
4. He really loved music, and would explain to me over and over who bands were and how they came to be and why they broke up. I wish I remembered all the stories he told me. I do know Lynyrd Skynyrd was named after their gym coach and ‘Free Bird’ has the greatest guitar solo of all southern rock songs.
5. He once pulled over on the side of the road when he saw a car engulfed in flames and a couple people standing away from it watching frantically. He told us to stay in the truck, and asked the first man he saw if anyone was still in the car. The man said he didn’t know but not to get too close because it could explode. My dad ran straight to the burning car and checked to make sure everyone was out safe. He had to use his favorite leather jacket to fan away the flames so he could get close enough to the car.
6. On a another occasion, we were flagged down late one night by a very upset woman next to a graveyard. The truck driving in front of her had flipped over. My dad parked on the side of a steep ditch and ran to help while we watched. I was terrified because we were next to a cemetery and because I thought our truck would flip over into the ditch. The woman who flagged us down left the scene, but my dad stayed and pulled one of the men out of the truck. He performed CPR on him until medical help arrived and told us to head on home.
7. He was a hero.
8. He once rescued my grandparents’ (his ex-in-laws) cat from a tree. Our ladder, even after it was extended completely, wasn’t tall enough to reach the cat, so my dad had to climb the tree the rest of the way, and then climb back down holding the cat. My dad was not a fan of his ex in-laws, and was allergic to cats.
9. He wore Aspen cologne. Yankee Candle Company makes a scent that smells just like it. Once, I was shopping with my sister and her kids, and we were smelling some of the candles in the store. I picked one up and it smelled like my dad. I put it down without saying anything. My niece picked it up and gasped. She whispered to me, “It smells like Grandaddy did.”
10. He drew giant, detailed castles for my sister and I to color on industrial-sized cardboard he got from his work. He had a natural gift for drawing. His castles were much more elaborate and fun than any coloring book.
11. He was the best cook in the world. No one else so far in my life has been able to top his teriyaki chicken, mashed potatoes, or pancakes.
12. He loved his motorcycle. I did not.
13. He saved a mouse’s life because of me. Field mice sometimes got into our house through a tiny opening in the bottom of our screen door during the summer. Once, we saw one come in and run into the kitchen. My dad wanted to set traps, but I begged him not to kill it. He told me if we didn’t catch it within fifteen minutes, he would set out the traps. After at least an hour, our refrigerator was pulled out from the wall, our table and chairs were pushed up against the door, and our trashcan was inside our pantry. My dad cussed up a storm as he finally caught the mouse under a soup pot and put it back outside.
14. He let us be kids. At any given time during my childhood, you could come onto our porch and find jars, tubs, shoeboxes, or other containers housing “pets” my sister and I caught. These critters included caterpillars, roly polys, lightning bugs, June bugs, grasshoppers, turtles, lizards, slugs, snails, praying mantises, and anything else we needed to “study” before we released it back into the yard. I now know from working in childcare that not all parents are okay with this. My dad encouraged it.
15. He was always willing to play with us. I remember dancing in the living room with him, playing hide and seek when he would help us hide in the most ridiculous places (like on top of the pantry shelves), him pitching our kickball and softball games, riding the go-cart with him, and going to the park often.
16. He loved to fish. He taught us how to thread bait, which I hated, how to cast a regular rod and a cane pole, how to wait patiently and quietly for the right time to reel in, and how to unhook our catch, which I also hated. He also let me play with the night crawlers, which I enjoyed much more than pushing a hook through them. (This makes me realize I might not have had a typical “girly” childhood.)
17. He was our biggest defender, and he was always proud of us. I got the “Most Improved” award in 5th grade and my dad was terribly upset because, as he saw it, I “didn’t need improving”.
18. He made the best birthday cakes in the world - from the way they tasted to the detailed decor of the icing. They were perfect.
19. He was hard-headed and stubborn, to the extreme. I get that from him, too.
20. He wasn’t the perfect dad but he was absolutely the perfect dad for me. He raised four daughters to be strong, able women. I am proud of us, and I am proud of him.
I hope he knows I love him and I miss him and I think about him so, so often. In memory of you, Dad. I promise to never forget.