Perhaps if I had known him then, I wouldn’t have been surprised when he did tricks on
the back of his pony.
But all I know of him from that time is hearsay. I know that he was born in 1931 to a 40-year-old mother who must have mistakenly believed that she was barren.
Decades before ultrasounds, she was sure he would be a girl. Regardless, he didn’t disappoint.
His father was a rural mail carrier who covered miles and miles of country roads back when it really snowed in Kansas. His mother was attending college when her father died so she had to return home to provide for her mother and two younger sisters. That accomplished, she had married.
His young life was well-documented by the neighbor next door, the editor of a weekly
small town newspaper evidently short on hard news but long on gossip. It was reported when he had a black eye, when he cut himself with the rotary lawn mower, when he got his new pony, and when he did something of note at school.
Being the only child of parents who were a little older and a little more well-off
than some in the 1930s, he led a life of some distinction in the town. Theirs was the grandest home on Main Street and from it, he could watch the kids from the outlying farms as they made their way to school. Starting in second grade, he was particularly fond of watching a girl named Mary who followed her four older brothers into town on horseback. Fourteen years later, they would marry.
In the interim, he spent summers fishing in creeks and ponds, playing some basketball and football, keeping up with schoolwork, spending time with his grandmother and aunts. And he could do tricks and stand on the back of his pony.
He and Mary started their young life together with a honeymoon to the mountains of
Colorado. They crossed western Kansas on a blazing day in August, stopped in Denver and danced at the old Elitch Gardens, spending their first night as a married couple in a small motel with twin beds and no air conditioning. Fortunately for him, Mary shared his love of fishing. They camped near Creede and while there, Mary got food poisoning from a bologna sandwich that had soured.
He became a father for the first time at age 24 and for the fourth time at age 29. As his hair thinned and the years continued on, his life was occupied with work and family and it became harder to recognize the little boy who used to stand on the back of his pony. His children were school-aged when his own father died and his responsibilities expanded to include his mother, and shortly afterwards, his childless aunt and her husband.
He liked to take naps on the sofa in the living room when he came home from work. He liked to take his motorboat out to Tuttle Creek Reservoir. He liked to fish and camp in Colorado. He liked to tell a good story. He liked to keep his zoysia grass greener than that of the neighbors. He didn’t like having to get up at 5 am to carpool to his office downtown. He didn’t like eating Chinese food and he didn’t like going to movies. He didn’t like some of his bosses. He didn’t like the part of parenting that had to do with teen-aged girls.
The daring that can be seen in the picture with his pony emerged on and off over
the years. There was the family vacation when they inadvertently crashed a wedding on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. Another when they merged the family car into an ongoing parade in a town they were passing through. One trip when they camped on a beach under a hurricane watch only to pack up the family and belongings in the middle of the
night when menacing clouds approached. Nothing but a few raindrops developed but the memory was etched.
His four children grew up, his twelve grandchildren were born, his mother died. He kept her lovely home on Main Street for years. He retired and traveled a bit. He celebrated 50 years with Mary, and then suddenly another five. He ended a lifetime of smoking at the age of 73. A great-granddaughter arrived and a great-grandson is expected. And he recently celebrated 80 years of storytelling.
When all is said and done, life has a way of molding us into people we may not set
out consciously to be. There is much to do and for a lot of us, the life that we lead is not much like the life we remember dreaming of at the age of 11. But in the
end, we are exactly who we are meant to be and part of the person we were at 11
still remains. Deep within.
Perhaps at 11, he had hoped to become a circus performer, or a cowboy, or maybe he
dreamed of becoming a pilot. Maybe there was a time in his life when he was a tad bit disappointed with how his life had panned out. But the boy who was so daring
might have come to terms with his years and the roads that were taken. And maybe he is bold enough now, as an old man, to dare to be proud and grateful for all he has experienced and all that he has accomplished.
Here’s to you, Dad.