Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Old Man

I've been known to mistake Johnny Cash for my dad.  Not that there's a resemblance of any kind.  I think it has something to do with the voice, or the country-boy slang.  Whatever it is, there's always been something interchangeable about them.

In his heyday, before he retired and moved to Arkansas and started dressing like the Cajun Chef, Dad wore plaid western shirts with pearlized snaps and carried a Parker ball point pen with blue ink next to the check book in his breast pocket.  Sometimes he came home form work with butterscotch candies tucked in his denim jacket and I'd meet him at the van door all jumpy in collusion.

I got off easy I've been told, never having received a spanking or belt-whipping from the old man.  Seems he could be hell on wheels if you crossed him.  Later, he would brag to his mistress about never laying a hand on me while her kids, my expected every-other-weekend playmates, ran raging through his house threatening the well kept order.

During the week, Dad was Levis, plain black work shoes, and black steel lunch box.  On the weekends he was brown cowboy boots, hat and punched-leather belt.  Whatever he was wearing, if he wasn't smiling his face looked sour, all scowly and pinched in the forehead.  I worry for frown lines because of this.  

"I was so ugly as a kid ma had to tie a steak around my neck to get the dog to play with me," he'd say trying to rouse me.  It's no wonder I get a little nostalgic listening to Johnny Cash sing Country Trash:

I’m saving up dimes for a rainy day
I got about a dollar laid away
The winds from the south and the fishing's good
Got a pot belly stove and a cord of wood
Mama turns the left-overs into hash
I’m doing alright for Country Trash

It just sounds like part of a story he'd tell.
I don't have any particular insights into Dad's character like I suppose I do with Ma.  It seems he chose his life and if he regrets it now I wouldn't know.  We don't talk about anything real.

What I do know is that most of the things in the world I love to love I understood as a course from him.  It was always Dad who loved being outside best of all, wrote his own brand of poetry, painted pictures on our walls and grew dark and burnt digging in the garden.  

I'm guessing there's a lot of the old man stored up in these bones, a lot I'd like to do away with, a lot I'm good to keep.


  1. I can definitely relate to this post. It's hard to reconcile the image of someone we love, admire and learn from with the side of them that is not so flattering. You still have time to gain insight from talking to him or even to form your own opinion from what you've observed, if you think it's worth it. Delving deeper would undoubtedly cause some measure of pain.

  2. You know, it's interesting, Sweepy. I come at this from a completely different angle. For most of my life my dad has been the bad guy who caused the dissolution of a marriage and break up of the family. It was until my adult years that I was able to look at it in a more objective light and see my parents for themselves. I don't think it's painful, though difficult to arrange the right words. Thank you for your comments.

  3. This description of your father is so vivid. I can see the pearl snaps on his shirt, imagine the look as much as the attitude. Getting off easy has its perks and downside, too. In some ways, I can relate to that too.

  4. Thanks, Rose. After writing this I heard someone mention Brute aftershave which made me realize how much I left out. In this case, a sniff of Old Spice would bring it all tumbling back.

  5. E.Victoria, I love this post. It reminds me of my dad. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, VV. I appreciate the kind words.