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.