SOUTHERN LEGITIMACY STATEMENT: I grew up crossing the Mississippi River each weekend to go four-wheeling, fishing, and running around barefoot. From Quincy, IL to Maywood, Missouri (20 short back-road minutes from Hannibal, MO, home of Mark Twain), my dad and I would return to his country roots. I’d watch dad and his family clean fish and slaughter chickens. I’d hunt mushrooms, pick up snakes, and shoot my BB gun and wouldn’t trade it for nothin.
I asked my daughter what her favorite memory of us is, somehow thinking that a sweet, precious answer would come to her mind when she doesn’t recall her school day. The question was entirely unfair.
My favorite memories of my dad are mostly special occasions like vacations.
I remember us going white water rafting. I was seven the first time and then eight our second. That time, dad lied about my age so that we could attempt a more challenging class of rapids.
I remember family gatherings and my dad filming us with his VHS camcorder. He’d ask us questions, simple questions, such as what we liked and didn’t like. Most weren’t too fond of the camera back then, but I loved it.
I remember my Dad helping me build my first car for the Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby. I didn’t win, but we were there to watch the attempt inside the Ellington school gymnasium.
I remember the one-time Dad and I went hunting. We awoke in the middle of the night and my task was to dress warmly in the clothes laid out. We drove across the river to Missouri and propped up against a tree. And would you believe it, with bow in hand before daybreak, a deer came within feet of our feet. Dad shined a light in her eyes. Deer was young. Dad said we’ll let her go.
I remember going with dad to the YMCA. He’d lift weights and swim. I’d admire him and try my part too at swimming and weight lifting, although I wasn’t allowed in the weight room for another five years or so.
I remember fishing with my dad. I don’t personally remember catching much. Dad would occasionally set a line across the river and check on it the next morning. I remember going ice fishing with him once. As soon as we made it to the river, I slipped, fell, and soaked my pants. We had to return home. I remember Dad wasn’t pleased, but I’m sure he did the right thing.
I remember four-wheeling with my dad. He bought me my own four-wheeler when I was three. We’d traverse the country of Edna’s property, accelerate along the dusty, gravel roads, and maneuver through wooded paths there in the backroads of Maywood, Missouri.
I remember mushroom hunting with my dad. Each spring, we’d go hunting for the prized morels that seemed to magically pop upthrough last fall’s brush and wet leaves like finding a five-dollar bill in a pair of jeans you haven’t worn since last year. We’d carefully stomp through no man’s trails with our eyes affixed to the ground. We’d return home with a few bags for mom to slice, wash, batter and fry – a true delicacy.
I remember sledding with my dad. I especially remember the big hill at South Park in Quincy. I think Dad really liked that park as I remember venturing there with him often. I don’t recall any specifics with sledding other than I know we did it.
I remember going with my dad to Grandpa’s house after Grandma died. I don’t think Grandpa wanted me there. I slid into the family room while all the men stood around Grandpa in the kitchen trying to console him as best they could.
I remember it wasn’t very many months after Grandma died that dad died. I remember crying. I remember seeing him in his casket in the funeral home. I remember empty words of others such as, “you’re man-of-the-house now,” (I had just turned nine) that I thought were ignorant for them to say, but I seemed to understand that the moment was a grave, unprecedented situation where no one knew what to say.
I remember our Colorado vacations and driving through the mountains where we would stop at the sight of snow. Snow high in the mountains, atop Pike’s Peak, in the middle of summer. On our descent down, I remember we stopped at the Santa’s Workshop Amusement Park, which is at the base of Pike’s Peak.
There, I remember watching magic shows, where I’d venture back and forth between the two stages. This was all about a month before Dad would suddenly pass. I remember watching in awe while sitting in the front row. As we exited the park through the souvenir shop, I remember buying my first magic trick, a brain teaser, of two twisted nails that seemed impossible to unloose.