Monday, June 16, 2008

Post-Father's Day Ramblings


Since I'm on Eastern Standard Time and my parents are on Central, I waited to call and wish Daddy a Happy Father's Day until after lunch. I usually like to be the first to call, but there's a delicate balance to strike between beating my sisters and waking him before his alarm.

When I caught up with him, he and Mama were on their way to Columbia, Tennessee, to look at houses. Since Mama's auction purchase of a house with a pool and acreage in St. Florian, they've been making plans to remodel and update. I think we daughters hate to see them move away from their home on Shoal Creek, but we know their track record for moving and are resigned.

"I mentioned you in my sermon," Daddy said. Oh really? He said, "I told them that you're mailing back my preaching Bible I left in Hickory. I said that's probably what you're calling my Father's Day present."

I heard Mama pipe up in the background, "You know she already gave you your Father's Day present a long time ago."

He just laughed. "I know, but I get to tailor a story to suit my purposes." Growing up we had called those "preacher stories," not lies exactly, but adapted to fit. (I'm still not sure if the story about the uncle who chomped celery was true or just aimed at me.)

I had given him his Father's Day gift back when they visited us here. I couldn't wait. A couple of years ago I'd visited Linda Jobe, a friend in the North Carolina English Teachers Association who lives in the eastern part of the state. She had a big framed soil map of her county from early in the twentieth century. The colors, reflecting the different soil types, made for a pretty map, suitable for framing, but what was most interesting were the little details--dots for existing houses. Stores, schools, and churches pinpointed. Linda said that often when they had company, the men would take the map down off the wall, lay it on the pool table, and look closely with a magnifying glass.

Since then I've been on an internet search for a similar map of Lauderdale County, Alabama. I finally found one for my dad through the University of Alabama dated in the thirties. Since he's preached all over the county and has bought and sold real estate too, I knew he'd enjoy a closer look at all the little landmarks.

I've heard Daddy say "I talked about you in my sermon today" before--many times. Once he gave a brief description of each of his five daughters. I wasn't there, but I heard that he said, "Nancy's the one who calls me up just to read me a poem." Yep. I'm that girl, but I came by it honest.

An honest Father's Day tribute to Ellis Coats would defy Hallmark's trite sentiment. He'd be the first to admit he hasn't been perfect, but from him we've learned that one doesn't have to be perfect to be good. He and Mama recently celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary: On May 1, 1988, they remarried after an eight-year separation, and while they're a little uncomfortable with our marking the date (we also pulled out the stops for the fiftieth anniversary of the original wedding a few years ago), they know that we still believe in fairy tale endings (and the power of love and forgiveness) because of their example.

Our relationship to our father is marked by so much more that that anomaly. Despite all the ribbing he got over the years for having five daughters, no sons, Daddy really was the ideal father to daughters. He didn't try to make us into some kind of girls' basketball team. In fact, he never even succeeded in turning the yard mowing over to us either. The closest he came was drafting current boyfriends to do the job. He did, however, make us believe we could accomplish anything.

When I decided to start college more than two hours from home at sixteen years old, just out of the eleventh grade, the idea had been planted as far back as fourth grade when Daddy had mentioned to me that he'd heard Lipscomb had an early admissions program that allowed students to attend the summer after the junior year. He never pushed. He never even directly suggested I do that. He just planted the seed.

He also let me tag along on summer evenings when he traveled throughout Tennessee and Alabama holding gospel meetings at lots of little country churches. I ate in lots of church members' homes and at dinners on the grounds (fried chicken, okra, potato salad--real health food). There are some of his sermons I could have preached myself ("The Road to Revival" and the sermon on the Prodigal Son I remember most clearly.) Looking back, I realize that the car trips together, just the two of us, gave us that time to talk. I realize how much of my lvoe for storytelling I get from Daddy.

Even now, he'll call me sometimes just to tell a story that he has remembered. Not long ago, he called to tell me about an ill-fated trip to the store with his father and grandfather and a chicken to be used for barter. His own father, Pawpaw, had his own repertoire of stories, some my daddy heard over and over, while others came as a surprise. Among my prized keepsakes are two cassette tapes of an interview I conducted with my dad's parents for a folklore class. I took Daddy along as catalyst. He's prompt, "Dad, tell her about. . . " and they'd be off. What came out of that interview were stories that might have died with my grandparents but for just asking the right question at the right time--his own grandparents' Civil War experiences for example.

Both my parents are readers, so we've always shared our love of books. On more occasions that I can count, I've chosen books for his gifts. (When his Bible arrives in the mail this week, it will be accompanied by a collection of poems about fathers.) He's one person I can usually count on who will actually read the book I give. In fact, frequently, he'll sit on the couch and start reading right then. "Listen to this," he'll say. Then, just like his eldest daughter, he'll start reading out loud to us.

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1 comment:

Frank 'n' Sandy said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dad, Nancy! Do you think there's a storytelling gene that gets passed on to children? I do. You're a natural, and I'd know that Ellis is a storyteller even if you didn't tell me. We had such a great time visiting and swapping stories in April when I visited with your parents. Do your sisters read your blog? I hope everyone in your family does because it's priceless!!

Love,
Sandy