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Native Writes: Thinking about dad

Posted: Wednesday, Jun 12th, 2013

With Fathers Day approaching, my mind goes back to my dad and grandfathers.

Local old-timers will remember my dad, whose nickname was “Boots.” Few people knew that the nickname was a survival tool, since he somehow ended up being named “Rhoda.” He had a long scar on his side as a memento of his schoolmates’ attitude about his name.

Daddy was a blue collar worker, employed by the City of Alamosa for most of his adult life.

If he knew anything, it was how to work hard, do what needed to be done and be loyal.

One of his best buddies was a fellow he had to toss into jail quite regularly. It may have seemed strange, but no one can explain true friendship.

Looking back on all the fathers, sires, dads and daddies I have known, I think that honest affection characterized the great ones.

Don’t get me wrong, my dad and grandfathers were not my friends. They were the sort of advice-giving, punishment-dispensing role models any kid might need. The razor strop that hung in the corner of the kitchen wasn’t there for decoration.

They served at least two generations with wisdom that often needed decoding. The magic decoder ring ordered through Marvel Comics didn’t help because what they said came from the soul and from years of growing up poor and rural.

When my youngest son was nearing his teenage years, my dad drew him onto his lap and told him to only date “nice” girls, drive carefully and “stay out of the cocktail lounges.”

Bill still remembers that advice, which was sort of a road map for growing up.

My life was a little more complex. I was 18 before I got to walk unaccompanied on east Sixth Street.

The street had been known as “saloon row” and, according to my dad, danger lurked everywhere.

Having served as a part-time police officer and jailer, he swore he knew it for a fact.

Little did I know that his co-workers who wore badges kept me under surveillance. If I did anything wrong, they knew about it.

So did my dad.

When I was in school, people stifled laughter at cop’s kids and preacher’s sons. I would be past 21 before I figured out the hidden meaning of that.

Demanded to be good, those kids were also expected to be bad.

My mom’s dad had been a sharecropper and the rough edges he got from that work gave him another element of personality.

“Never trust a government agent,” he announced one afternoon.

Finally, after 60-odd years, I understand what he meant.

If he did nothing else, he kept in touch. A letter writer, he had a stroke on his left side, which was dominant, so he bought a typewriter and continued his craft.

Today, I wonder how he would have fared with a computer.

My paternal grandfather hailed from Missouri and counted watching the James Gang rob a bank among his greatest life experiences.

He had an old buddy with whom he whiled away many a sunny afternoon leaning against the bank downtown and sharing philosophies.

If he and “John” weren’t forbidden to wear six-guns on their hips, “people would think twice,” he declared.

I never knew what they would think twice about.

Grandpa came to Colorado as a contract worker to put gold leaf on the State Capitol dome, lived in a barracks on Denver’s Larimer Street and learned to cook some German dishes.

He was a good -- and willing -- cook, who made cornbread and beans taste like nectar of the gods. He also made sauerkraut in a crock under his bed, which meant that his door remained closed, with a towel crammed under the bottom. He loved the smell and made fish bait from stale bread and Limburger cheese. “I can’t figure out why you don’t like it,” he’d say.

Grandpa’s extra money came from repairing clocks, a trade he had plied in Missouri, and which got him the job in Colorado.

His own father had been disabled during the Civil War and found a place at the Soldiers and Sailors Home near Monte Vista. I never had the pleasure of knowing him.

All of the father figures were wise and no one got into much trouble.

Alcoholic beverages were not a big part of their lives and friends were cherished.

Children were loved, but spanked, and the laps were welcoming. “This will hurt me more than it will you,” grandpa once said as he applied mercurochrome to a skinned knee.

Bet me.

It may have hurt, but it was applied with love.

Grandpa also took me out to eat the night my mom prepared calf’s brains and scrambled eggs.

“Play pretend it’s your grandma’s birthday,” he said. My grandmother died two months before I was born and granddad lived with my parents until he died at age 95.

I remember well the day I asked him how my dad came to be named Rhoda. It appears that the child was to be named “Rhode” after a cousin of my grandmother’s, and she decided in the midst of labor that she was angry at said cousin, so she told the midwife to change the e to an a at the end of the baby’s name.

Grandpa claimed he tried to change it back, but the midwife’s word was law.

Mostly, my grandfathers and my dad worked. They treasured being “good providers” and liked being employed, though my dad’s dad was self-employed repairing timepieces.

Looking back, I realize that their lives were ones of simplicity, faith and friendship, which require no outside interpretation.

They are all gone, now, but I wish then a heavenly Fathers Day.

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