I heard my father’s voice yesterday.
He died in 1981, July 7th, seven eleven, kind of hard to forget that one. He was 65. We had a sick family joke of him kicking off just when he was starting to collect social security; then my mom died at 65, five years later, and so did that joke.
My dad was born in Asheville, the baby of the family, when my grandmother was 40. He had two older brothers and a sister. He loved horses and playing basketball. He played high school basketball and then in the mill leagues. I have a large wallpaper sample book that my grandmother turned into a scrapbook with clippings of his games. He joined the National Guard so he could be in the Cavalry unit. He was offered a basketball scholarship to Wake Forest, but his best friend Crowell Little was going to UNC – and, on his way to college, my dad went to visit Crowell. He never left Chapel Hill.
He found ways to earn money and played on the Tarheels basketball team. He became president of Graham Memorial and was in charge of entertainment for the campus. He ran with the likes of Terry Sanford and even dated Margaret Rose before Terry married her. He was the caller for the square dance team that was so good, they even played the Waldorf Astoria in New York. His nickname was Fish, and for years I tried to find out why. I was always told it was something to do with his being at the Y and swimming so much. After he died, Crowell told me it was because the girls liked him so much that it was just like tossing a line out and reeling them in.
Like most of the Greatest Generation, my dad never talked about WWII, and I am ashamed to say that I didn’t prod him about it. I never expected to lose him so soon. I do have several newspaper articles that were written about his time there, and, before he died, Crowell told me some stories as well.
One of those stories involved flying from North Africa to Italy and bringing back the plane loaded with wine. Another time, he was the pilot for Jimmy Doolittle and as he was taxiing the plane down the runway, he put on the brakes too hard, and the nose dived, and Jimmy Doolittle had to find another plane to continue on.
The only scary story I heard was of the time my dad returned from a mission, and there was a hole in the plane right behind his seat. An altitude exploding bomb had gone right through the plane and had exploded high above them. I’m sure there were other tense times. He flew 75 bombing missions. I just recently pulled out all of his colorful bars and medals and have been looking them up on the internet to see what they all mean.
My dad came home from the war, married my mom and settled in her home town of Chattanooga. He worked at a furniture store for the rest of his life. To me, he had the glamor of a Don Draper from “Mad Men” – but without the smoking, drinking and womanizing. I just recently realized that this year will mark the beginning of my having lived longer without my dad than with him. I still miss him.
But I did hear his voice yesterday.
Ever since my mom passed, and her house co-mingled with mine, I’ve had this cassette tape from 1969, a recording of a retirement dinner for one of the furniture salesmen. Too afraid to play it without breaking it, I took it to a studio and had it transferred to a CD. I had suspected that my dad might have been the host of the evening, and I was right. There were many people talking, and at first I didn’t realize it was him – but then dim memories from 30+ years ago spread a smile across my face. I listened as his gentle humor led what essentially was a roast of this person. I tried to pick out my mother’s laughter out of the crowd. What a treasure this tape is! My daughter will be able to hear the voice of the grandfather she never knew, and I can go back and close my eyes and for a moment, have my dad again.