Simple Man

August 30, 2019

 

Creativity doesn't always involve the creation of an artistic masterpiece. Inspiration can come in the quiet example of a life lived gracefully and simply and manifest itself in creation for necessity or in solutions to everyday challenges.

 

My father in this world was a funny, inventive, and the simply hardest working man I've ever known. He was forced to drop out of school in the eighth grade after his own father's death to run the family dairy farm. He'd arise early to tend to prepare and deliver milk from a wagon pulled by a horse named Dolly and then tend to the farm to feed the family and the farm animals. A few years later, he voluntarily enlisted in the Navy to keep his youngest brother from being drafted in World War II and because he wanted to save the world like so many of his generation. 

 

When appliances were in short supply after the war, he built one for my mom. Honestly--who BUILDS a refrigerator? Fifty years later, she still said it was the best "ice box" she'd ever had. Dad was an entrepreneur, running successful businesses including a restaurant, automotive garage, manufacturing, and a landfill/trucking company. While raising a young family, he studied engineering from the University of Texas while running an auto body repair shop in a building that he bought with cash. He paid cash for everything, including houses and cars. I recall him buying a new Oldsmobile by handing a wad of cash to the salesman. The salesman told that story for decades.

 

From his garage, he could magically invent, repair, or improve anything. My childhood bicycles weren't new, but they were custom designs from parts he collected from the landfill. I can still see him in his welder's helmet conjuring a "new" and different bicycle for me like Dr. Frankenstein in his laboratory using parts resurrected from discards. My favorite was a chopper style with a banana seat and long, colorful streamers coming from the handle grips. It wasn't that we couldn't afford new things (we could, easily)--my parents just believed that upcycled and home made was better in every way.  When he learned I was taking art classes in college, he found some wood and made a gorgeous drawing desk for me.  I still regret that I had to leave it behind after graduation.

 

The story of my father that stands out to me, though, is one of his extraordinary kindness. As difficult as it is to believe in this age, we did not have locks on our doors. We lived in a rural area, and the thought of locking the doors seemed almost absurd. One morning, when I was around 8 years old, I awoke to find a man sleeping on the sofa in the den across from my bedroom. He slept with his back facing out, covered in an afghan. I woke up my parents and asked them to wake him up so I could get ready for school.

 

Dad jumped out of bed and threw on his trousers. He shook the sleeping man, and when he turned over we found that he was an intruder who had crept into the house overnight.  Mom and I were terrified, but Dad calmly quizzed the man on how he came to be in our home. He told Dad that he needed a place to sleep, and that Dad's "son" down the road told him he could stay with us (none of my parents' sons lived down the road). 

 

Dad told the man to wash up and meet him at the breakfast table. Mom served coffee, eggs, toast, and orange juice while they sat at the table and decided what to do.   

 

I readied for school in my room, so I don't know the details of their breakfast conversation, but as I waited for the school bus, Dad loaded the man into his pickup and they drove off together. He had decided to drop the man off at the city mission on his way to work.

 

It was years later, as I reflected upon the situation, that I realized the extraordinary kindness shown by Dad in this situation. Other men might have knocked an intruder unconscious, shot him, called the police, or all of the above, and it would have been his right under the law to do so.  But I reckon that Dad was grateful that the man hadn't taken anything or harmed us, as he could have easily done, and merely needed a place to sleep and a meal. Dad knew the difference between his "right" and in "doing the right thing." I hesitate to add that the man was of a different race than we and only mention it because that, in itself, might have been an issue for a lesser man than my father.

 

I am fortunate that I was reared by loving parents who knew hard times, having grown up during the Great Depression. They knew the value of kindness, how to make due with what they could find, and they taught me the reward of hard work. My father was an uncomplicated, some might say simple man, but that is the best kind to be.

 

After his death, I realized how few material possessions Dad had collected. He had an old Ford pickup, a bowling ball, his tools, clothes, and wallet. Zero debt. He didn't need much, yet he held wealth that few dream of. He left behind properties and money in the bank to take care of his family for decades after his death.  I will forever be grateful for this simple man.

 

"Forget your lust for the rich man's gold
All that you need is in your soul
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied

And be a simple kind of man" ~Lynyrd Skynyrd

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