By Joe Rector
Church is always a place where memories come flooding. I sit there and recall so many things, from my Mother seated in the second pew and praying for strength as she served as the only parent for three teenaged boys to children’s programs filled with songs and to the weddings that brought my two brothers and their wives together. Today, my daddy was on my mind. I remembered him and realized just how proud he made me.
I remember Daddy attending church with us whenever he was off on Sunday. He put on his suit, tie and white shirt and struggled to fit dress shoes on his swollen feet. Daddy always smelled like Old Spice, and he made sure we boys were dressed up too. One of his rules was that we polish our shoes for church, and we completed the task Saturday nights.
On occasion, Daddy served as an usher. He’d greet people and help some find seats. He never was an outgoing person, but something changed when he was at church, something that made him feel better about himself and ready to reach out to others.
Another thing he did as an usher was take the collection. I remember him walking toward the altar all serious and focused. He worked with the other men and passed the plates through the pews, and then he walked back down as the congregation sang the doxology. I was proud of my Daddy on those Sunday mornings.
Daddy’s life had always been a tough one, but he never forgot about others. He helped several times a year to pass out food baskets. Daddy never came home happy; instead, he’d tell Mother how sad it made him to see other families with so little. He looked for ways to help others: buying a family a truckload of coal for heating, dropping off extra food to a hungry family, and giving a little money from the small amount that his family had. I was proud of my Daddy for caring so much.
My dad didn’t go far in school. He quit after the sixth grade and began working to help his parents. For the rest of his life, he always felt that he didn’t measure up to others and thought of himself as not being smart. However, I remember him sitting at the kitchen table in the mornings. He had a green mug filled with coffee so thick it crawled from the cup along with his Winston cigarettes and an ashtray with a brass elephant. Daddy scribbled and figured and budgeted better than any CPA could have done with so little money. Somehow, he managed to pay the monthly bills, buy food, pay for a life insurance policy, and give a little to the church. I was a proud of my Daddy for being the smartest man I’d ever known.
Daddy began feeling bad and visited doctors who told him he suffered from allergies or ulcers. Eventually, the right doctor looked at him once and told him he had lung cancer. From April to August of 1965, Daddy made trips from home to the hospital. With each passing day he weakened. However, he talked often to us boys and told us how things would be different when he got better. He promised that we’d take vacations and spend more time together. For young boys, those words were the hope that we grabbed onto until he passed. I was proud of my Daddy for being brave in the face of our fears.
My son will be 30 in a couple of weeks, and my daughter is a couple of years older than that. I’ve tried to be a good daddy and suppose that sometimes I have been successful. However, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to be as good as my dad was for those few short years. What I do hope is that on a couple of occasions my kids have watched me and felt a twinge of pride. I also wish that my daddy had known how proud of him I was and am.