My Father. My Hero.
My Dad had to be born during a thunderstorm, and he probably popped out making mayhem, heralding a personality that’s, well, LARGE. For the length of his life, he hasn’t wanted for attention. He engenders it, either because he inserts himself in front of complete strangers and forces them to listen to him talk, or he conjures ways to ask the same nosy question in fifty variations, or he has the television turned up loud enough to be heard in China.
Dad harbors lots of things about himself that even I don’t know. He talks a lot, but he really never reveals much when all is dissected, the bits and bobs sorted. Kind of like thunder. Big show. Makes an impression. Gone before you know it. But, you can’t forget.
My Dad is a hero of sorts. Of course, he’s one of my heroes, but he’s the genuine article.
Dad loves to talk about the University of Georgia, his alma mater. In almost every conversation of any duration, he will work it in: the hallowed halls, the football, the Varsity, the funeral home where he lived and worked while in Athens. Dad was there in the early 1960’s, a thunderous time in the history of the South. Desegregation. 1961.
His version of the story exceeds mine.
He was hanging out with his buddies at the mortuary, waiting for the next call of the Grim Reaper. Going to pick up dead people was his main job. When the phone rang on that fateful day in January, 1961, he headed out thinking he just might end up with someone dead: Charlayne Hunter, the first African American woman enrolled at UGA.
A riot broke out at the University on the day of forced desegregation. Thrown bricks and hurtful words, along with kicks, punches and other displays of intolerance. It escalated until the administration feared for the safety of the two enrollees. I don’t know why they called my Dad at the funeral home during the riot. Maybe the police thought a hearse or two would be necessary, with the stormy, out-of-control, surreal day.
When Dad and his co-workers pulled into the teeming mass, the first thing he saw was the famous Dean Tate, pushing and shoving through the mayhem, suspending random rioters by demanding their student ID’s. I think Dad loved and feared that man even more after he watched him wade through the madness, unafraid to call things what they were. Risking his life, really.
Dad risked his life, too. He ended up with Charlayne Hunter in his hearse – alive – and they were able to drive her away from the riot. At least, that’s how he tells it. I’m glad to know he was there, on the right side, that he made it out of that teeming mass alive, to celebrate more than a half-century of birthdays.
Like the one he’s having today. Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.
Too Much is Just Enough: Another Birthday