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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

37 Comments Post a comment
  1. Being on a campus in the middle of a demonstration/near riot can be very unnerving. Very happy good old Roy made it through the mess to celebrate another Birthday.

    I was at Ohio State during the campus uprisings of the late 60’s and 1970, most of which were about the Vietnam war and some about students’ rights. I recall that a very big demonstration and administration building storming had already taken place in late April of 1970 and that preceded the events of May 4th at Kent State.

    We were all on the oval during the May 4th demonstration at Ohio State, some participating, some observing. It was getting a bit tense since police had been called out and were trying to protect the Administration Building….again.

    Then word started spreading about the Kent State shootings, I don;t know how the word got out since there were no cell phones of any sort, but, we very quickly found out about the shootings and then the deaths. The mood on the OSU campus changed dramatically from a charged tenseness to a complete silence and disbelief. Most everyone just started leaving and walking slowly away from the Oval. It was a very sad day and I think about it every year and the senseless nature of violence.

    August 5, 2011
    • I’m glad you made it out of that, Lou. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation that verged on getting out of control, and it has to be frightening.

      August 5, 2011
  2. What a great story about your father. Charlayne Hunter-Gault is one my favorite journalists. I recently watched her interview another hero of mine, Nelson Mandela.

    Many times, all it takes to be a hero is to do the right thing even when it’s the unpopular thing.

    August 5, 2011
  3. That is very interesting Andra, thanks for sharing it with us. Tell your Dad happy birthday from us. Something tells me he is not on Facebook. Lol

    August 5, 2011
    • Dad doesn’t know how to turn on a computer. That’s true. He and Mom are coming down today, and we’re taking them to dinner tonight. I’ll tell him HB from you.

      August 5, 2011
  4. Andra, from the time we spent with your mom and dad on our porch in Highlands I will say that you “nailed him” on this description.. Steve and I enjoyed both of them and were enthralled with his stories. He is a big man in statue and personality and his own kind of grace and I wish him a wonderful birthday today!

    August 5, 2011
    • Marie, I’ll let him know your sentiments. He enjoyed spending time with you and Steve that afternoon, too, especially since Steve’s going to Georgia meant Dad could talk about Georgia even more. πŸ™‚

      August 5, 2011
  5. When I read the title of your blog this morning a lot of memories of my own father ran through my mind and as I began to read I could see similarities and dissimilarities between our fathers…then I got to the crux of blog and I realized that this blog was deeper and more expanding than the title…then I began to realize something that I really always knew but never really dug into….the titles to your blogs draw people in, but people stay to read because the blog itself is usually so deep and eye opening. I know, I know, I’m a little late to the party….but….Happy Birthday Andra’s Daddy.

    August 5, 2011
    • I’ll let him know you said Happy Birthday, Lori.

      Thank you for your sentiments about this blog. Posts like this are harder writing exercises for me, and it is always a joy when someone gets the depth I tried to convey.

      When do you leave for Ireland?

      August 5, 2011
      • I’m leaving for Ireland tomorrow morning. So excited! My first International trip…actually, I’ve barely been out of Idaho. πŸ˜‰ I’ll take lots of pictures and post them on facebook.

        August 5, 2011
      • Safe travels, Lori!!

        August 5, 2011
  6. Tom Smith #

    Greate story! I’m sure the birthday party will be something to blog about too. Can’t wait to hear about it

    August 5, 2011
    • Actually, we’re just taking my parents out to dinner tonight. We were planning to go to Florence today, but Miss Mini decided she needed a new battery. I had a blog post all planned about something I wanted to do while in Florence – you are correct. But, that will have to wait for another day.

      August 5, 2011
  7. Linda Watkins (Mom) #

    Your dad said this morning after I told him about your blog today that he would really like to talk to Charlayne Hunter-Gault again. AND if he ever gets a chance, don’t think he won’t take it.

    August 5, 2011
    • I’ll send her this blog. Maybe he could get his wish somehow. I’d love to see a real journalist try to interview him, because he is impossible to interview.

      August 5, 2011
  8. Writing about one’s parents must be difficult. How does one traverse the familiar territory in a way that reveals, but not too much; intrigues and captivates. After reading this, I feel like I have a strong sense of who your Daddy is.

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Watkins! That your life helped bring Andra into this world is an act many of us are grateful for! (Cause she’s our heroine.)

    August 5, 2011
  9. πŸ˜€

    Your father is now a hero to me, too. Thank you, both…

    August 5, 2011
  10. Great story. Always makes a dad wonder how they will be remembered. Hopefully I warped my kids enough that they will turn out successful and happy like you.

    August 5, 2011
    • I think your kids are great, and they will turn out just fine.

      August 5, 2011
      • They will? Darn. Then I obviously haven’t done my duty enough in warping them.

        August 6, 2011
      • πŸ™‚

        August 6, 2011
  11. Hurray for a young man who had the good sense and courage to be one of the good guys.

    August 5, 2011
    • I agree. This has always been one of my favorite Dad stories.

      August 5, 2011
  12. Emily Guess #

    What a great story. My Dad had some good ones about organizing coal miners in Pennsylvania. He certainly has been my hero my whole life and he still is even though he is no longer with us.

    August 5, 2011
    • I loved the letters your sister brought to the last Fourth of July. Hearing them read somehow helped me know several of your forebears, even though I never did.

      August 5, 2011
  13. Hi Andra,

    Followed you over hear from Angie’s site. Fun group of commenters you’ve all got!

    Nice tribute to your dad. Everyday heroes often never get their stories sung. What a super drama about U of Georgia and desegregation.

    So many folks don’t realize how scary those times were.

    Thanks! Giulietta

    August 5, 2011
    • Hi there Guilietta! I’ve visited your blog via some of your comments on Angie’s blog. I enjoy it. I need to get better about commenting more when I visit.

      It is hard for me to imagine that kind of intolerance, but I know it still exists. I do not understand it.

      I hope you have a great weekend.

      August 5, 2011
  14. Rosy #

    Beautfiul!

    August 5, 2011
    • Rosy, it is great to hear from you. How are things in your world of LA?

      August 5, 2011
  15. Amber Deutsch #

    What a fabulous portrait of your dad; I hope to meet him sometime, I think I would enjoy him a lot. Happy Birthday to him!

    On an entirely unrelated note, MTM, this article is for you:
    “Why Vegetarians Should Eat Bacon”

    http://manofthehouse.com/food/eat-healthy/why-vegetarians-should-eat-bacon?utm_source=Outbrain&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Outloud-Outbrain

    August 5, 2011
    • I’ll have to think on how to organize that, Amber. You probably would get a kick out of him.

      Love the bacon article. And, wow, the comments are vicious!! Long live bacon!!

      August 5, 2011

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