My dad was the kindest man I ever knew. This picture of him is how I remember him—always smiling and cheerful.
When I think of Dad, I think of LBJ, cars, and the store.
My last few years at home with my family were the LBJ years, 1963-1968. LBJ was Dad’s kind of man—tough, wily, rough, nothing like that good-looking young Harvard educated Pulitzer Prize winning Catholic-boy predecessor. Dad and most other men in the South in the ’60s had grown up in the country, where there was just too much work to do to be sitting around writing books like JFK had done.
LBJ, on the other hand, was a work horse President. He was not only running a huge war, he was passing massive amounts of legislation aimed at helping the poor and the elderly. He gave us the Civil Rights Act and Medicare and food stamps and much more. I can’t think of a President in my lifetime who accomplished more in six years than LBJ did.
LBJ had been 21 when the Great Depression hit, a perfect age for a young man to see and understand how government programs could actually help people recover from serious losses. His dedication to improving the lives of people in this country must have inspired my dad and others like him to work hard too.
Too bad he couldn’t figure out how to shut down that war instead of letting so many boys my age die. History would view him differently if he had.
There was so much going on during those years to trouble a person. Schools were integrating. War was raging. Russians were developing nuclear weapons. Assassins were taking out our best leaders. And American auto makers were making cars like this one.
Minus the wax job and wheels, this is the same car that Dad bought me when I was nineteen—a 1969 Oldsmobile 442. I didn’t know at the time what a muscle car was or what a Quadrajet carburetor did. I didn’t realize I had the hottest car on campus that year. All I knew was that my daddy loved me. He’d given me a nice car, a credit card for gas, and a college degree. What more could a girl want?
I wanted to go to Texas, I knew that, but the 442 didn’t get me there. This 1973 Buick Regal took me to Texas, home of LBJ, a massive freeway system, and my future. I drove this car for thirteen years before selling it to a stranger for $500. Every time I drove it home for a visit over the years, Dad would put it in the shop and have it serviced. I got a lot of mileage out of that car thanks to him.
It’s hard to think of Dad without thinking of cars. He would have been so proud to see the little red 2002 Chevy Cavalier I bought for my daughter when she turned sixteen. He was always a Buick man himself, which is probably why I bought the Regal. To this day Mom still drives a Buick.
I’m often dismayed when people claim that those who served in the armed forces are our finest citizens. My dad never served in the military and he was the finest man I ever knew. His birth in 1928 kept him out of World War II. He was barely 17 when that war ended. My birth in 1950 kept him out of Korea. Men with children were given service exemptions.
Dad’s destiny was not to be a fighter on a foreign battlefield but a fighter of another kind at home. He became a successful businessman, a merchant who served his community well for almost thirty years.
The counter in my dad’s store was a place where men hung out and drank coffee and told stories. Dad and his younger brother provided a captive audience for tales being told. Each year a new school boy stood with them, getting credit for working there during school.
So many young people over the years got their first job at Dad’s store. He hired them mostly to pick up and deliver auto parts. I’m sure he would have loved getting paid to drive a little blue Nissan pickup around town when he was their age. His Temple Auto trucks were fixtures in the Natchez/Vidalia area for many years.
During the late ’60s, if you went into Temple Auto around 3:00, you’d likely see a one-armed man standing by the window looking out. They called him Red and Red scared me a little. He’d lost an arm and his mind on a battlefield somewhere. He never spoke, he never looked up, he simply got his coffee and stood by the window drinking it. No one ever made fun of Red. He was treated with reverence almost.
I loved listening to the stories the men would tell, but I didn’t get to hang out at the store much, not as much as I would have liked. Dad would tell me to “go home and help your mother.” I obeyed him totally because he commanded that kind of respect.
My daddy was a sweetheart. I loved him very much. Many people in that community loved him. At his funeral in 2005, the pastor called him “a great man.” In his latter years, as heart disease slowed him down, he still made his weekly deacon’s rounds to check on his senior citizens. The man had the kindest heart, and a gentle way of flowing through life seemingly effortlessly. I feel blessed to have had him for a father.
Here’s a ten-minute message from Earl Nightingale, the voice of my dad’s generation. It’s full of platitudes, and a big secret having to do with the power of thought.