After Carter’s nap yesterday my Dad was feeling a little spontaneous. And, since I am the driver of Carter’s taxi, I had to go with on this outing. My Dad wanted to take Carter to the little train that runs around Cleveland Park in Spartanburg. We went, but the train was not running. Carter played in the park and walked around the water for a while. After almost getting attacked by a VERY hungry duck, we decided to head out.
My father used to work for Norfolk Southern railway, so he wanted to take Carter by there to show him some REAL trains. While I was there, I was flooded with memories about my father. He worked there his entire life, and it was hard work. Seeing all the huge train parts lying around the train yard made me think about just how tough his job really was. He went to school during the day and worked there 3rd shift to get his degree. He wanted to be a coach and a teacher. He got his degree, but the wages of a teacher wouldn’t support a wife and 3 children. He stayed on at the railroad because the benefits and the hours were great. I remember seeing him going to work when he was so sick he could hardly stand. I remember seeing his work injuries and thinking that my Dad must have a really tough job.
But, his love has always been for his children (always first) and children in general. He got used to getting up early because he liked getting off in time to pick us up from school and he would spend spring and summer evenings at the ballfield. He was the commissioner of District 5 baseball for as long as I can remember. Before him, there was no little league for our district. He helped raise the money, get the business sponsors, build the fields, build the concession stands, organize the fundraisers, house the equipment in our basement. He did it all and he loved it. He trained the coaches and he coached himself. He coached both of my brothers from coaches pitch through pony league. I know those are memories with my father they’ll never trade.
He’d get up before any of us to be at work at 6:30 and he’d work hard, tough labor repairing trains and tracks, and he’d come home so happy to see all of us. Then, he’d give of himself more and more until darkness fell and forced us all to give it up and go to bed. And still, he found time to fix our cars and cut the grass and take us places. He taught me from a very young age to not shy away from hard or challenging work. He taught me that work always comes before play. Get your work done, then you can reward yourself with something fun. He showed me by his example every day just how much one person can give of themselves and now I try to live to those standards that he set. In the winters, there was football and basketball and he coached those sports, too.
After we saw the “choo choo”‘s, we were heading back out to go by Target and my Dad mentions that we’re in the neighborhood where his sister lives and near where his mother used to live. My Dad grew up very poor. It was just him, his mother and his sister. He started working at a very young age, though I’m not sure of all the jobs he held and at which age. The only one I can remember him talking about is the chicken farm. His job was to cut the heads off of the chickens to kill them. He was a young teenager and he didn’t make much money for the family, but he didn’t have much of a choice. Though he doesn’t talk much or go into much detail about it, I’ve pieced together comments here and there to understand that they often ate lard biscuits for breakfast and beans and cornbread for dinner. Any vegetables they ate, they grew. He was forced to be the man and provider for his family very early and he continued to take care of his Mom and her home until she passed away. I remember our last trip to her house after she passed away. I remember walking through the rooms, still full of the stuff of her life. I remember walking through her garden and picking the last of the vegetables growing there. I touched the flowers she grew and I breathed in the smells of it all. I’m sorry that I didn’t care anything then about saving something…anything…from her life to keep to remind me of what a strong, brave woman she must have been because now I’d give anything for a piece of her life to treasure and share.
As I was saying, we were in the neighborhood where his sister still lives. He said he hasn’t seen her in over 2 years. I suggested that we just stop by and knock on the door and introduce her to Carter. So, we did. She was there. I was getting Carter out of the car and I could hear her squeel and see her hug her brother. She was happy to see him. She’s almost 70, but looks great. Her job now is raising her GREAT grandchildren, ages 4 and 6, who we met that day. Yes, that’s right. Her daughter’s daughter has 2 children who she has no interest in raising. She told us their mother receives child support, but she never gets any of it. Her retirement income is used on making a life for 2 smart and precious little girls. Carter got to play in the front yard with them while my Dad chatted with his sister. She said she’d tried to come see him once, but that the roads in this area had changed so much that she couldn’t find his house. It’s true. They have. He gave her new directions and I hope they’ll see each other again. I took a picture of Carter with his 2nd cousins, once removed (or at least that’s how Jeff says they are related to Carter) and one of my father with his sister. He didn’t say much about it, but I think he was glad we did that.
For an unexpected, unplanned afternoon it certainly turned out to be one of the greatest I’ve had in a very long time. By the end of the day I was filled with so much admiration and love for my Dad — feelings I hadn’t been mature enough to realize the last time we went down this road of memories. It’s who and where I came from and what’s shaped me into who I am today. I am my Father’s child and proud to be that.