Thinking About My Dad

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This is one of those instances that I believe most of us have experienced; when you’re young, your parents and grandparents try to tell you their history, and you scrunch your face and roll your eyes. You don’t care because it doesn’t interest you at the time. You just sluff it off.

However, later in life, as with me at this very moment in time, you wish you had taken it more seriously by listening to every single word, asking questions and committing it to memory.

So, I’ve decided to start at the beginning…that is, the beginning as I know it.

Dad was born in Texas in 1914 to a farmer who was born in Arkansas and to his mother who was also born in Texas. He was the fourth child of a total of seven.

The family migrated to Imperial, Calif., in 1916. His father passed away of typhoid fever in 1924, and he had to quit school in the eighth grade to help his older siblings support their mother and the younger children.

I don’t know a lot about his growing up, except that it is said that, “It’s the hard times that forge you, and in those hardships that individuals live their epic lives that inspire and illuminate.”

I know without a doubt that those difficult days are responsible for putting him on the path to his lifelong impeccable work ethic. In other words, Dad was a chest-out, chin-up-kind-of-guy with a working man’s confidence.

All I know is slivers of mom’s and dad’s courtship days in Imperial. I have a few photos of dad in his adult single years, and can readily conclude from them that he was very handsome, drove a neat car and, knowing him, he had a job and money to spend. He was probably one of those bad boys, rough around the edges, that women are always drawn to for some crazy reason.

He courted Mom for quite some time, and they eloped to Yuma after she graduated from Imperial High School.

Their first child, George, was born in Imperial. But soon after his birth, they moved to the Los Angeles area, and rented an apartment for about a year. Dad went to work driving a milk truck (Lucerne Dairy which was Safeway’s private label). Awhile later, he drove a semi for Safeway Stores and was there until he retired in 1977, after about 40 years.

He bought our Gleason Street home for $1,600 in 1937. Over the years, he and brother George built it from a shanty looking 1-bedroom to a modern 4-bedroom home. In the backyard, he built chicken coops and rabbit hutches, and we had an incinerator for disposing of our trash, until that was outlawed, then he dug a huge hole in the ground for trash disposal.

His hands were always busy doing something…he was the one that neighbors called on when the expertise of a handyman was needed. He also loaned money to the neighbors and relatives. He was the block warden during the war. Since he drove for Safeway, he had access to foods that weren’t readily available to the general public. He shared these food items with relatives and neighbors alike. He even allowed neighbors and relatives to live in our home, sometimes indefinitely.

Giving freely to friends, neighbors and relatives, did not mean giving freely to his six. All of us, including Mom, thought this to be a contradiction. But it is well known that “much of our growth as a person will come in hardships and in challenges.” And his six had both!

Dad, through his strong will, and Mom through her kindness and God-given grace, taught us how to deal with life’s tough lessons, how to keep it together even when you fall apart, how to keep going amid life’s ups and downs, and that “falling down is part of life, getting back up is living.”

Dad could have coined the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” There was no such thing as an allowance or being paid for doing chores around the house, that was expected. If we wanted a nickel or two to buy something, we’d have to ask Dad for it. Many times, his response to us was, “If I had an extra nickel, I’d think I was a millionaire.”

Needless to say, the six of us began working very early on to earn our spending money.

But once we began earning our own money, particularly after we married and had children of our own, we could borrow from him, under these conditions: “Borrow any amount you need, let him know when you would repay it, and it BETTER be paid per your commitment.”

I applaud him for the stance her took on finances. He took care of all the household bills and paid timely. He had an A-1 credit rating.

Even though he was a good father, an excellent provider, and a hardworking man, his parenting methods wouldn’t be accepted today. It’s just that the way he raised us kids back then has become a real no-no today. This business of no corporal punishment or spanking has become “spare the rod and spoil the child.” And, in my opinion, what a mess our world is in because of it. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.

Everything Dad bought came from Sears on Olympic and Soto. All of our household appliances were Kenmore; all the tools in the garage were Craftsman. Every screw, nut, and bolt by size, were kept in baby food jars. He nailed the lid to a piece of wood overhead then screwed the jar into the lid. I repeat that his strong and industrious hands were busy doing something all the time.

He was a perfectionistic…when he went on a cleaning spree, look out! He got each of us involved in the project, and it was always a major project. He would actually hose down the kitchen floor, add soap and we all used our “elbow grease.” He moved all the appliances so he could clean behind them.

Back then, I think he thought this is what made the white spots disappear from the black linoleum, or that he bought inferior flooring. It was years later that we told him the truth about us and our friends dancing the Bop and Twist hour after hour on that floor while he was off semi-truckin’. He just shook his head, as in days of old, and then laughed about it along with us.

This is also how he washed down our “mile long” driveway. With his rubber fishing boots up to his knees, he took that push broom and pushed all the dirt down the driveway…not just to where the sidewalk ends, but all the way down to the gutter at the end of Gleason and McDonnell. Each time his perfectionism was turned on us, we’d roll our eyes at him…but to his back when he wasn’t looking, of course.

So, in recapping, you might say I’m grateful for the difficult times, as I now realize that in experiencing those times early on got me through the many tough spots that came later in life. And I have to conclude that the greatest gift my parents gave me and my siblings was their love and support, and the necessity to be independent and honest with a good work ethic.

“You don’t know the depth of parental love until you are a parent yourself.” Cherish them while you have them and cherish them when they’re gone. I did and I do!

Now that I’m in the “winter of my years,” I remember Dad as being a hardworking man who loved us and did his best to set us on a proper course in life. I never think of him without being grateful that he was my father. I’m so proud of my DNA.

Thanks, Dad, for all you gave to those moments that shaped us. I loved you then, I love you now, I always will, your “Miss Priss.”

Sharon Benson Smith is a member of the writing class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. It is held off-campus at the Norwalk Senior Center.