Editor’s note: In honor of Father’s Day and my father, I am rerunning this column from 2010. Happy Father’s Day.
My best memories of my father are the stories he told — stories about me, our family, his youth in Savannah, Ga.
When I was just born, he told me, he was worried about business and couldn’t sleep, so he would get up with me for my 2 o’clock feeding. While my bottle heated, Dad made himself a sandwich and ate it while he held me. “I put on 15 pounds doing that,” he said and laughed.
Of course, I have no memory of those times, but I can picture Daddy carrying me down the stairs. I do remember the kitchen and the kitchen table, and I can imagine the quiet of our old house on 49th Street.
Daddy and “his girls” (me and my sisters) shared a common bond: We were all born in Savannah, and it was our town. Daddy loved that place; it and its people formed him during a time Savannah was marked by its isolation and eccentricity.
My father was raised by his Aunt Mamie, who shared some of the famous Auntie Mame’s qualities. She lived life large and damned the consequences.
Daddy idolized her husband, Holly, a champion skeet shooter, who was fond of whiskey. Dad liked to tell the story of Holly in his younger days holding an Irish wake for a friend. As was the custom, the departed was laid out in the parlor, while toast after toast was drunk in his honor. After three days, the law showed up at the door. “Boys,” the officer said, “You can drink for as long as you want, but we’ve got to get your friend into the ground.”
Aunt Mamie, Uncle Holly and dad lived in a house on Rose Dhu Island outside of Savannah, where Uncle Holly raised Gordon setters. Daddy remembered the dogs with fondness, along with his pet goat. The goat, obviously a gift given without forethought, became unruly and was given away. Aunt Mamie told Daddy she had sent the goat to school where it would learn how to pull a cart. The goat never returned.
On another occasion, one of Uncle Holly’s friends brought Dad a baby alligator from Florida. Being a boy, Daddy was quite happy to have it. One night, Uncle Holly, under the influence, carried on a lengthy conversation with the little alligator, feeding it bits of raw meat while he chatted away. The little ’gator didn’t know how to say “no,” and ate until it died.
Then there was the pet monkey. Obviously, Aunt Mamie couldn’t say no to my dad. The monkey wore diapers, to little effect, and tore down the living room drapes. I guess the monkey was sent away to school, too.
I have no memories of Aunt Mamie, but I do remember the day she died, Nov. 11, 1954, because it was the first time I saw my father cry. He came home in the middle of the day, sat down on the stairs and wept. I was a little more than 2 years old, and the sight of my father crying scared me to death. After that, there were some Sunday drives out to Rose Dhu to deal with Aunt Mamie’s things, but that’s all I remember of her.
Well, that, and Dad’s stories filled with love and gratefulness.
Jan Hearne is Tempo editor for the Johnson City Press. Reach her at email@example.com.