Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Birthdays

Today is my father's birthday. He died in 1986, but I still virtually blow out candles for him this day. He was born into poverty to a farm family, but his mother always said 'you can do better than this'.

He did. He finished high school, then took odd jobs to put himself through college and as far as his Masters towards his ultimate goal of a Ph.D in Chemistry. The Great Depression shot his dream. No jobs were available for part-time university students when men with families needed work.

He took a job as teacher , then Principal in Richburg, a tiny town in his home state of South Carolina. Two years into the job, he hired, then married my mother. I was born when he was almost forty, a surprise since the doctors had told mother she was unable to have a child. When I was three years old, he was offered a job as School Superintendant in the slightly larger town of Pageland, South Carolina, population 2500, the town that was to become his home until his death.

My father taught me chemistry symbols when we traveled to my grandparents' apartment as a child and had more fun with my chemistry set than I did, but he never looked back. He was never bitter. His father had become a carpenter and was unable to find work, either, so my father paid for his parents' rent from the day of his own first job until the day my grandmother died and my grandfather went to live with my father's sister.

My father was an honest man, a man who said what he thought, and a man who kept his own council. If you told him something in confidence, he never repeated it, not even to us. We found this out from the people who told him--not him.

After his retirement, he stayed active in our small town, earning the title of Citizen of the Year one of those years and teaching the elderly ladies bible class for 35 years until his increasing deafness made that too difficult to continue.

He died the day after Christmas. By this time he'd been retired for over 15 years. His funeral was on a weekday. I thought only a few people would be able to attend.

To my surprise, when the funeral home limo rounded the crest of the hill to his church, the lot was full. Cars were parked in the grass and in the empty lot across from the church. Inside, everyone in the church choir had taken off work to be there. There weren't enough seats. People stood in the rear.

I found out later that people had closed their businesses or left their jobs to attend that service in respect for my father. Respect for what he did for the town. Respect for who he was.

Happy Birthday daddy. I'm blowing your candles out right now.

5 comments:

Berenice said...

I would like to wish a Happy Birthday to a man whom I did not know, but have had the privilage of reading about. Such greatness is rare, and I am glad to have read this wonderful tribute to your father, Pris. B xx

Michael Parker said...

Absolutely beautiful remembrance of your father, Pris! Thank you for sharing that with us. Happy birthday to your father.

Pris said...

Thanks, both of you.

Today is my husband's birthday and I can't think of a thing to say...

Geoff said...

A lovely tribute to your Dad, Pris, and a great way to remember his birthday; you tell such a good story.

Pris said...

Thanks, dear G
I wrote a poem about my father's death some time ago...My Father's Many Funerals. Maybe one day later on, I'll post it. It's on my website now.
Pris