Tomorrow is my father’s birthday. Here is a piece I wrote about him a while back, but that still rings true for me. This provides a window into my world with him:
“Have I told you today how much I love you?” This was a question my father asked me every day I was growing up.
“I love you, too, Daddy,” I said, and I did. My father was the handsomest, nicest man I knew and he smelled good, too. A combination of Old Spice, Listerine, and unfiltered Camels. I’d come up and hug him tight just to breathe him in.
My father was fifty when I was born. I was the fifth out of six children, the only girl in eleven years. By the time I came along, Daddy was ready for a baby girl again.
One of my earliest memories was a family outing to see a movie at the Bonham drive-in. “Come on over here, Tootsie Roll,” he said. “I bet you’d like to drive.” I crawled into Daddy’s lap, leaning back against his warm chest, his hands on top of my hands as I guided the car down the highway. I felt so big.
My father owned a livestock commission business, a barn where cattle, hogs and horses were brought in weekly from the three surrounding counties to be auctioned off to farmers and ranchers. On sale days, he sat in his brown paneled office at the back and entertained his best customers. They smoked cigarettes, swapped stories and told jokes.
When I walked into Daddy’s office, all the men stopped talking and turned their attention to me. “Well, howdy, little lady,” John Daniels, Daddy’s barn manager, would say, tipping his cowboy hat, “You’re looking awful pretty today.”
My father would wrap me up in a hug. “She’s a jim dandy, isn’t she, boys?”
The men looked at me with friendly eyes. “She’s a little jewel. Ain’t no doubt about it.”
I liked those men with their sweat-streaked cowboy hats and cigarettes dangling from their lips. They felt solid and good to me, like my daddy.
When I was ten or eleven, Daddy would say to me in late afternoons, “Come go with me to feed the cows.” We’d drive from our house in our old pickup and listen to Patsy Cline on the radio with the windows down. We’d usually stop at a little gas station along the way and get a Coke and some peanuts. We’d drive the old pickup past the barn and down the dirt road to the pasture. Once we got out there, I’d climb behind the wheel of that old Ford truck with the gear shift on the column and buck and grind down the pasture to the pool.
“Honk and let’em know we’re coming, honey,” Daddy’d say as we bumped along the dirt road. I’d hit the high-pitched horn five or six times and watch as the cows looked up and started following us. “Soo-ey,” my dad would call from the window. “Soo-ey.” And the cows would follow just like the rats with the Piper from Hamlin.
My dad got sick in early November of my freshmen year at the University of Texas. He was diagnosed with inoperable oat cell carcinoma caused from smoking. I went home as often as I could over the next few months to spend time with him. A few weeks away from his seventieth birthday, I arrived again for the weekend. We spent time together watching Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and all of his favorite television shows. Just as I was about to leave to go back to school late Sunday afternoon, he patted the bed next to him. “Sit down, Tootsie Roll, I want to talk to you for a second.”
He looked so thin, so sick. I felt a terrible sadness wash over me.
“Now, honey, this old dog’s not gonna hunt much longer. You know that, don’t you?”
My throat tightened and tears stung my eyes. “No, daddy, that’s not true.”
He squeezed my hand. “Yes, it is true, and we both know it.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks. He squeezed my hand tight.
“There’s something I want you to remember, no matter what. Okay?
I nodded, unable to speak.
There hasn’t been a day of your life that I haven’t loved you. Not one minute of one day.” He lifted my hand up to his lips and kissed it. “And that love never goes away, you understand that?”
I leaned over and hugged him, breathing in that smell of his. “I love you, Daddy,” I whispered.
The next night my father slipped into a coma. He died a few hours later.
Every day of my life, I look at my three children and say, “Have I told you today that I love you?”
“I love you, too,” they each say, and come close to get a hug.
Each day I think of my father’s words and know their truth. His love is always there. It will never go away.