My dad has a gift for revering his past while still enjoying his present. He doesn’t tell his stories with a hint of sadness, just appreciation for his life experiences. He calls himself the luckiest man on earth. He’s also the best storyteller I’ve ever met. My dad has been repeating the same stories over and over again his whole life, but they still make people laugh. Even if someone (me) interrupts him with a polite chuckle and says, “Yah…heard that one already…” he will finish the story anyway, for the 500th time, with the same verve that he told it the first time.
My favorite part of his storytelling is when he stops to laugh at himself. He will get himself so tickled that he turns red in the face, throws his head back, closes his eyes, opens his mouth as wide as possible, and roars with laughter that sounds like machine gun fire. If the people around him are not laughing at the story itself, they are laughing at how tickled he is. Our neighbors used to tell us they could always tell when the Adams family was having dinner on the deck because bursts of laughter would echo through our woodsy neighborhood.
When my brother and I were teenagers, we used to joke that our friends liked our parents more than they liked us. Our friends were at our house all the time, and our parents liked having all of us around. It seems there was always at least one stray friend at our dinner table. My mother likes to think it is because her cooking was delicious (it was), but I am fairly certain it’s because a meal with my dad guaranteed you at least one or two hard belly laughs.
In 1994, I received my all-time favorite Christmas present from my folks. On the outside, it looked like a nondescript blue binder filled with a big stack of white paper. The first page read,
Book of Memories
Compiled in 1994
Dedicated to Future Generations of My Family
The binder was filled with my parents’ personal histories. The first half was written by my dad, and the second half by my mom. (Actually, my dad dictated his portion to my mother while she typed it for him. That woman can type like nobody’s business.) The chapters had titles like, It All Started When, Early Childhood, Junior High and Adolescence, Special Days & Family Events, etc. The subtitles included everything from Early Playmates to First Full-Time Job. My parents wrote all they could remember about their lives.
Today, I’ll tell you about my dad’s half of the binder.
My dad was born in 1939. He had a happy childhood and a very close-knit family. His stories have a sweetness that makes me feel nostalgic for an era that I didn’t experience…those soda fountain, pie-on-the-windowsill days that seem long-gone now. I feel like a lot of senior citizens treat today’s modern life like an assault on the simpler times from when they were kids. But my dad doesn’t do that. His stories seem to be just a pick-me-up to remind him of good times, good friends, and why it’s great to be alive.
Below are my favorite excerpts from my father’s history. Some make me sigh, some make me laugh, and some make me cry. They all make me proud to be his daughter.
All the years I lived in Crane, it was actually a very good place to grow up. Crane was a small town…completely isolated—the nearest town was something like 20 miles away. My friends and I spent all our time playing ball and camping out. The world was a little different then: kids had a lot more freedom because parents didn’t have to worry about as many things as they do now. In many ways, it was idyllic for a young boy.
There was another area about 10 miles from Crane that we referred to as the sand hills. The sand dunes were constantly shifting, due to the wind blowing, and you could find Indian arrowheads and pieces of Indian pottery. It was a wonderful place to camp out. The atmosphere was so devoid of any pollution that at night you could look up and see a blanket of stars that were so bright and clear.
We lived in two other three other houses in Crane. The most memorable one was one which my father built. My father was not an accomplished carpenter, and one corner of the roof drooped down; it almost looked as if he did it on purpose, but I can assure you he didn’t.
We suffered extreme economic hardship, but that never really affected the family relationships. In a way, I’m not sure that the collective struggle to deal with the financial hardships didn’t bring us all closer together. I think somehow dealing with a common adversity is a cathartic event that molds a stronger family.
The Cokers lived directly across the street from us when we lived in the shotgun house. The Cokers were unusual people. I remember sitting on the front porch and watching Mr. and Mrs. Coker fight with their relatives, and I mean literally. They would fight up and down the street with much yelling and swearing and the Coker kids running around screaming and crying. It was grand.
Growing up in Southwest Texas in a little town that was a million miles from anywhere, we didn’t have television even after it was commonplace elsewhere. Family entertainment consisted largely of listening to the radio. Some of my fondest memories are of the family sitting around the kitchen table on cold, winter evenings working jigsaw puzzles and listening to the radio. The programs that I remember most were Fibber McGee and Molly, Lux Radio Theater, Suspense, Mr. District Attorney, The Thin Man, The Shadow, Amos and Andy, The Great Gildersleeve, Sky King, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, The Green Hornet, and Stella Dallas. The list could go on and on.
We would go out into the oilfields where a lot of well drilling had been done, and there was scrap cable lying around in the sand. We would find this cable, and I would pull it out from the sand and load it on this trailer. When we had the trailer full, we could take it to McCamey to sell it to a scrap metal dealer. Those kinds of endeavors when you are working just to stay alive, when you come through that, your relationship tends to be very, very strong.
In the hot summer, everybody would go to the swimming pool to swim; we had a community pool. The thing to do was to walk by the ice house on the way and get a scrap piece of ice to suck while you walked to the pool. We’d also walk to the movies, and on the way, we’d stop by the grocery store in town. In the summer, they had sugar cane, and you could buy a joint of sugar cane for a nickel.
I got my driver’s license when I was 14, and I was so excited. I got to take the car to the movies shortly after I got my license, and after the movie was over, I was talking with my friends and walked home and left the car at the movies. My father was thoroughly disgusted.
I’ll never forget the first day I had my convertible. It was a white convertible with a black and white interior. I had a date that night, so I dressed in black and white two-tone shoes, black trousers, a black and white shirt, and, of course, sunglasses. Altogether quite a natty fellow. As I was driving along on the way to get my date with the top down on my new convertible, a bird shat and splattered black and white bird droppings on my black and white shirt.
There is a story that my wife, when she was younger, dated a very handsome but a very poor young man. She had also dated a very wealthy but very ugly young man. She always said that if she ever found a happy medium between the two, she would marry him. And sure enough, she married the poorest, ugliest man on campus.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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