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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Happy Birthday to the Strongest Man in the World

Have you ever thought about what your earliest memory is?  Sometimes you aren’t sure if it’s an actual memory or a story that has been told to you over and over.  Some of my earliest memories actually prove that my parents were quite happenin’ in the early 70s, at least in the area of home décor.  One of my earliest memories is playing hide and seek with my brother.  We were hiding together in the bathroom and I can remember the avocado green tile of the shower.  I also remember orange shag carpet under my feet as I was running around the house with him.  Those memories are a little bit fuzzy.  We moved out of that house when I was around three years old, so that orange shag carpet and avocado green tile and my brother mixed in there somewhere...that’s about it for memories before I was three. 

The most vivid of my earliest memories was on a sunny day in Dallas, Texas when I was not much older than three.  We had just moved into what I thought was a gigantic, white clapboard house with black shutters and a white brick wall in front.  It had a pool and trees and a long gravel driveway and a big backyard.  I was out in front with my dad.   He had a black metal placard that he had bought at a hardware store.  He was punching out block letters and numbers so that he could create a sign with our name and address on it that the mailman could easily see.  I couldn’t read yet.  I asked my dad what it said.  He didn’t skip a beat.  He still doesn’t skip a beat if you ask him a question whether he knows the answer or needs to make up an answer right quick.  

He told me that it said, “The strongest man in the world lives here”.  He told me if any bad guys came around in our new neighborhood, they would see this sign and would steer way clear of our house.  And I didn’t flinch or roll my eyes or say, “No, Daddy, really.  What does it say?” I just believed him because I knew in my little heart that what my daddy told me was true.  The strongest man in world lived in that white house with the black shutters with that little girl.   So it boils down to this:  my earliest memory was of feeling safe and protected and loved.  Always, always.  And isn’t that what all daddies should do for their little girls?

The strongest man in the world celebrates his birthday today and I’m going to tell you some more about him.  Why?  Because I have a blog now, so I can.
That’s my mom and my dad at The University of Texas at Austin.  He was two years out of Longview High School where he was voted "Most Handsome" in 1958.  There was another young man who was voted Most Handsome at Longview High and attended The University of Texas at Austin about 30 years later.  His name is Matthew McConaughey.  Maybe you’ve heard of him?  Yep, maybe so, but he’s not as handsome or as strong as my dad.
My dad is a Texan to the core.  When I was little he ate Slim Jims and drank Budweiser on our trips to my grandmom and granddad's house.  He scoffs if you ask for your steak to be well-done.  When he gets mad at the Dallas Cowboys, he grumbles at the TV and calls them the Cowgirls.  He hunts and he fishes.  He cleans the fish, too, and it is bloody and disgusting and quite fascinating for a little girl.  Once he took me fishing and we ran out of gas and I was so scared that I just about dropped my Welch’s Grape coke can (every kind of soda is a “coke” in Texas, by the way).  I said, “Daddy, what in the world do we do now?” and he laughed and told me we would be fine because he was so smart and such a hero that he had an extra tank of gas.  And I felt safe and protected and loved again.  And isn’t that what daddies should do for their little girls? 

My dad is always a joker.  He talks in funny voices to make my kids giggle until they can’t breathe.  He woke up my brother and sister and me singing School Days, School Days, Dear Old Golden Rule Days at the top of his lungs just to get on our nerves.  He used to sing the same songs, over and over:  Oh, Yes, I’m the Great Pretender and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown and I think he told me that he and Leroy Brown went to high school together.  He also made up a song called Born to be a Water Buffalo.  Isn’t that the dumbest thing ever?  But it’s really funny, right?  Joe was so excited when he had a 3rd grade animal project to do and he randomly got lucky enough to pick the buffalo.  I think he thought his Pop could help him.  Pop doesn’t know squat about buffaloes.  He just makes up songs about them.  He does a ridiculous dance that his grandchildren refer to as “The Pop Dance” that makes them dissolve into puddles of laughter.  He makes a face where he curls his top lip up and under, above his teeth until it disappears and it looks hilarious and he’ll teach you how to do it if you can stop laughing long enough to let him show you.  I still laugh at my dad and now when I laugh, I look at him and we lock eyes.  He says I am the one who laughs the hardest at him.  When I’m laughing with my dad, I feel safe and protected and loved.  And isn’t that what daddies are supposed to do for their little girls?

My dad is a bit of a storyteller , if you haven’t already figured that out.  Here are some of his tall tales:
*He told me that he was so poor when he was growing up that my grandparents fed him dog food.  When I would ask my grandmother about that, she would get wide eyes and say, “Sho’Nuff, honey?  Is that what he told you?”  Then she’d say to my dad something like, “I declare, Charles Allen!  Why do you tell these children such stories?”  Then she would giggle.
*He told my kids that there was a bad man with a black hat wandering around his neighborhood.  He would take all three of them out in the golf cart on a mission to save the neighborhood and track that guy down.  I think Kyle still wonders how that man with the black hat got away.
*My husband had the traditional talk with my dad before he proposed to me.  After he had proposed and I had said yes, I asked my dad about their conversation.  I wanted to know what wise words my dad said to Steve when he asked for my hand.  Dad said, “Well, honey, this is what I said to your fiancé.  I said, Now, Steve…are you sure about this?  You know, there are a lot of fish in the sea.  I won’t tell anyone if you change your mind.”  It is a darn good thing I inherited his sense of humor, huh?
*When my brother and sister and I were little he made up a story about his “friend”, Billy Broadtail.  Billy was this huge, fat guy who was a superhero with superhuman speed and strength.  He would eat 100 cheeseburgers and 25 pineapple milkshakes from Dairy Queen and he would go on all kinds of adventures and save the world.  His sister’s name was Betty Broadtail and she was as skinny as a rail.  Each day all she ate was one English Pea and a teaspoon of Coke.  I bet my dad told fifty different Billy Broadtail stories just right off the top of his head when we were growing up.  Now, he tells his grandchildren Billy Broadtail stories at bedtime and I sit out in the hallway and listen and laugh and feel like I’m a little girl again. 

Photo Of Toast after Steve & I got engaged at my parents' ranch house.  Pretty sure Dad said something funny or maybe they were laughing at my 1994 bangs. (Yes, that is a deer head back there.  I told you it was a ranch house.  Not that there isn't a deer head at their regular house)

Lest you think my dad is always being a tough guy or always joking or always telling tall tales, I will tell you this, also.  My dad can be a big old mushy guy, too, because he has a big old heart.  I remember walking in the family room one day and he was watching Little House on the Prairie and he was crying buckets.  (Sorry, Dad, but you know it’s true.  Plus, you have to be dead inside not to cry at all those things that happened to Pa and Ma and the Ingalls girls).  My dad writes the sweetest and most touching letters in his beautiful, slanted handwriting.  In his letters he tells my boys how they are the best athletes and tells me how proud he is of how I am raising my kids and how wonderful my husband is.  He and my mom were in the delivery room when my 3rd son was born.  I think Dad was nervous since back when his children were born, daddies didn’t come near the delivery room.  You would think I would have been too tired to remember the details of that day, but I do remember.  I remember that doctor telling me it was another boy and I remember that baby’s flaming, red hair which matched his screaming, red face and I remember the deep, overwhelmed sighs of my big, strong Texan daddy, crying and laughing all at the same time. 

There are some other tall tales my dad told me.  They are the tales that every daddy should tell every daughter.   They were not always true, but somehow when my daddy told me these tales, I believed him.  They went like this:  You are beautiful.  You are smart.  You are talented.  You are important.  I love you so much.  When we went golfing a few summers ago I hit about 15 terrible shots in a row and then there was that one beautiful shot.  My dad smiled a mile wide and shouted from the golf cart, one of the best things a daughter can hear:  “That’s my girl!” And I felt protected and loved and safe.  And isn’t that what all daddies should do for their little girls?

Happy Birthday, Dad.  Thank you for always being the daddy that did all of the things he should do for his little girl.  I love you from the heart of my bottom.*
*No editing needed here, by the way.  That’s just the way my dad rolls J

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