I Was Wrong--He Wasn't Old

I sometimes wonder if most people are like me. What I mean is do they go along with their lives and at points get broadsided when the truth hits. I know it’s happened to me bunches of time, and I got whacked again just the other day.

For some reason beyond my understanding, I was thinking about my dad. Maybe it was because he died on August 31, 1965. It was an event that stunned all of us in the family in such a way that the scars never quite fade. Years of smoking cigarettes, along with working in a paper mill that mixed a concoction of poisonous chemicals in its processing cardboard, eventually caused the cancer that developed in his lungs.

Daddy was 53 when he died. His mom, who survived him, said he was always a serious person and had expressed the belief that his life would end early. To me, Daddy seemed ancient during that part of my life with him. He worked hard and figured all the time how to stretch tool little money across too much month.

Over the years, Dallas Rector, Sr. smiled to little, he laughed too infrequently, and he never relaxed. We boys were scared of our dad. We loved him, but we feared him. I don’t know why because he rarely raised a hand to us; that was left for Mother to do. Still, he was the man of the house, and perhaps his serious manner led us to believe that he wasn’t someone with whom we wanted to “get sideways.” His growl was much worse than his bite.

The epiphany that came to me recently is that my dad died a young man. He was just past 50. People of his generation have lived into their 70’s and 80’s regularly, and some have reached 90-plus. So, the man we called Daddy was just finishing half his life when he died.

I began to wonder what things went through his mind when he realized that his life was being cut so short. Did he think about what would become of this sons, one 17 and two 13? What plans had he made for this life that was so cut short. Did he have dreams for the future and what were they?

I’m 58, and while my body often feels every day that I’ve lived, my mind continues to tell me that I’m a person in my mid-twenties. I carry more pounds than the doctors say is healthy, and my strength is less than it once was. Still, I approach life every day as if no limit on it existed. I’ve completed one career as a teacher for 30 years, and now I’m on to another one as a newspaper reporter of sorts and author. My title of Dad has been supplemented with an additional one as “P” by grandson Madden. I look forward to the next big thing to come in my life.

I’m now 5 years older than my dad was, and with a little luck, I’ve still got plenty of years left. On the other hand, life is a fragile thing, and sometimes a roll of the dice comes up craps. What I know today that I didn’t for most of my life is that Daddy was a young man who met his end too soon. He lost out on dreams and children and grandchildren and Mother.

Life is a blessing. I’m trying to understand that each day needs to be lived to the fullest. That means not lying down in bed and wishing that I’d done something. Too many times, I carp about the terrible things in my life, and then I remember that lots of people never had the chance to be on this earth as long as I’ve been here. I’m not about to reach perfection, but living life with more appreciation and energy and excitement is something that I hope to do from now on. It’s the best way to remember my dad.

An Unwelcomed Holiday

Well, Labor Day, which seems to be a strange name for a holiday when so many people are off, has come and gone. At any rate, folks were busy holding cookouts, sun burning themselves one last time, and attempting to set off fireworks without igniting parched yards or blowing off body parts. For lots of reasons, Labor Day isn’t my favorite special day of they year.

The first Monday in September marks the end of too many things. In fashion, women are supposed to stop wearing white shoes or sandals. I never understood that rule. If a pair of shoes is comfortable, why shouldn’t a female wear them? Is Mother Nature going to pitch a fit or injure the offending party? No, it’s more that some group sits around a table and dictates what is deemed as appropriate clothing for folks.

For some reason, Labor Day is the last day public pools are opened. The explanation used to be that the Tuesday after the holiday was the first day of the school year. I get that, but plenty of adults aren’t sitting in classes. September still has plenty of days with temperatures in the upper 80’s and even 90’s. So, wouldn’t it make sense to leave the pools open at least for another couple of weeks? Of course, that would be going against the long standing traditions.

Labor Day marks the official end of fun for kids. Life returns to the normal grind. School takes back students and swamps them with homework, projects, and evening programs. Children cope with that and the dozens of activities in which they are involved. Parents work all day and then spend the evening ferrying the kids to practices and finding time to fit in an evening meal. Just thinking about the routine makes folks tired.

I have my own reasons for not being fond of Labor Day. For one thing, summer is my favorite season. Bring on the heat like the southeast has experienced this year. I like working outside in sweltering temperatures and a broiling sun. Previous generations worked in those conditions and thrived in them. Pouring sweat has to be good for the body; it removes impurities, and hard work in hot weather probably kept parents and grandparents healthier than present-day folks.

The arrival of Labor Day always points out that falling leaves are on the way. Now, as much as I enjoy mowing the yard, I hate mowing leaves. It’s a job that begins in September and ends in January. I work grinding up the leaves in my yard and then labor in the neighbors’ yards before their bushels of reds and yellows blow across the street. For all the effort I’m rewarded with a sinus infection from the dust and leaf mold.

As much as anything, this fall holiday signals the dwindling daylight and cooler temperatures. I’m a person who suffers from sunlight deprivation, and the shorter days keep me hunting for the light that is so welcomed during the summer months. Too, I get cold and stay cold during the fall and winter months. Knowing before long I’ll be bundled up in layers of clothes is depressing. Sometimes bedtime comes early and is the only remedy to cold feet. YUK!

At times, I just worry that I won’t see another summer. Life is a fragile thing, and none of us is guaranteed a single moment. I’m not sure I lived each day to its fullest this warm weather season, and I’d hate to think there’d be no chance to make amends the following summer. Mother used to dread the onset of cold, shorter days. She wanted to see plants bloom and the sun warm the earth. I guess I’m my mother’s son.

Labor Day is a day off for millions, and they celebrate the free time. However, when they think about the changes that are coming, the holiday isn’t necessarily one toward which we should look forward.

A Different Kind of Scout

Back in earlier times, boys looked for things to do. Lots of us joined Cub Scouts in dens located in the leaders’ living rooms. There, we’d read our scout books and think about ways to complete projects in order to receive arrows, badges, and new titles. We liked being together, wearing uniforms, and trying new things. At some age, the guys moved on the Webelos. I suppose it was designed for boys too old for Cub Scouts and too young for the next step. At some point, a boy could complete the requirements and become a Boy Scout. That’s the way it was supposed to be.

In our community, Jack Chambers was the Boy Scout leader. I don’t recall his being married; he spent a great deal of time with the boys in the troop. Many of us had never completed any requirements for joining, but Jack never let technicalities get in the way. The same held true for Explorers.

My older brother Dal was a real Boy Scout. He went on several adventures with Jack and other scouts. They hiked and camped. Jack brought Dal home from one trip and informed Mother that he’d received a gash on his stomach. It seems that someone didn’t hold a strand of barbed wired while he was crossing a fence, and one of the barbs stuck and ripped Dal’s flesh. The cut was deep, but not too big. For the rest of his life, that scar showed, a true merit badge of scouts.

On one occasion, Jack took Jim and me with the bigger boys to swim. When we arrived, others informed us that we had to jump from a train trestle to the water below. My fear of heights kicked in, and I balked at taking the plunge. To this day, I don’t remember whether or not I ever jumped. Doing so would have pleased Jack, and that was what all the guys tried to do.
Jim and I skipped Boy Scouts. Instead, we moved on to Explorers the same year we started high school, even though we had no idea what the group was. I did know it was an organization for older guys and that Jack Chambers was the leader. That made it all right.

Many of the same boys who’d been Cub Scouts were members of the unofficial Explorer group. We attended weekly meetings. They usually were held at Jack’s house on Friday or Saturday evenings. Oh, we worked hard on projects. They included smoking cigarettes and drinking beer or liquor. Some guys might have even learned the fine art of smoking dope, but neither Jim nor I took part in the last one.

We boys would bum rides with older guys, hitch hike, or walk to Jack’s house. It was sparsely furnished with items that appeared to have seen their better days. For entire evenings we sat in the house as we drank and smoked. Those of us who didn’t like the taste of alcohol held our breaths as we guzzled the stuff.

On more than one occasion, I attended a meeting and discovered that Jack wasn’t there. Evidently, he’d left a key some place, and the other guys knew its location. We let ourselves in and began the session. Jack’s only instructions were that we clean the place up when we left and didn’t create a disturbance. All of us stayed inside while we enjoyed our vices.

My son Dallas made it in Cub Scouts about six months before he was tired of it. He didn’t enjoy the projects and wished to spend his time with other pursuits. If he’d had a leader like Jack Chambers, Dallas might have joined Boy Scouts and Explorers. I’m thankful that didn’t happen. I also realize that the boys who hung out at Jack’s house lived charmed lives because none of us was arrested or injured. The good lord does look out for children and fools.