Though he had enough money to hire workers, Granddaddy distrusted most local men, claiming the fail of the banking system had created desperate times that would cause most moral souls to commit acts previously not thought of. Instead, he used Daddy and his sisters as laborers. Having his children work with him was a win-win for my grandfather--he had people he trusted and didn't owe wages.
There wasn't much time for typical childhood antics and education wasn't a priority. My aunts and father were in the field before the sun peeped over the treetops every morning and collapsed into bed long after the moon rose. The children were kept out of school during planting and harvesting time, causing them to miss weeks if not months of school.
Daddy was woefully behind in academics when he reached the eleventh grade, and as a result, dropped out of school. But it seemed he always had the philosophy that he could overcome anything as long as he tried, and he was determined to be something more than a truck farmer. A few months after dropping out, Daddy got his GED and entered the US Army. He marksmanship skills earned him the rank of master sharpshooter and his intelligence assisted him to achieving the rank of sergeant-major before retirement.
My father was excellent in math skills (something I'm anemic in) and taught himself trigonometry, geometry, algebra, and armed with this knowledge secured a job as an engineer with the state highway department designing roadways.
Daddy was a work-aholic, working at the state job and on our ranch, wearing calluses like badges of honor, all to ensure that Mama and I had the type of life he thought we deserved. During my childhood I'd creep into the kitchen every morning and watch while he dozed at the kitchen table, coffee cup in-hand.
Even at a young age I realized the sacrifices he made for my mother and me, and I did everything I could to help. On summer mornings I'd cook him cinnamon toast and make sure his coffee cup was bottomless.
Once, when we were moving cattle from one pasture to another, my pony (who I still believe was demon-possessed) grew tired of work, crow-hopped and popped me off her back and into a cow patty...butt-first. Giving me a how-did-that-happen look, she yawned in my face and trotted off to graze nearby. The next few minutes were spent playing "Tag," my pony waiting until I was just about to grab her reins before running away.
My temper at the boiling point, I let loose with all the vulgarity (at the time) an eight year-old girl could muster. "Damn you, you stupid pony! I hate you! I hate your guts!"
The pony look mildly interested, but I felt vindicated. Not only had a I said "hate your guts," I'd uttered the taboo "D" word.
"Are you gonna let that horse win?" a familiar voice asked.
I gulped, knowing that my father had heard every word. "Daddy, I..."
"You know Sweet-sweet, you can't give up when you meet an obstacle. You gotta keep tryin'."
"Like how you taught yourself Math?"
My father had smiled as he helped me grab the horse's dangling reins. "Yep, just like that."
Later that night after my shower, I climbed into my daddy's lap. I remember how the fragrances of leather and cologne intermingled, and how it'd soothed me. "Daddy, don't forget the PTA play I'm in."
My father laughed, kissed me on the cheek, and said "Sweet-sweet, you're unforgettable."
And until the summer he died, my father always stopped work long enough to attend every school event I was in. He'd laugh when I'd remind him days before, saying that I was "unforgettable," and reminding me to always remember the importance of family.
As I've said before, his lessons, memories and values remain alive inside me...always unforgettable.