Another Dad Story

I don't know the man in the picture, but he reminded me of my Dad the other day and it was nice. My Dad loved dining out, from white table cloths to Waffle House, he liked restaurants. And, in his 58 years, he managed to frequent a lot of the same establishments-often at the same time and day. He was a creature of habit and routine and sometimes, though I doubt he'd have ever admitted it, maybe a little OCD.

So, my Dad had to retire early due to his congestive heart failure and COPD, but he managed plenty of outings. He was the go-to man in our family for mid day errand-running. Dentist appointments. He even sold a car or two for friends because we lived on a pretty well-trafficked street and he was home for test drives. He also managed his Waffle House breakfasts at least once a week and O'Charley's champagne brunch on Sunday's.

Before hurricane Katrina took the O'Charley's on HWY 90, my dad had his name on a gold plate at their bar. He's one of those patrons. Everyone knew him. Everyone loved him. After the storm, my Dad moved to the one built north of our house, as with his Waffle House spot.

The last four years of his life, Dad rarely missed a Sunday. He went early to help the bartender take the stools down or carry napkins or glasses. He sat in the same spot (no nameplate there, but that didn not matter) and ordered the same thing. Always. Having given up alcohol when he was asked to quit both smoking and drinking by his doctors, he said I'll quit one: he picked drinking. But, on Sunday's, he had champagne. Not much, it was not his old bourbon style, so it was clearly for the fun of it. The routine and the celebration of a weeks' end even though his weeks had not been work weeks for many years.

Sometimes I get a little sad that my Dad only had 58 years on this earth, but then I see a man enjoying a beer at an O'Charley's bar on a Wednesday afternoon and I'm reminded that my Dad lived! He knew how to have fun. He knew when it was time to work hard. And, he made a lasting impression on people.

Not only did waitresses and bar tenders and restaurant managers attend my Dad's memorial service, most brought food to our home and shared stories with us about him and now greet us with a warmer-than-normal sense of southern hospitality. My Dad lived. And people liked him. And, I like this man who is living. I like him a lot.

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All Talk

I bet I have been told to ‘hush’ more times than are countable! An infinity of ‘shhhh’s’ has plagued my life. I mean, not enough to make me stop or anything. But, boy did people try to silence me.

In kindergarten, where, in my memory, we only played kiss-chase and took naps. Hand to God, I remember nothing else. Kindergarten was a half day when I was six. And, it was not mandatory. Makes me feel unnaturally old. Anyway, I am sure I learned things there. Surely. But, chasing boys or running from boys was a big part of the curriculum. Then, they had the audacity to pull us inside, give us our mats, and expect us to snooze. We’d just hyped ourselves up in a way none of us even understood, but knew it was exciting and sleeping was NOT involved. I chatted everyone up. ‘Quiet down, Wendy.’ was my full name there.

Elementary. I, now, feel sorry for every single elementary school teacher I ever had. I talked too much, too loud, to too many people. Controlling myself was impossible, but I maintained good grades and a decent rapport with my teachers. I was distracting, allegedly. So, they would move me by the stinky kid-chatted. Move me by the mean/bully kid-chatted. The strait A kid, which I admit were a challenge, but-chatted! In sixth grade I was even moved out into the hallway, where no one could be bothered by me and I would have to keep my mouth shut. Nope. Janitors, kids going to restroom or office-chatted.

Junior High and High School were similar but some classes welcomed open discussion, so I was able to fulfill my need to talk and still stay out of trouble. For the most part…my 11th grade chemistry teacher got so tired of my chatter she moved me to her desk. I sat at her desk until labs, and then she would put me with the worst lab partners ever. But, I still talked!

Finally, college, where talking is not only permitted, it’s appreciated. I was the most loved and (sometimes) hated student in most of my classes. Loved because I would answer questions, or go first to read, volunteer to do my project first; and, hated for talking too much on one subject when we could be moving on, but I am knee deep in analysis with the professor. I was not asked to be quiet. I loved it. I thought, after all those years of being ‘hushed’ and still speaking turned out to work very well in my favor. College professors love an engaged student. If I ever felt like I might be falling behind in a course, a few not-so-quick chats with the teacher, often led to a guaranteed good grade.

I even took multiple public speaking courses in my lengthy college career. My grade is going to depend on me standing up and talking about something I know? Sign me up for all of that! In the seven years of my college journey, all five colleges, all of those teachers, and I never got moved or scolded for talking too much.

Dad Story 1

I think about my Dad a ton. Way more than when he was alive. We take living for granted.

My Dad passed away on November 1, 2010. He was 58. I was 32. There will be lots of “Dad Story” entries, so for now, I’m just going to tell one of my favorites.

Dad was a quiet man. He had an extremely dry sense of humor and an affinity for servers (waiters and waitresses in his day). Dad liked to give servers a hard time, in jest. And, my father was an EXCELLENT tipper. He told me when I was old enough to understand that tipping karma, although I doubt he used the word ‘karma’, was a thing. Basically, what goes around, comes around and if you treat them well, you will always have a better experience. He was right.

We went out to restaurants a lot. Very nice places, white table cloths and all to hole in the wall dives with just a flat grill and one employee. Even one place whose trademark was putting a plastic fly on your plate of food. A fly. Food was fantastic. The jukebox had only country music and I could pick any song I wanted, even when I could not read. I remember reaching up to press the really hard, long, rectangular  button to make it light up, which meant some song was going to play…while we ate good food. It was heaven. Plastic-fly-on-your-plate heaven!

So, we go to a buffet one random night, just he and my eleven or twelve year old self. We eat. I love it. Food is such an important factor to my happiness; and back then it was tantamount to happiness for sure. He’d joked off and on with the server that filled our drinks and would clear our used plates. She enjoyed his banter, and laughed and joked back-I am sure, now, in hindsight, making her shift a little brighter. I smile as I eat my ice cream with sprinkles and hot fudge.

We get up to leave and it is one of those restaurants that you pay a cashier on your way out. I am eyeballing the candy they have for sale by the register and Dad grabs a toothpick from one of those old, metal dispensers. Do they even have those anywhere now? Anyway, it is our turn to pay and my Dad looks at me, dead serious, and says, ‘Did you bring money for this?’ as he taps at his pockets like he’s got nothing on him. I shake my head, ‘no Dad, quit messing around, you know I don’t have any money.’ But, of course, I’m me, so I still get a little nervous already. He continues, ‘well, I don’t know what we are gonna do…Can you wash dishes?’ My stomach drops. I look at the lady working the cash register with pure despair and confusion. My Dad then asks her, ‘ do y’all have any work we can do around here?’, still checking pockets. As my eyes become saucer-sized, I just keep looking from Dad to cashier. Cashier to Dad. Cashier to Dad.

Just as I am about to have a full fledged come a part and ask the cashier to call my Mom, Dad pulls out his wallet and pats me on the back. He says, ‘ I guess I will pay this time.’ and gives the cashier a wink and a tip, then sends me with some cash to leave at our table for the server. I come back to the front to leave with Dad and he says to the cashier, ‘Want an extra tip?…Don’t bet on the Saints!’.