June is the month in which we celebrate fathers. We all have them whether we acknowledge them or not. Some are great, some are terrible, but even in this era of modern science, a father was very likely involved at some point for you to come into existence.
To say my father was an interesting man would be an understatement. Born September 22, 1923, he was a product of depression-era America. A farm-boy and quite big for his age, he enlisted in the US Army in 1938 at the age of 15. It was easier to do things like that in those days—all you needed was for someone to swear you were 18.
He thought he’d found his career in the military, but he was injured in a motorcycle accident while riding dispatch in 1945, near the end of WWII. Nearly every bone in his body was broken, and in the hurry to save his life, his left leg was set crooked. A year later, they went in and re-broke it in order to reset it straight, but he developed osteomyelitis, a staph infection that was untreatable at the time.
Dad spent the next 7 years after the war in and out of VA hospitals. For 7 years, the army surgeons tried to save his leg but in 1954 he lost his left leg. The US Army officially forced him to retire, at the age of 30.
Unfortunately, Dad was never able to wear the artificial leg the VA provided him with, although we children did find some creative uses for it. It stood in the hall closet in our house in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle, and we charged the neighbor kids 25 cents to look at it. Most of us got an allowance of 50 cents a week, so that really was enterprising of us.
Extortion, my grandmother said.
Once we moved to Olympia it was good for scaring our cousins. When I first married and left home, it stood in the corner of my living room holding plastic flowers, a conversation piece like no other.
But, in 1952, there he was–a single guy with rather visible disability, wearing a heavy leg-brace, living in a world that hid the disabled under a rug and pretended everything was perfect. It was 1952, after all.
For some people, that would have been the end of everything. But not my Dad. When things began going bad with his leg, he knew he would be forced in to early retirement. He frequently told us that dropping out of school in the 10th grade to join the army had limited his employment choices to logging or farming, all manual labor. So, Dad used the time he’d spent in the VA hospital, getting his high-school diploma, and then going to college. In 1952 he met my mother and the rest was history.
My father was a voracious reader. He read everything from Tolkien to Tolstoy, and he remembered what he had read. Dad was a draftsman, and cartooning was his hobby. Dad bought the Encyclopedia Britannica, the entire collection of Great Books of the Western World, Grolier’s Book of Knowledge, and a wonderful little collection of books called “Lands and Peoples.”
Dad was larger than life. He was loud, boisterous, opinionated, wide-open, a generous host, and he was always the center of attention. He played the guitar, played in a rockabilly band and when he lived in L.A. he partied with Les Paul and Mary Ford. He made his own wine and brewed beer. He was a ham radio operator (his call number was W7NEY) and had a First Class Radiotelephone Operator License. Every year his vegetable garden grew more food than we could possibly eat, no matter how much we canned.
Everyone who knew him agrees, my father was Fred Flintstone on Steroids.
We were dad’s legs. Dad keenly felt the fact he was unable to dance, as he had been quite the dancer during the WWII at any USO club he came to. Daddy wanted us to roller-skate, so we took lessons and roller-skated competitively. I played women’s hockey and speed-skated. I have the bad knees to prove it. My sister and her partner roller-danced competitively and were quite good. Those were the days of the (now defunct) RSROA, when roller-skating was attempting to become an Olympic Event on the same level as ice-skating.
My father either loved or hated—he never had a moment of grey between the black and white of life. You never knew what mood he would be in, or how things would go in a given social situation, because volatile didn’t quite describe the Big Kahuna.
He loved many things, Music, food, wine—and us kids. But of everything else in the world, my dad Loved Words. Big words, small words, short words, long words–Dad loved them all. On long trips he spun hilarious yarns about the ‘Kamaloozi Indians,’ a non-existent tribe whose beloved Chief, Rolling Rock had gone missing. The tribe was so distraught they posted signs in every mountain pass that read “Watch for Rolling Rock.”
Everything in his toolbox had a name that was his own invention: Screwdrivers were ‘Skeejabbers.‘
Dad loved words so much he mangled them just because he loved the way they sounded. Sometimes he became so frustrated he lost his words and resorted to creative cursing.
My father died in 1991 at the relatively young age of 67, from complications of Osteomyelitis. He is gone, but definitely he will never be forgotten. His love of words and of reading, art and music had an impact on me and my siblings that we will never live long enough to outgrow. His love of literature lives on in me.
It was a sometimes difficult environment, but it was fertile ground for a future bender-of-words like me to grow up in.
At least in our home any book was fair game, and reading was not only encouraged, it was required.
So in this month of June, as we honor the fathers who loved us and at times embarrassed the hell out of us, I am choosing to take a moment to consider how very amazing my father was. He was an astonishing, wild, incredibly aggravating man, who loved us all and showed it in every way possible, even when he was being Bad Dad.
He died at the relatively young age of 67, from complications of the staph infection and many surgeries he underwent all those years ago. Right up to the day he died he was both hilarious and awful. But we loved him, and wouldn’t be who we are today without the crazy, affluent childhood he provided us with.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.