|Thanksgiving dinner; Amarillo (Texas) Air Force Base; 1952|
Dad was chaplain there during the Korean War
(As usual, my mouth is full!)
But Dad loved just about all animals--rats excepted. Very early in my parents' marriage (1939) they were in Denver in a motel--and there's a family story (whose details are now vague) about a less-than-fully-clad Dad's using a broom to kill a rat that had interrupted their ... whatever. Later, living in Hiram, Ohio (1956-66), Dad discovered a rat in our basement because our dog, Sooner, slept down there at night, and he'd very noisily cornered--and eventually killed--the invader. Sooner was already pretty high on Dad's best-pet-ever list, but that incident alone, I think, propelled that pooch to the top.
Dad loved all our pets--even the one (a black cat named Boots) he accidentally ran over and killed in Amarillo, Texas, back in the early 1950s. Until the 1990s I thought Boots had run away (as Dad had told us), but Dad, in the final years of his life, fessed up. I think he still felt terrible about it.
And animals loved Dad. Vicious dogs would strike submissive, grovelling poses in Dad's presence--tails wagging. Squirrels and birds ate out of his hand, not in some "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" way but in a, well, surprising, way. Grizzly bears and great whites would ... Nah. But you get the idea.
Dad loved his family, too. His dozen siblings. His parents. His own father had died when Dad was a teen, but throughout my boyhood he told stories about this grandfather I never met. One of his favorites was about how--during apple fights in the orchard--his dad, who had a great, accurate throwing arm--could nail even a piece of son that stuck out from the tree or whatever he was hiding. And for Pearl Davis Dyer, his mother, he had a fierce affection that long outlived her.
Dad loved my mother--supporting her in every way, encouraging her to go back to school, to get advanced degrees (she did--including a Ph.D.), encouraging her to become all that her considerable talents would permit. And she did.
Dad loved his three sons--and we are about as different from one another as cats from dogs from guinea pigs. (I won't say which brother is which animal ... other than that I, of course, am the dog). Dad was immensely proud of Richard's scholarship and music, of Dave's scholarship and athletic accomplishments, of my ... versions of scholarship and (minor) athletic accomplishments. I think Dad (who was involved in teacher education) was proud of my entering the profession--and my subsequent roles in it--but (and this is odd), he would introduce me to strangers (later in his life) as a writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, even though I was only a freelancer. Dad ...
Dad loved my mom's family, too. He was great friends with her only sibling, brother Ronald. (Among my favorite images: the two of them laughing so hard they turned red and dripped perspiration.) And he greatly admired Mom's father--Dr. G. Edwin Osborn, minister, seminarian, writer--and her mother, Alma Lanterman Osborn, who is among the greatest human beings I've ever known. Dad thought so, too.
Near the end of his life (he died in Nov. 1999) we had moved him to a nursing facility near their retirement home in Pittsfield, Mass. He was dying. Visiting one day, I could almost feel his excitement. He told me he'd just seen a flock of wild turkeys walk right by his window. I'm surprised they hadn't stopped for a chat. Dad could speak turkey. (Maybe they thought he was armed?)
We all loved Dad. He was the best father I can imagine. When I became a father myself and faced difficult moments, I often asked myself, What would Dad have done? And when I listened to him, things invariably turned out much better than when I didn't.