I have often said that in the search for ourselves we need not look far past our mom or dad, or the community and culture from which we come. We are the products of our raising.
It’s an interesting and complex thing, this father relationship. As adult children, we typically look at our father relationship either as a source of great love and learning, or one of resentment, compartmentalized to a far corner of the mind where we’ve rationalized we never really needed the father who was absent in most of our lives, anyway.
My own relationship with my father was, well, complicated.
I am the only son, of an only son, of an only son, which can sound downright regal if you say it with just the right tone. But there was no aristocracy or birthright to a kingdom in the expansive gumbo fields of the Delta dirt. Oftentimes, I felt like more of an indentured servant. There are 20 years of servitude chopping cotton and driving a tractor to my credit.
Our relationship was often contentious. Daddy was a decent enough farmer, but what he most loved was the seasonal work that afforded duck hunting, trotlining, beer drinking and cigarette smoking. But I’ve spent some considerable time during the last few years thinking about this. I am who I am today, better or worse, mostly because of my father’s influence. You are well within bounds to claim a colorful life when the county sherriff calls and says you need to pick up your dad who just got in a scuffle with the Monette town cop.
We did, in fact, share some good days. It’s simple enough, but I remember one of the best.
It was Christmas Eve afternoon of my fourteenth year. We’d traveled to my grandmother’s for the traditional family gathering between Lake City and Jonesboro. He was in an uncommonly good mood that day, especially considering that family gatherings weren’t so much his thing. It was a great meal complete with my grandma’s duck and dressing, infused with rich onion and sage flavorings, potato salad, her incredible pressure-cooked pinto beans and enough pies and cakes to cover both the washer and the dryer tops in the washroom.
We were lounging about afterward when his thoughts became spoken words right out of the blue.
“I’d like to have me some new boots,” he looked right at me, as if hinting for some kind of uncommon permission. He never spoke to me in that way (like some kind of peer or equal), and so my awkward, adolescent self was taken aback, and struggled for a response.
“Well why don’t you go get you some?” I felt it was a safe reply.
“Pete’s Western Wear is open today until 6,” an aunt chimed in from across the room.
“Let’s go look at some boots,” he said again, directly to me, and the next thing I knew we were in the pickup truck bound for Pete’s.
For the next 20 minutes we spoke like two old friends. About the family back at grandma’s, the tasty meal. We saw a few ducks flying across flooded, harvested rice fields. Then we pulled into the Pete’s parking lot like we owned the place. The whole time I was thinking it was a trip all about him.
“Let’s go in here and get us some boots,” he said. “We both need us a nice, new pair.”
“Me too?” I asked excitedly.
“Yep. Whatever you want.”
There must have been a million pair of boots in that store. All the great brands. Nacona. Justin. Dan Post, Roper, Tony Lama. Dad headed toward the section for his traditional pointy-toed Naconas. I gravitated to a pair of lizard-skin Justins that were some of the most beautiful boots I ever saw. Price tag, $300, and this was 1978.
We were row-crop farmers, not cowboys, but our boots were standard issue. We wore them for both work and dress. You always saved your best boots for church and sat aisle-side in the pew so you could cross your legs and throw those boots out where everyone could see them.
I walked around in the Justins admiring them in a low mirror propped up on the floor. I’ll tell you, those boots looked good on me.
“You like those?” Daddy said? “I found me a pair,” box now under his arm.
“Yes, I like them, but they’re $300.”
“Let’s get ’em.”
Twenty minutes and $500 later we owned two new shiny pair of boots, and headed back to grandma’s for some banana cream pie with meringue four inches thick - the end to a perfect day.
It’s funny how our mind takes a mental picture of days like those. I’m glad it files it away in a place where we can retrieve it, and for how those good memories far outweigh the bad.
See you in next week’s newspaper.(Steve Watkins is a reporter/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org)