My Hand, Always in Daddy’s Glove

Mama and Daddy on their wedding day in 1956

Mama and Daddy on their wedding day in 1956

In his black-and-gray herringbone coat with his bitten-short fingernails, Daddy would come through the door after work. That is my first hazy memory from childhood.

I am not sure why I remember Daddy’s coat and his nails as the same memory, but I recall the safe feeling I had when I saw Daddy come home after work. Daddy was “home”. Maybe it goes back to him taking care of me when I was a baby while Mama worked at Great Atlantic Shoe Company. But probably not. He was my sweet Daddy, incredibly handsome, and my ideal for how a man should look.

My sister Lisa and me in the snow outside our home, 1963

My sister Lisa and me outside our home in 1963.

Recently I heard Tori Amos’s song “Winter” that she wrote for her Father’s Day it triggered memories of how I felt about my father when I was young, and perhaps how I still feel about him now.

One long ago Valentine’s Day, I remember Daddy bought each of his “girls” (Mama, my sister Lisa, and me) red Valentine boxes full of candy hearts with tiny phrases such as “Be Mine”, “Love You”, and “Be True” written on them. I felt so special–one of Daddy’s girls. In her song, Tori wrote:

Snow can wait, I forgot my mittens.
Wipe my nose, get my new boots on.
I get a little warm in my heart when I think of winter,
I put my hand in my father’s glove.

Daddy with this father in the backyard of Mama's childhood home, in about 1955

Daddy with this father in the backyard of Mama’s childhood home, in about 1955

Although Daddy was 6’2″ before old age took off a few inches, he was not really a towering presence, but a fidgety, nervous man when he was not engaged with something. Never having a mother, since she died when he was four months ago, no doubt affected Daddy’s sensitive nature. “I have a nervous stomach,” he would tell us. And he was not the least bit mechanical–couldn’t fix anything around the house or with the car–so when anything went wrong it was always Papaw, Mama’s father Tom Henderlight who fixed it.

But Daddy was fun-loving, constantly playing his meticulously cared for collection of 45s from the 1950s. My sister Lisa and I could sing all the words to the songs (and, by the way, we still can!). As a motherless child growing up in the 1940s and early ’50s, Daddy spent as much of his teen years’ time as possible with the flickering images of the movie theaters in downtown Knoxville.

Mama had never seen a movie until she started dating Daddy and she didn’t seem to care little for them, but we girls loved going. Daddy would take us to the Tennessee Theatre where, after an Orange Julius and a dip dog from across the street, he would regale us with how fine the theater was with its rotunda ceiling and ornate fixtures. He talked ceasely about his favorite actors and movies: “Broken Arrow” with Jeff Chandler or anything with World War II, war-hero turned-movie-star Audie Murphy.

Whatever Daddy believed, he felt strongly and would broach no disagreement. He never doubted he was right, even when he couldn’t have been more wrong. But he adored his girls, and I felt protected by him and protective of him as he would lick his thumb methodically each time he counted a bill out of his wallet to pay for things.

Between my first- and second-grade years, I won a summer competition for reading more library books than any child at our branch of the library. My sister Lisa was a cheerleader and very popular at school. Daddy was so proud of us and constantly told anyone within earshot of our accomplishments.

Tori Amos’s writes from her father’s point of view and then her own as she continues the song’s lyrics:

When you gonna make up your mind?
When you gonna love you as much as I do?
When you gonna make up your mind?
‘Cause things are gonna change so fast,
All the white horses are still in bed,
I tell you that I’ll always want you near,
You say that things change my dear.

Even though Daddy was very meticulous and a perfectionist about details around him, his inability to broach disagreement with his opinions did not put him in good stead at work. Each time he lost his job it was a new crisis for our family. First he lost his job as a bookkeeper at House-Hassan Hardware, then he was let go from another bookkeeping position at White Lily Flour Company where he explained they had put in a early version of a computer to replace him.

Then he took a job at Kern’s Bakery where he and the other inside-plant workers had to take salt pills to replace the nutrients they sweated away as they worked around the hot bread ovens. After paying his dues working two years inside the sweltering bakery, Daddy earned his own bread route, delivering Kern’s Bread to Rutledge and Granger County.

Daddy’s was not one of the best routes, but he was immensely proud of it as he took Mama, Lisa, and me on a tour with the highlight being the Krystal-like hamburger joint that was one of the stops on his route.

“This is my wife, Arzelia, and my girls, Anna and Lisa,” he would say as he proudly introduced us to the waitress and the cook. We were proud of him right back as we sat on our high barstools and bit into our hamburgers inside the heavenly moist Kern’s hamburger buns, with a side of fries, of course.

When he lost that job a few years later, Daddy explained, “They don’t like it that I’m a Christian and won’t drink with them, and they are always cussing and going on”. Then he took a job delivering magazines for Anderson News for a few years, which ended when the company cut back on its routes.

To make ends meet during these early years, Mama, Lisa, and I worked Friday and Saturday nights at our Aunt Helen and Uncle Bunt’s newly opened restaurant, Ye Olde Steak House. Mama also worked at the other thriving South Knoxville family business, Stanley’s Greenhouse, while Daddy worked through the night on Saturdays collating the ad sections into the Sunday Knoxville News-Sentinel newspaper. He thrilled to tell us about the huge presses and conveyors that printed and transported the papers. And there was a big plus from Daddy’s point of view: he got to read the sports page before anyone else! Because, let’s face it, Daddy was obsessed with sports.

My father had no middling feelings about anything, just strong ones, pro or con. His temper would occasionally flare over sports disagreements, and then we no longer visited those particular offending relatives who favored Maryville High School over Daddy’s own beloved South High basketball team. At these times, my sister Lisa and I kept our heads down so we would not wander into the crossfire when Daddy was upset.

Since his mother died of pellagra psychosis, a catastrophic nutritional deficiency, when he was only four months old, Daddy grew up desperately poor with his ineffectual, illiterate father and his abusive, alcoholic uncle. For the first few years of his life, he was reared by his grandmother, but after she died when he was 5 years old, Daddy was virtually an orphan. Growing up in this chaotic environment without a mother left Daddy sensitive and high strung. The pressures and responsibilities of earning enough to raise a family rested heavily on Daddy–and Mama as well.

My graduation from college in 1987 with Mama and Daddy

My graduation from college in 1987 with Mama and Daddy

However, Daddy could not have been more proud of our accomplishments. After I earned my bachelor’s degree by putting myself through the University of Tennessee while working full-time as a UT secretary (and raising my son, Justin, as a single parent), no one was happier than Daddy.

And Daddy was very proud of my sister Lisa’s entrepreneurial instincts as she joined her husband Rocky’s family business, Stanley’s Greenhouse, eventually to share management of the customer service side of the business with her brother-in-law Monte. Mama had already been working there for 20 or so years, and soon Daddy came on board to make Stanley’s even more of an all-in-family affair.

Daddy loved strongly, and he adored UT’s legendary Coach Pat Summitt who inspired young women around the world as a Olympic champion and Lady Vol coach. Pat was hired to coach the Lady Vols at the age of 22 when women’s basketball was little more than intramural, and she built the program from nothing to national-championship level in only 15 years.

Pat’s teams caught Daddy’s imagination and my parents started taking my son Justin to games when he was 5 years old. Since I was communications director for the fund-raising arm of the university, it was easier to get our family season tickets together and going to Lady Vol games became a defining passion in Daddy’s life. My parents traveled around the world with the Lady Vols as they played tournaments in Greece, Italy, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Daddy loved the Lady Vol players and coaches, and hated the referees who called fouls on them and the University of Connecticut who were our arch rivals. With Daddy everything was personal.

Hair is grey
And the fires are burning
So many dreams
On the shelf
You say I wanted you to be proud of me
I always wanted that myself

In a curious and tragic coincidence, both Pat Summitt and Daddy were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around the same time in 2011. Heartbreakingly unbelievable to all her admirers that Pat Summitt’s fabulous mind for complex game strategy–a woman named one of the two best coaches, male or female, in basketball history by Sports Illustrated in 2011–was stopped in her prime by this wicked, wicked disease. People across the country and world celebrated her achievements and courage as she took on this scourge of the human mind and spirit.

A very individualized disease, Alzheimer’s affects each person differently, and Daddy’s version also progressed faster than we wished. He lost a bit more of himself with each year.

‘Cause things are gonna change so fast,
All the white horses have gone ahead
I tell you that I’ll always want you near,
You say that things change
My dear.

Daddy in the middle of our family's group Christmas photo, 2013

Daddy in the middle of our family’s group Christmas photo, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming to terms with the inexorable, bit-by-bit loss of Daddy has been a reckoning with our family’s past, my childhood, and the ghosts of our family’s triumphs and failures. I have struggled to find a proper denial zone in which not to think about losing him in this way.

I have tried instead to pitch my tent in the land of gratitude that even though the Daddy that held my hand when we crossed the street when I was young was not all there these last few years, in some ways he was more himself than ever as he put down some of the burdens of being a motherless child. Now the sun of his day is Mama who has lovingly cared for him daily, every day. The world is in Daddy’s sweet smile: he would smile at me, then wink; I would smile back, and wink.

I tell you that I’ll always want you near,
You say that things change
My dear.

Things do change, but I will always be my Daddy’s daughter, and as long as I am alive, the part of him that gave me life and gave me his love will always be with me. When I was unhappy about something as child, I always hated it when Daddy would say to me:

You have to take the sour with the sweet, Anna.

If only it wasn’t ever so. But my hand will always be in Daddy’s glove.

Anna — 9/30/2015

About aamontgomery

Seeing new possibilities in everyday things
This entry was posted in Autobiographical, Blooming, Childhood, Freedom, Happiness, Home, Knoxville, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to My Hand, Always in Daddy’s Glove

  1. Kurt Weiss says:

    Wonderful and touching reflections on the impact that our fathers have on us. Memories are what determine our identity and when they slip away from us, it is our loved ones who carry the flame of our identity and preserve who we are.

  2. BriLamberson says:

    Absolutely balling my eyes out Anna. That is one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever read. You are such a talented writer and no doubt your father would be so proud of you for so bravely and beautifully telling your story.

    Can I get an advance copy of your book?!

    Brianna Lamberson Certified Holistic Health Coach briannalamberson.com

    >

    • aamontgomery says:

      Thank you so much, Bri, for doing me the honor of reading my posts! And I appreciate so much that you let me know your thoughts about what I write. Bless you, my dear friend!

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