Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of my father’s death. Hard to believe we’ve lived a decade without him. Here’s a collection of stories about my Dad that I’ve written on this blog previously (scroll down past this one, or read them all together if you like).
When I was in high school, Dad got me a job at the auto parts store where he was the manager. The picture on the left was taken when we both worked there. The store was part of a local chain of NAPA jobbers called Franklin Auto Parts, and it was owned by a triumvirate of interesting characters from Rocky Mount, in Franklin County. The most vocal member of this trio was named Jack Martin.
Jack was the archetype of the loud, superficially friendly salesman — with a dose of Franklin County crudeness thrown in. For example, my father told me about one time they went to dinner at one of Jack’s favorite steak restaurants after they had all been out drinking for hours and felt the need of an alcohol sponge in their stomachs. Jack frequented this establishment so often that he had his own preferred waitress who knew exactly what he liked to order and how he wanted it cooked: T-bone steak, extremely rare. But on this occasion that waitress had the night off, and someone else approached the loudly populated table. Perceiving immediately that Jack was the one in charge, she asked for his order first.
“Hey, where’s Dolly?” said Jack.
“Oh, she has the night off. What’ll you have?”
Jack paused long enough for his impaired faculties to process this strange turn of events. “Well, T-bone steak, of course!”
“And how would like that cooked, sir?”
Jack pushed himself back from the table, and said in a voice loud enough for anyone who cared (and many who didn’t) to hear, “Well, honey, you just knock his horns off, wipe his ass, and run him in here!”
That was not uncharacteristic of Jack, but he was actually quite likable once you got past his rough manner. He appreciated honesty, and he liked the work I did for him. So much, in fact, that he came to the store one day when I was a senior in high school and offered me a promotion. Dad was sitting by the counter listening to our conversation.
“Chip, if you’ll stay here with me instead of goin’ off to college, I’ll give you a store of your own.”
I replied, “No, I’m going to college to make something of myself. I’m not going to work for you for peanuts for the rest of my life, like my Dad.”
Dad slapped his knee and burst out laughing so hard the cigarette fell from his mouth. “You tell him, son!” He related that episode to every friend of his that came into the store for days afterward, laughing afresh at each retelling.
I had a habit back then (still do to some degree) of speaking my mind before considering how it might make others feel. I’m sure my words rubbed a lot of salt into Dad’s long open wounds. He had given up his dream career in NSA years before, just to be with his family. Then we settled in rural Virginia where both sides of the family had lived for centuries. Even though he was a highly skilled Russian linguist, the best job he could find anywhere around was managing an auto parts store. He was damned good at it, but his talents were grossly under-utilized.
At that moment, though, Dad didn’t care a fig for any of that. He was just proud that I had stood up to the boss — and that I had refused to take a cheap ticket out of my dreams.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
– Kahlil Gibran, echoing Nietzsche
That was Dad’s best quality.