My dad had a milestone birthday this weekend and he said he didn't want big gifts, he wanted us to sing a song for him or write a poem.
I thought it would be cool to write a blog post for him. So I asked the librarian of my brain to retrieve a memory that I could write about. I asked her to find something sweet, maybe something bittersweet even. You all know how I love to make us cry happy tears here at the Downtown Diner.
The librarian disappeared into my archives and emerged a few minutes later with a memory that was funny but not really bittersweet. I explained that I was looking for something else, something that would show my dad's intelligence or perhaps charm or strong sense of compassion.
She disappeared again and came back holding the same memory as before. It was from the winter of 1975.
I shook my head and tried to explain again that I wanted something with ... layers. Shades of color. Depth. A memory that would say something poignant about my dad and me.
She placed the 1975 memory on the counter and gingerly folded her hands over the cover as she explained that there had been budget cuts and they were now all hourly and limited in how much time they could spend on archival requests.
And so folks, this 1975 memory is apparently all we're going to get in this age of austerity. Let's make the most of it.
It was January or February of 1975 and my baby sister Amanda Jo was five or six months old. Amanda Jo was the fourth daughter born to Joe and Marie Parsons and she was by far the fussiest, according to the family canon.
My mom says that she would rock Amanda for hours and hours while she screamed and wailed.
All of this noise took its toll on the family. Even on me. I was five years old and I was sick of hearing Amanda scream. In my family and at our tender age, we were told that babies came from God, and I was ready to give her back.
One day a horrible thought occurred to me. What if God decided to give us ANOTHER baby? As far as I knew, we had no control over when and how God dispatched screaming infants, and I began to worry that he had another one for us in the pipeline. I knew that would break us.
A few weeks after my dad had an out-patient medical procedure, which at the time meant nothing to me, I sat down next to him at the breakfast table. I was eating cornflakes, my dad was drinking coffee and reading the paper, and my mother was down the hall tending to crying Amanda Jo.
"Dad, what will we do if God gives us another baby?" I asked.
"What?" he asked.
I raised my voice so I could be heard over the drone of Amanda Jo crying in the back bedroom. "I said, what will we do if God gives us another baby?"
He laughed and shook his head and said "Druse, God isn't going to give us another baby."
My dad calls me Druse. Please don't ask me why. Ask him the next time you see him, and he will tell you a story about my childhood and a woman named Drusie Johnson and a bucket of golf balls, and then you will look back at me and say, "Wait, now why does he call you Druse?"
I was worried that he wasn't aware of the real and present danger here. I didn't share his confidence that there were no more babies on the way for us, and I needed to know that we had a plan.
"But what if he does?" I asked again.
The muscles in his neck and jaw tensed and he looked at me and said, "Druse, God is not going to give us any more babies."
Still unconvinced, I pressed on. "But how do you know?"
Now his face turned Cherokee red and he pounded his fist on the table so hard the milk splashed out of my cereal bowl.
"God. Is not going to give us. Any. More. BABIES!" he shouted.
I decided that although I didn't understand the details, somehow my Heavenly Father and my Earthly One had come to an agreement that the roster in the Parsons family was now full and that God would not be giving us any more babies.
And indeed, He did not.
Dad and Daughter #1:
Dad and Daughter #2:
Dad and Daughter #3:
Dad and Daughter #4:
If I can come up with any more poignant memories about my dad in the next few days I will share them with you.
But I will not attempt to tell the Drusie Johnson story.
Because here's the thing. I will be able to tell you the story. And I can tell you that my dad calls me Druse. But I will never be able to tell you what the connection is between the story and my moniker.
Which, perhaps, is some depth right there. For my entire life I have had a nickname that I don't understand. Kids in the south often have nicknames. Bubba got his nickname from his younger brother who couldn't pronounce "brother". They call Tiny that because he's so big. Mater had a beautiful tomato patch every summer. Trey has the same name as his father and grandfather.
And one steamy Saturday afternoon in Alabama a woman named Drusie Johnson pulled up in a rusty Chevy, her drunk husband and seven children in tow, to sell my dad a bucket of used golfballs. And as she drove away in a cloud of red dust, I stood next to my dad and a bucket of overpriced golfballs and said, "Drusie sure married a poor husband."
And that's the story, I'm serious. That's all there is to it.
Well I'll be damned. She did toss one more memory to me before she clocked out.