For My Father

William Morrell French

April 11, 1916 - March 25, 2002





Sawdust
 just might be my favorite smell
because it is the smell I most associate with my
father.

Hardware stores, 
wondrous places 
with lumber stacked to the ceiling,
two by fours on shelves,
nails,
hammers,
screws,
screwdrivers,
saws, table and hand,
knotty pine,
sheetrock,
paint,
painter's hat and brushes,
turpentine,
remind me of you, Daddy.  

How I loved when he would call out and ask 
if I wanted to go to the hardware store.
"Yes."
I think he liked that I loved those hardware stores so much.
I'd say,
"I love hardware stores."

Daddy, you took us camping in the Colorado mountains.

Coleman lanterns,
Coleman stoves,
percolators that made coffee over an open campfire,
camp cook kits made of aluminum,
were packed up and put in the back of the old station wagon
as we headed out to find our favorite "green spot."

After sunset,
 pine trees, 
looming larger than they seemed during the day, 
became a backdrop for a scene where family and friends gathered around a campfire,
 with cigarettes flickering around the edges of the fire,
grey smoke spiraling in the dark sky,
to listen to and to tell stories.
Oh, how we laughed.
You, Daddy, were the Chief Storyteller.
I loved your stories,
always.
You were the best storyteller ever.
Oh, how I miss you and your stories.

Snuggled in smelly green World War II era mummy bag sleeping bags,
scratchy green Army blankets spread over and under me as I slept on the ground,
staring at the stars,
thinking of those stories,
and pondering the vastness of the world, 
the universe, 
God, 
and what lay beyond,
sounds of the stream finally lulled me to sleep
in those magical days of childhood when my father took us camping.

Songs, we sang songs.
Daddy would start out with,
Ohhhhhhhhhhh,
and he would drag that "O" out forever.
I had a little pony,
His name was Dapple Grey,
I lent him to a lady to ride a mile away,

She whipped, she slashed him,
She rode him through the mire;
I would not lend my pony,
For all the lady's hire.

I never hear that song these days,
but if I did, I'd think of my dad.

Homemade rootbeer bottled in empty Coors beer bottles was my favorite summer treat.
I loved it when Daddy made homemade root beer.

Games, we played games at the dinner table.
We were not allowed to read at the table, but we played games.
I spy...
"Is it vegetable, mineral, or animal?"
We were allowed to ask those questions when you had us stumped.
Actually, he stumped us a lot.
Little did we know that he used that game to teach us deductive reasoning.

My father and I on graduation day.
1987
B.S in Business Administration 

Books, we read books.
My father always had a book in his hand if he wasn't building something,
or fishing,
or working on the house or the yard.
In his younger years, he worked hard at the railroad and on the house and the yard,
so to went to bed early to read.
In later years, he read large print books from the lending library of books for the blind in Denver.

It was expected that we would be readers.
T.V., or the "boob tube" as he called it, was not in our home until I was a teenager.
I still don't like to watch T.V.
I read.

He taught me to believe in myself,
to stand up for myself,
to think for myself and not blindly follow others.
He spoke truth to me when I didn't do those things.

My father had a temper.
He never liked any of the boys I brought home.
He chased most of them away.

He liked things neat and orderly and insisted on square corners on the bed.
We made sure the kitchen table and surfaces in the kitchen were not sticky.
He hated a sticky surface.
Every table setting better include a salad bowl or salad plate for the salad and bread.
Oh, and there had to be a knife, a fork, and a spoon in place for each meal.

He was demanding.
He was as gruff as a bear on the outside,
but I've known fewer as 
kind and generous as he was on the inside.
He gave to those in need,
and even when you weren't in need, but he seemed to sense you needed a little gift,
or some gas money,
he opened up his wallet and he gave.
He was so giving.
That was one of his best traits.

He wrote.
He wrote family histories and collected family genealogies.
He carried on a correspondence with his parents,
his children,
his cousins,
his siblings,
his relatives that were connected generations back.
I even found letters he wrote to his grandparents, signed,
"Love, Billie,"
in his papers.
I have a large file of the letters he wrote to me.
He was a great writer, communicator, and keeper of the family histories.

In his later years, he became a born-again Christian.
The transformation that Christ made in his life was dramatic.
His faith was strong to the end.

During his last days, I was by his side with my sisters.
I'm so grateful for those days when I was able to witness the 
firmness of his faith
 while trying in some small way to give what little 
rudimentary comfort
 I could to his physical body in its final decline.

In my journal on March 23, 2002, just two days before he died, I wrote,

It is good to be here with him.  Yesterday, he told me over and over again, "You're a good girl." He would say, "Sally Lulu, you're a good girl."  I would say, "You're a good Daddy."  


He was that.
He was the best Daddy ever.
He was my Daddy.
And, I was his Sally Lou.
I remember when he died, I was filled with absolute certainty that 
he loved me,
that he was proud of me,
and that was enough for both of us.





Remembering My Father

Hands


Digging out the basement,
Shaking hands with every two by four,
Pounding nails,
Sawing boards,
Building cabinets.

Teaching me to tie my shoes,
Held and manicured by me.

Baiting a fish hook with worms,
Reeling in a trout.

Holding a book,
typing family histories,

Holding mine in the hospital before he died.


I miss you, Daddy.
Remembering you on Father's Day.

In good hands
My father and I
1945

My father & mother in our front yard.
Carol held by mother
Rell & Sally
Colorado Springs, Colorado
1948

Triple A to The Rescue ~ To Whom Do You Call When You Need A Friend?

Today was one of those mornings that began with a startled awakening.
The cell phone next to my bed rang at 5:30.
Even though the phone I.D. was not one I recognized, my heart was racing so fast, I could barely say “Hello.”
It was the substitute teacher line calling to see if I would accept a job for the day.

Thankful that the call was not from a loved one in crisis needing help, I hung up the phone and went back to sleep.

Those calls for help that come at unexpected times can be so unsettling.
I’ve had my share of them.
I’ve made my share of them.

It seems at one time or another, we all must make one those calls for help.

To Whom Do You Call When You Need Help?

Later in the day, my resident techie, AKA my husband, went out to my car to sync my new phone to the wireless system in the car.
It was then that he discovered that the car battery would not turn over.
Since he was leaving for work in a short time, he told me to call Triple A.
“The battery is still under warranty, and it is an AAA battery, so everything should be ok,” he said as he handed me a credit card to be used just in case I had to put in a new battery.

Triple A,
You saved the day again.
Thank goodness I could call you when I needed you.
I owe you a lot, Triple A.

A Short Story About Triple A
Back in late ’80s or early ‘90s, I was a single mom living in Colorado Springs.  One day, I had one of those mornings that had a very bad start.  I was supposed to leave for the hospital for an outpatient surgical appointment when I discovered that my car had a flat tire.  A friend was scheduled to bring me home from the hospital, but that friend was at work and would not be able to help me with the flat tire.  I had no idea whom I should call.  Everyone I knew was working.  So, knowing full well there was absolutely nothing he could do about the situation, I called my dad.  He lived over three hundred miles away.  But, he was the one I called and cried into the phone, “Daddy, my tire is flat and I have to be at the hospital in half an hour.  I don’t know what to do.”  Daddy knew just what to do.  He called Triple A, signed me up for a membership, and sent them out to the house to fix my tire.  He then paid my membership for the next year because he didn’t want me stranded with no one to help me.  It was good to have someone to call when I had trouble with that old car of mine. 

*******
In 1991, I was shocked one day when I received a telephone call at work from my old high school sweetheart.  He said he had recently gone through a divorce and wondered if I’d like to go to lunch.  It had been thirty years since we had dated, but he had always held a special place in my heart because he was such a dear, kind, and giving friend and sweetheart. In the thirty years since we had dated, we both had married others, but through friends, we always knew something of each other’s lives.  

Back in 1991, I had been single for ten years and was quite independent, but I also still drove that very old Ford Fairmont, so I always kept up my trusty Triple A membership.  Jim, newly divorced, driving the old car that he was left with after his divorce, drove forty miles from Pueblo to Colorado Springs to take me, his old love from back in the early 60’s, to lunch.  I guess he was pretty nervous about the trip, and about taking me out again after all those years, so he drove up the highway with his lights on even though it was was the middle of the day.  
Jim picked me up at my house and off we went for lunch at the Olive Garden.  We had a delightful time at lunch catching up on the past thirty years.  He hadn’t changed a bit.  He was still that kind, loving, giving, successful, funny, and charming person I had adored as a teenager.
After a long lunch, we headed out to his car so he could take me back home.  That is when he discovered the battery was dead.  He’d neglected to turn off his car lights and they had remained on during our long lunch.  The poor guy looked like he was going to die when he realized his car battery was totally dead on his first date with a woman he hadn’t seen for thirty years.  “No problem,” I said.  “I have Triple A.”  We’ll just go over to the mall and find a phone and call them to come and help.”  (Those were the days before cell phones!)  So, that’s what we did.  Triple A came to the rescue. 

Later, Jim, with that twinkle in his eye,  would always tell everyone that was when he decided for sure he was going to marry me.  “She had Triple A.  I thought that would be a good thing to have.”  

Thanks Triple A for always coming to the rescue, and for landing me a man! 

Jim and Sally
1992


To Whom Do You Call When You Need A Friend?

Today, as I reminisced about how our courtship began with Triple A, I also started thinking of my dear daddy and how he was always there for me for so many years when I needed him. 

My father and I
1945
I then thought about the time thirteen years ago, when I got the call that he needed me.  In 2001 and 2002 for about six months, from June or July until the next March, my father had really gone down hill physically once shingles attacked his aging body the summer before his death.  I had gone over that summer and had to have that talk with him.  You know the talk that takes place between adult children and their parents when suddenly one feels like the parent instead of the child.  Daddy was in so much pain from the shingles.  He had diabetes, and he wouldn’t eat.  He was miserable. My poor mother was getting nowhere with him.  He was stubborn, and he was not being cooperative.  Finally, I told him I was taking him to the hospital if he didn’t eat.   He must have believed me because he started drinking his Ensure.  He knew I was as stubborn as he was.  I’d learned that trait from the best of them.  He knew I’d take him to the hospital if I felt it was necessary, and he didn’t want to go.  

When my husband and I went over for Christmas later that year, I was shocked at how frail he had become since my last visit that had occurred just before school had started that fall. When we left for home at Christmas, I said I’d try to be back over during Spring Break. In March of 2002, my mother called on a Thursday and asked, “Are you on Spring Break?”  “No, Mother, not until next week.”  “She said, “The doctor just put your father in the hospital and he’s asking for you.  He wants you to come.  You’re the one he’s asking for.”

Needless to say, as soon as I could wrap up the finals I was grading, I made my way to his bedside which was six hours away.  He passed away on the next Monday, which happened to be the first day of Spring Break.  I always believed that my father hung on as his life was slipping away so that I wouldn’t have to take off from work to be at his bedside. 

He was like that. He had a heart that looked out for others He was one of the most giving persons I ever knew.  I always knew I could count on my father.  He could be generous to a fault when he saw a need.  I remember as he was dying in the hospital that he heard one of the nurses telling how she had cancer and was working because she needed the insurance.  We thought he was asleep while she talked to us about hospice.  When she left the room, he spoke to my mother, “Mother, make sure you find out that nurse’s name and write her a check.” 

I think the self confidence that others have always said I have comes from my father’s influence in my life.  He taught me so much about life.  I think it was his love and knowing he would be there for me and that he was very proud of me that caused me to have the confidence to accomplish whatever goals I have reached in my life.  
1987
My father, mother, and I at my graduation when I earned my first college degree.
BS in Business Administration
Later I would earn a BA in English and a MA in Teaching English as a Second Language

Life isn’t fair, but it was from my dad that I learned that I should “keep my head together.”  He taught me to be tough when I needed to be.  He taught me, as the song, You’ve Got A Friend, says, 
People can be so cold,
They’ll hurt and desert you.  Well they’ll take your soul if you let them,
Yeah, but don’t you let them.

He always encouraged me to be my own person and to think for myself.  He challenged us to be thinkers and not followers.  He taught me not to let others treat me with disrespect.
   
He was that one that I knew would be there for me no matter what.  He believed in me.  He wasn’t one to rescue me.  He didn’t open up his checkbook and help me out of tight spots.  He was a generous man, but also was a wise man that knew I would figure out how to make it on my own and would be stronger and better for it.  His belief in me was the impetus that gave me confidence throughout the entire time he was on this earth.  His belief in me is still carried in that special place in my heart that is reserved for a daughter's love for her daddy.  I knew he was proud of me, and that meant the world to me.  I think he would be one of my best blog readers.  He loved to write.  He loved a good story.  He was a great storyteller.  I learned to love reading and writing from him.  I wish I had told him more often how much he meant to me. I recently was given all the cards I’d sent him over the years.  He’d kept them all.  I miss my father so much.

******
Now, I have my dear husband to call.  Jim, my dear high school sweetheart from long ago, has always shown me a special kind of love.  This poor man gets so many calls from me.  Whenever, I need him, I call.  He is always there.  Always.  In the past five years, my once strong self-confidence was rocked to the core after the death of my daughter.  Suffering from PTSD that is common to survivors of suicide, I have sometimes been racked by anxiety.  Only my husband knows how much I suffer, and only my husband can calm me down when I need calming down the most.  He is the one I call out to in the middle of the night, or when I am driving down the road, or sitting next to him in the living room.  He is the one I call when I need him to talk me through my times of anxiety and stress.  No one knows how many times he has sat with me in the middle of the night when I have had an anxiety attack or when my heart has gone into wild arrhythmia and is racing at 150 beats a minutes and won’t slow down.  He is always there when I call.  I don’t know what I would do without his kindness, his wisdom, his support, his love.  I don’t know what I’d do if he weren’t there for me.  He is the friend that knows me better than anyone knows me.  He is the one that is straight with me in a firm and loving way.  He is the one to whom I call, and he has never let me down.  Thank you Jim for being there.  I love you.  And, thank you Daddy, for being there for me too, and for getting me that first Triple A card.

To whom do you call when you need a friend?  

Thinking of My Dad

I'm in Utah staying with my daughter.  My granddaughter is downstairs making a Father's Day card for her father.  Since my father is no longer living, I no longer have the opportunity to tell him how important he was to me, or how important he remains in my life.

A Tribute To My Father



A Photo of My Father
A Peace Rose from My Garden


The day I was born, my father had to drive my mother to the hospital and then leave for Denver so he could be processed into the army.  At age thirty, he was drafted.  Uncle Sam still needed men, so despite his age and the fact that he had a wife, a child, and another child on the way, he was called up and shipped out.  He liked to say Hitler gave up when he heard my father had joined the army.  In truth, he never went overseas to fight.  He spent his time stateside working as a clerk.  He missed the first year of my life.  I'm sure I missed a lot not having him there also.  I've always loved this photo taken when my father came home from the service in 1946.


It seems difficult to write a narrative about this man who was my father.  I cannot be objective on the subject because I am his daughter and I adored him.  I thought he was terribly funny.  He was funny.  He had a dry wit and could think of the greatest puns.  He had the greatest sense of humor and told the best stories.  He always made me laugh.

I could listen to his stories forever as he drove through the beautiful mountain passes of Colorado.  He knew so much Colorado history.  He loved his native state of Colorado and taught us to protect her beauty.  We spent many happy hours camped along beautiful clear Colorado streams in the summer.  We were taught to always leave our campsite better than we found it.  We were taught not to leave a trace that we had been there.

My father was a reader.  He loved to read.  I learned to love to read because I wanted to be a member of his club.  Reading was such an important part of his life.  He could never understand people who didn't like to read.  He always had a book at his side.  As he got older and suffered from diabetes, he was so grateful for the lending library in Denver who sent him large print books on a very regular basis.

He also liked to write.  He wrote long letters to his children and his mother.  He wrote family histories.  He compiled family genealogy.   He wrote narratives about his childhood memories in Colorado Springs.  He had a large correspondence that he maintained with family members throughout the country who also worked on family genealogies.  I wonder if he would have written a blog.  I wonder what he would think of mine.  He submitted some of his writing about various topics to be kept in the archives of his alma mater, Colorado College.

Actually, Daddy never graduated from Colorado College.  He quit after marriage during the depression when he only had a few hours left to complete.  I don't know if he ever regretted quitting college with so few hours left to complete.  He went to work for the railroad and worked there his entire life.  He started as a clerk and retired as regional manager.  He was always grateful for the good life the railroad gave him, and the good retirement.  He followed his father's footsteps in working for the railroad.  His father was a telegrapher.  I am a railroader's daughter and have always loved the way my life was intertwined with railroad history and lore.  I love my memories of growing up riding on trains.

My father was a generous man.  He was one to always want to help those who might have a legitimate need.  The day before he died, we were gathered in his room talking to a nurse who was sharing her story of fighting cancer and how hospice was such a Godsend to many.  She told of her struggle to get well and to keep working.  We thought Daddy was not aware of what was being said that night.  When the nurse left the room, he said, "Mother, make sure you write a check as a gift to that nurse.  She needs some help."

Daddy was a strong Christian.  He had been a drinker, had a temper, and swore like a trooper when we were younger.  In his early 60's, he gave his life back to the Lord.  The transformation was obvious to all who knew him.  One of my favorite memories is remembering how mother would read the Bible to him every night before he went to bed in the last years of his life.  When he died, he was ready.  He kept saying he wanted to go and be with the Lord.

He was not a perfect man.  He scared off every boyfriend I ever had, or tried to scare them off.  He had a short fuse.  He was demanding.  I always said his bark was worse than his bite.

He worked hard.  He earned a good living and provided well for us.  He was not overly demonstrative.  He did not express his emotions of tenderness.  He was a product of his generation.  Men went to work and earned the money.  Women stayed home and raised the kids.  He expected good behavior out of us, and I lived in fear of disappointing him and bringing on his wrath.

Some of my most precious memories are of his final days on this earth.  I spent the last days at his bedside.  My sisters and my oldest son were there much of the time.  It was a blessing to be there and try to ease those last days that he spent in a body that had been broken down by diabetes and congestive heart failure.

I held those hands that I had always loved a lot of time.  I tried to memorize how they looked so I would remember all they had done for me throughout my life.  They had dug out a basement below our house.  They had remodeled more than one house that we lived in.  They had painted many walls and pounded many nails.  They had caught many fish.  They had held many books.  They had written many letters, memos, and narratives.  They had typed papers in the army on old fashioned upright typewriters and learned to write on a computer.  They had spanked my bottom on a few occasions.  They had been manicured by me when I was younger.  I loved to give manicures, and he was a willing subject.  I miss holding my daddy's hand.

I long ago forgave him of his shortcomings.  I've tried to live my life in such a way as to make him proud.  When I was working, I always used him as my role model on how to conduct myself in the workplace.

He was my daddy.  I was his Sally Lou.  I remember when he died that I was filled with absolute certainty that he loved me, that he was proud of me, and that seemed to be enough for both of us.
Graduation Day
B.S. in Business Administration
Mother & Daddy at My Side