“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – 1 Cor. 13:11
I started hearing the stories when I moved back to Sampson County back in 1989. A man came into the office from the Clement area. As we were talking, he said, “I remember when your daddy turned over the tractor in front of Clement School.” That one was a new one to me.
He continued, “I think he was trying to show off in front of the girls over at the school house. His daddy had one of those tricycle John Deere tractors. L.F. came flying up to the store across the road from the school and turned real sharp, trying to do a doughnut. He turned too sharp and the tractor flipped over. L.F. flew off the tractor, but was OK. A few of us boys ran across the road and helped him set the tractor back up straight. The only thing wrong was the muffler on top was bent. L.F. straightened it up and flew back home. I don’t know if his daddy ever found out about it.”
I had never heard that one before. As time passed, I started to hear more stories about my father when he was young, before he got married. And they were good stories. A lot of them had to do with fast cars and fast company. Back in those days, they didn’t call it wrecks. They called it, “cleaning out the side ditches.”
Probably the best story about my daddy was the one about the night before he left to join the Marines. Part of it involves chaining a deputy’s patrol car to a tree and daddy doing doughnuts with his car in front of the deputy. (Some of you may remember a similar scene from the old movie, “American Graffiti.” Yes, it was like that.) Needless to say, if Pa wasn’t heading to Paris Island the next day, he would have probably ended up in jail.
But I never heard any of those stories from my daddy when I was growing up. (I reckon he didn’t want to give me any ideas.) I had seen those pictures of him, when he was stationed in Hawaii, with those hula girls. But he never said much about them. Since daddy passed away, my sister and I have never been able to find those pictures. I think my mother had something to do with them being gone.
I’m sure one of the reasons my daddy didn’t talk about all those wild stories from his youth was not to give me any ideas. (It still didn’t keep me from totaling the car when I was sixteen, and doing some other stupid things.) But I think there was another reason. To L.F., that part of his life was over. He had a family to raise and provide for.
And he did. It involved lots of long hours and hard work. It involved farming, carpentry, working at the tobacco warehouse, among other jobs. It also involved going to church on Sundays, school activities, carrying us to ballgames, and other family-type functions. In other words, he was a father.
Back to that wreck when I was sixteen. The Sunday afternoon after the accident, daddy told me to get in the truck. (Yes, it was the family car I totaled.) As we rode down the road he didn’t say much. He first drove me by the place where I had flipped the car three times. Then he drove us up to Dunn to the body shop where the now almost unrecognizable Chevrolet Caprice Classic was housed.
“Look at it,” he said in a quiet, but firm voice. “You could be dead right now. The patrolman said it was the worst wreck he’d ever seen where the person didn’t die. Think about it.” I did.
To be honest, Daddy never did completely put away “those childish things” from his youth. He still liked to have a good time. But it never got in the way of his being a man and a father. In his later years, I would ask him about one of those stories. He would grin, tell me briefly about it, then go on to another subject. He’d rather talk about family, my work, etc. That was what was important and interesting to him.
I wish I could still have those conversations with him, but L.F. McPhail passed away three years ago. So, on Father’s Day, I’m going to say what I’ve said before. You may be busy with other obligations today. It may be a hassle to make that connection. But I can tell you that there will come a time down the road when you will be glad you did. And if you don’t, you’ll wish you had.