Written: 12-20-2012 – 5:30am-10:40am
I wrote this to my children and grandchildren not too long after my dad passed away. So they will always remember.
My Daddy died.
To my recollection I never referred to him as “Dad”. Not where he or any of my family could here.
To us, he was always Daddy.
I don’t know whether it was the era that we grew up in or simply that that was the shingle that we hung outside his office, but Daddy was Daddy.
Some of my earliest memories were of the motel in Greeley, Colorado…
A horseshoe affair with a gravel apron driveway in the center that divided little boxes with red roofs and green shutters. All places of dwelling in the early 1960’s had red roofs and green shutters.
And I would run and play; no thought of danger, kidnappers, child molesters or aliens from outer space; for there were none in my world of short legs, short pants and sweaty crew cuts.
I don’t remember pouring vegetable soup on my head in my high chair at the motel, but apparently I did.
I don’t remember running down the gravel apron with my hands on my back pockets so as not to get switched on the bare legs with a willow branch, but that’s what I was told.
I do remember a drive-in down the street from us where we would sit in our car, old, iron, huge, without a padded dash or seat belts, and get Chili Fritos that we ate out of the hand sized bag with plastic spoons. The bag was slit, the chili poured in and the waitress, with or without roller skates, brought it to your car and set it on a plastic tray with rubber fingers clutching the top of your rolled down window, oh so carefully so as not to crack the glass.
I remember Daddy in his Red, Greeley Colorado police car, or at least the photo that I look at from time to time puts me there. Whether that is true or I was AWOL playing with Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs I, once again, have no recollection.
But then I traverse in memory to my only real home until I married: 10522 Santa Fe.
All other dwellings were simply a stop off until train Santa Fe appeared.
I do recall something Daddy said one time about us living on Santa Fe and he used to work for the Santa Fe Railroad, so the correlation is uncanny, or at least serendipitous. To timestamp that coincidence he would occasionally let me look at a giant book of mechanical drawings that he done while in trade school in Kansas. I didn’t understand them all but nevertheless, they were inked and straight and scribed on large, soft manila pages, I believe all held together with brass fasteners that were sharp on the points.
10522 Santa Fe and 466-4783.
The numbers of my life.
The digits that called you home in case you ever got lost at school.
The place of me and Mother and Daddy and Aunt Sharon and later, Aunt Debbie. Uncle Gary was there for a brief time before he added another “R” to his name. We slept opposite of each other in twin beds with bedspreads with a criss-cross pattern on it. His abandoned his bed later as he went off to Southeast Asia to fight a war that I only heard of on a black and white little box that sat atop a gold, metal rack in our living room. Garry’s bed would never be occupied by him again but would ultimately hold a piece of plywood with green, model train, grass affixed to the top by Rubber Cement. On top of the green grass would go my orange, hot wheels track with the Hot Wheels Sizzlers that ran without pushing. They were powered by a little juice from a gas pump the size of a skyscraper that held 4 D Cell batteries.
And Daddy was there.
He and Mother occupied the room next to me. Just around the corner to the left. On the other side of my walk-in closet wall as a matter of fact. The closet with the Luan sliding doors, floor to ceiling, wall to wall.
I never did understand which Rhoades Family Etiquette Dictionary told us to call Daddy “Daddy” and Mother “Mother”. It would occur to me in later life that it should be “Mommy and Daddy” or “Mother and Father” but somewhere in my recesses it a story unfolded concerning a bad taste in Mother’s mouth from her own childhood having to do with the term, “Mommy”.
And I can’t blame her for that; her childhood was less than desirable.
But nevertheless, Daddy was there and then he wasn’t and then he was there again and then wasn’t.
Not in a Deadbeat Dad sort of way but simply an early to work type of thing.
Every school day, days wound around a big yellow school bus that picked me up and dropped me at the door, my dad, aka: Daddy, was gone.
Gone off to a place of sustainability. His and ours.
I remember him coming home in his Denver Deputy Sheriff’s uniform, with the mile high stripe up the side of his khaki pants. Topped off by a dark blue shirt with gold shields on the shoulders and left breast. But I don’t have a lot of cognitive recognition of when he left or when he came home. In my child’s eye, he was gone when I got up and home after I got home, but I don’t really recall.
Isn’t it funny the things that you take for granted and don’t ask, don’t tell.
But Daddy was there.
To loosely quote Chris Rock in Everybody Hates Chris: “My dad was not like so many of the other dad’s in the neighborhood. He got up for work every morning, but more importantly, he came back home at night.”
I remember the desk incident one Christmas.
I don’t remember if it was in the latter 1960’s or early 1970’s but I remember the desk. Large, heavy, dark shiny surface with gold handles that hung down and clanked against metal decorative plates. I remember it because one Christmas it occupied my walk-in, wall to wall closet with the floor to ceiling Luan doors.
The desk was covered with a blanket so my Daddy would not accidently discover it before Santa sprung it on him. I recall helping Mother and Sharon push it into my closet one afternoon after Big Yellow had deposited me home from Belleview, the school, not the asylum.
We pushed and pushed. I don’t remember how we got it up the 8 stairs of what back then they referred to as a “Tri-level”. But somehow we did. Those were the same 8 stairs that I slid down with my short pants on. Bump, bump, bump.
And with all Christmas secrets, a thought now has occurred. At age 53, with Daddy now ushered into God’s own Tri-Level, what did he need a desk for? He was a cop! It wasn’t like he was an accountant that did people’s taxes from home? It never held anything but piled up papers and the sporadic clean laundry basket.
It seemed massive sitting in his room after the Christmas bow had been placed atop on Christmas Eve and then discovered the next morning. I don’t recall how we got it out of my closet and into the round-about that joined our three rooms on the top floor of Tri-Level 10522 Santa Fe.
But nevertheless, it was there. I also don’t remember the situation in which I would have been up after my Daddy went to bed on Christmas Eve to help Mother and Sharon push it silently into the round-about. Usually Mother and Daddy put our big gifts, unwrapped of course, under the tree after we went to bed. But I was an elf that night.
And Daddy loved it.
I don’t know why?
And he was there.
He was always there.
Daddy taught me lots of things, some intentionally and some I picked up through osmosis.
Daddy didn’t teach me to throw any sort of a ball. We didn’t really do, “Father and Son” things; outside of attending an intermittent Men’s breakfast at the church.
I do remember that he seemed to mow the grass a lot, in his worn out uniform pants with the mile-high stripe and a white undershirt that all men wore in the 1960’s, now dubbed: The wifebeater. But back then, it was just an undershirt.
I would sporadically tinker with him when the brakes needed to be changed on the car and he was forever drawing pencil diagrams on the back of envelopes to let me know how electricity worked.
But never the nostalgic game of catch that grace Hallmark Movies.
I don’t consciously remember him ever sitting down to watch any sporting event on the black and white box.
Daddy taught me other things though, things that turned out to be more important than hand-eye coordination with a leather mit on my hand.
Daddy taught me, intentionally, that above everything else in my life: I was to love the Lord My God with all my strength, with all my soul and with all my might. And by the osmosis of example, he taught me to love my neighbor as myself.
And all through the snapshots of my life are those principles. Him talking about leading a Bible study at the Denver County Jail, something that is unheard of now. Him taking me on Death Row to Canyon City State Penitentiary to witness to men that were about to be executed. Or driving to Topeka, Kansas once every month to lead a Bible study in a cafeteria back-room set up and occupied by my Kansas relatives. He taught me these things intentionally and by osmosis.
Now Daddy had feet of clay, oh yes he did.
I won’t have you put on glasses smeared with the grease of nostalgia. Feet as clayey as you could get. He threw tantrums and wouldn’t speak sometimes for days, this was experienced more by my older siblings than me, but I remember instances of rage. I recall my parents not getting along at times and outright fights and the manifestations that comes with it.
Daddy was stubborn.
Daddy was moody.
Daddy was sometimes prejudice.
And I grew up in the 1960’s where less than 20 years before, Daddy tramped around Germany in the Ruhr Valley Pocket with an M1 Carbine strapped to his back.
No excuses, just reality.
Daddy, like the rest of The Greatest Generation, lugged baggage home from being an entire nation at war.
No excuses, just reality.
Daddy didn’t beat me, (I don’t even think he switched me at the motel, I think that was probably Mother).
Daddy didn’t abuse me.
At times, he would ignore me.
Not intentionally, just by osmosis.
But for the most part I just remember Daddy being there.
School plays and programs. Always any church activity that I got myself into.
Every time I sang bass and drummed for the Gospel Lights, Daddy and Mother were in the audience.
When Mother died in ’82 it depleted his sails. When you sleep side by side for 41 years of your life with someone and then they vacate Terra Firma, it leaves a vacuum where love used to dwell.
And those were the beginning of the married years for me, fraught with 5 little ones of my own occupying every waking and sometimes non-waking hour of life.
So Daddy became a non-constant in our lives.
Within a year of Mother’s death, Daddy married Grandma Naomi.
Not the step-mother years by definition, but the non-years.
The expanding the miles years.
The growing apart years.
Then finally, the very-little-if-at-all years.
Not intentionally, but by osmosis.
After Naomi’s death in 2000, Daddy was ushered into the beginning of the being-cared-for years.
He outlived two wives by then, the first marriage lasted 41 years and the second, 17 years.
And it was time.
I think one reason that it was time was that so many other women, both in and out of wheelchairs and walkers were clamoring for his attention at the Skip-Bo tournaments. So my sister, Sharon and my best friend growing up, Brother-in-Law, Ray, had to rescue Daddy from the women’s tentacles.
And I think the last years of his life were also good for him.
He lived them, as he always had the previous 90 years, walking in the grace of God and always answering the phone with a, “Praise the Lord”.
Raymond Leroy Rhoades was a lot of things…
Army Air Corpsman
World War II Vet
Member of The Greatest Generation
Cafeteria Cook at Northwest Bible College
Bible Study Leader
Lover of Jesus
And he is gone now.
Mowing the emerald green grass next to golden streets. All of his toes have been restored. He doesn’t teeter on emaciated legs any longer. No more forgetting. Playing Skip-Bo with my Mother and Naomi and no doubt, several of the other of the gals.
And probably, if given a chance to work the switchboard of Heaven, answering the line with, “Praise the Lord”.
I love you, Daddy…