I barely knew my father until after my mom died. She was such a strong personality that he seldom voiced an opinion around her, unless it was to agree with her. I had grown up thinking that my dad didn't have opinions about anything. Imagine my surprise when shortly after she died, he began talking and didn't stop until he got very ill.
Daddy was a laborer; a jack of all trades and master of a few. For most of his life, he worked for Union Carbide, as a maintenance foreman, doing all sorts of repair jobs involving rivets, hammers, drills, screwdrivers, wiring, painting, plumbing, rigging, and you name it - he probably did it. He was always the first man to agree to work overtime, especially on holidays because it meant double time and a half pay. His goal was to make as much money as he could for my mom and me. I don't think he knew how much I would have liked him to be home on Christmas morning when we opened presents, or to be with us at church on Easter and Father's Day. He had a singular goal, and come hell or high water, he was going to do it.
Everything he did at work, he also did at home. His weekends (if he was not at Carbide) consisted of him checking out the whole house and yard and doing or planning to do what needed doing. We never had to hire a company to fix the plumbing or replace an electrical outlet or paint the house or mow the lawn. If there was no maintenance needed at the house, he spent his time cleaning and rearranging his tools to ready them for the next job. He climbed onto my roof to vent my dryer when he was 78, and painted his 2-storey home when he was 80. He was about 85 years old when he finally had to admit he couldn't keep up the pace anymore. Union Carbide had a lot of asbestos fibers floating around in the air, and over the years they deposited in my dad's lungs. He also smoked unfiltered Camels for many years, so that took its toll as well. His lungs and eventually his heart gave out and he died at age 91. I was on my way to Charleston when he died. That was over 10 years ago, and I still feel cheated that I didn't get to see him one last time. I hope he knew that I was on my way, even if I didn't get there in time.
His funeral was a revelation to me. There were almost 500 people there; men he had worked with, former neighbors, his fellow Masons and Shriners and Eastern Stars and many people from our church. It seems funny now that as a child (and even as a young woman) I had no idea he had made that much of an impact on people. He used to joke that he was so old, there would be no one left to attend his funeral. He was so wrong about that. Person after person came up to tell me what a wonderful man my dad had been, and I was surprised. I knew he was wonderful - but I had no idea everyone else knew it too. He and mom adopted me at birth. Little did I know how lucky I was. You are sadly missed, Daddy!