Today would've been Daddy's 87th birthday. I know that next week is Father's Day, but I felt I wanted to do a little tribute to him today, as well.
I write a lot about Mother. She was such a character that she makes for good (and loving) post-fodder. Daddy was more low-key. Unlike Mother, he didn't go around spouting Bible/Shakespeare verses, but he did have some fond speech interjections, like "Oh my aching back" and "Love you little, love you big, love you like a little pig."
He was more family-famous for breaking into song occasionally, though his - ahem! - singing voice came in for a lot of family ridicule. "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!," "This Old House," "Bushel and a Peck," "Suwanee River," and "Hey, Good Lookin'" were his all-time favorites, and whenever I hear any one of them now, I think of my daddy.
He was a lover of history and the literature of his youth, with a special affection for Robert Louis Stevenson. He must have learned A Child's Garden of Verses early on, because he could quote great swaths of some of the poems: "But every night I go abroad, afar into the land of Nod," "The friendly cow all red and white I love with all my heart," and "Now with my little gun I crawl all in the dark along the wall." ( I know that last one sounds dangerous, but it's just a little kid pretending before bedtime, while the dull old adults just sit around and read.) He could also launch into Longfellow with "Barefoot boy with cheeks of tan, blessings on thee, little man."
Daddy evidently excelled in Latin when he was in high school and always chided me for not taking it, feeling that it was an important foundation for someone who loved to write. Well, nobody took Latin when I was in high school (very uncool), but he was proud that granddaughter Kate did carry on the tradition when she reached her sophomore year. And yes, I do regret not taking Latin now.
Daddy loved us all like crazy and was always proud to have us tag along on his jaunts to Stone's Hardware or the Gulf station (Help Big Bro! I have completely forgotten the name of the gas-station guy; I can see his face as plain as day, though. Riley? Was that it?), where we'd get a treat of a Grapette soda. And he did all the grocery shopping; Mother hated grocery shopping and taught me that chore was a man's job. We chirruns were more than willing to pile into the car to help him out at the Red Food Store (which didn't sell red food exclusively, by the way). And by "help him out," I mean to coax him into buying Fritos and Sprite and the latest trendy cereal. Such a big food push-over!
Both my parents worked (outside the home, I mean). At home, Mother had the after-work day-jobs (all meals, laundry, general evening discipline), and Daddy had the night ones. He was the one who helped us get to sleep if we were finding it hard ("Your toes are going to sleep . . . Your knees are going to sleep. . ."), and he was the one who got up in the middle of the night if one of us got sick. The system seemed to work pretty well. There was never any doubt that the two of them were on the same team.
Diabetes and arthritis (which he called "Old Arthur") and rheumatiz got him down in his final years. But the real blow was the death of my brother David of pancreatic cancer in 1990. It tore him up that he couldn't protect one of us from something like that. So pain - all sorts - made him cranky and un-Daddy-like at the end. But none of us forgot the real guy who loved us. He died in 1999.
So Happy 87th Birthday, Newell Clayton Frazier. You were a great daddy, and you are sorely missed.
(The pictures? Daddy as a young sailor in the early 1940s, and a generational picture - Daddy with his mother, daughter, and granddaughter, 1985.)