Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day we lost my father. Friday, June 25, 1993 perpetuated untold grief, but also has become a pivotal moment that marked a defining crossroads in my life. I wrote this over 20 years ago after visiting my father’s home town and seeing the house in which he grew up. It was my first Family Reunion and the old homestead stirred memories of stories he told about growing up.)
I was as reflective as cautious stepping gingerly through the waist-high Mississippi grass. A journey of not more than a few feet seemed like eternity. But, alas, there I stood. The old place, now little more than a shadowy likeness, cowered among the trees as if sheltering some long-forgotten memory. I gazed in awe as I tried to imagine a Great-grandfather I never met, rocking back and forth on the porch and reminiscing aloud; my father sitting transfixed at his feet. I peeped inside this old shack and could see my Great Grandmother, a full blooded Black Foot Indian, toiling over a wood burning stove, the house bursting with the smell of biscuits, gravy, ham and eggs as she pushed back waist-length, coal-black hair from her face. So, this is where my father was reared.
WORLD WAR II
My father was a World War II veteran who did factory work, but had attended trade school to learn brick masonry and carpentry. He and my mother moved the family to Hart, Michigan in 1966 because they wanted to rear their children in a safer environment. My oldest brother and I hated it! But, I guess they got a pretty good deal on the 88 acres of land, and it was always my father’s dream to own land. So, here we were living in the country and dealing with culture shock!
Those who knew him would find it difficult to believe he was a quiet man…guarded, seldom expressing his emotions, yet straightforward, engaging and humorous. While I am told that my level of intelligence comes from my mother, I got my sense of humor and straightforward demeanor from my father. Don’t get me wrong, my mother can make me laugh without even trying, but my Dad was known for his sense of humor. He was a real crusader, too. After we moved there, he became involved with the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians and was instrumental in acquiring the first low-income housing project in Oceana County. He was always into something like that! My Mother still has copies of newspaper clippings from it! They had some pretty prominent dignitaries at the groundbreaking ceremonies!
FULFILLING HIS DREAM
Daddy placed a strong emphasis on education and dreamed of having all his children with college degrees. To my mind, it was a given that I would go to college, though I didn’t feel any particular pressure to do so. When I dropped out, I had nightmares about it for years. They went away after I finally received my bachelor’s degree 21 years after I graduated from high school. When people ask about why I went back to school, I just tell them it was a spiritual mandate; unfinished business with God, so to speak. But, as I would soon learn, it was more than that.
I HAD NO IDEA
Ten days before he died in his sleep, my father had a long conversation with my husband about things weighing heavily on his heart. I later learned that during that conversation he told my husband that if anybody would “do it” I would be the one. Though we had once been very close, that closeness was broken when I became pregnant during my first semester in college. I thought he had given up on his dreams for me. So, it was a touching and pivotal moment in my life to know that in spite this, he still held on to the dream. It’s as if he held my very destiny in his heart and wouldn’t let it go. From that moment on I was on a mission.
I have now earned my masters degree [and I will have my doctorate within a few months]. In my acceptance speech, I honored my father looking up to heaven and ending it with, “I did it, Daddy. Daddy, this is for you.”
There is an image of him I can’t cut loose. I remember him being sick one morning. I heard him in the bathroom throwing up. He went to work anyway, as he did every morning of my childhood. Sick and all. Up at 5 out the house by 6 without fail. It’s this memory that drove me on through the hard times of discouragement when I wanted to give up. And, I’ll never forget how, instead of discouraging my participation in various high school contests because I was the only African American, he said, “Linda. Because you’re Black you have to be twice as good as the next guy to get the same recognition as he would.” He never took the negative or inferior stance because he didn’t want me to be ashamed of my race—of who I am.
So, as I stood on the grounds of my father’s birthplace, I couldn’t get over the fact that though to any passerby it was just an old run-down shack, for me it symbolized the beginnings of all that I am. It stood for a history never to be lost as long as his memory resounds in my soul. Most importantly, though, it epitomized a faded picture of a childhood; the early beginnings of the man I call, Daddy.