Character - the inherent complex of attributes that determine a persons moral and ethical actions and reactions; good repute.
My Father was a simple man. He rose early in the morning. He loved the solitude of the morning, my mother and the three of us kids still asleep. He would make his breakfast and wake whoever needed to be awakened and head to work at the Feed Store he owned and operated.
The morning of January 21, 1965, my father woke me up to get ready for work, and left for work. That was the last time I would ever see him alive. I was 18 and had no idea how old 61 was. I had no idea he could just fall over and die, like he did. I was 18, I had no idea how much I loved and needed him. Today, forty years later, I still need him and realize how much I miss and love him.
He was a simple man. Simple values. He had a family to support. It was a family that he got late in life because he and my mother had taken care of both of her parents in their home. At 45 they adopted me, and then four years later adopted two girls, my older sisters.
He worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. I got to know my father as much as I did by working with him. He had an employee to help him run the store but until the day he died, there in his store, he worked waiting on customers and hauling feed. He taught me the honor of honest work, with both his words and his actions.
He told me that any honest work was honorable. I learned to enjoy work. He said that a job worth doing was worth doing right. He said those things and he lived those things.
He taught me how a businessman should be. He showed me how to weight bulk feed, always in exact measures and always round up fractional charges. That is what he tried to teach me, but I watched him put a little extra in the sack because the customer was going to loose some in the bottom, and he never rounded up charges. I learned what he did, not what he said, and am glad of it. We ate not because he was a good businessman, but because he was a good man.
When customers couldn’t pay for feed he bartered so they could keep their dignity and continue feeding their animals. He would take chickens, calves, or produce for feed. We had fresh eggs from the Chickens, Fresh Beef from the calves he raised to cows, and fresh vegetables. I learned how when people work together as a community all people fare better.
On Sunday we would take county drives from time to time. Dad liked to see all the livestock. When he would see an animal poorly taken care of, he would get so upset. When I was a teen my Father bought me registered Angus heifer calf for me to raise. I mostly took care of it and learned to clean out a barn after a cow. We bred the cow and she had a male calf. In all this I learned to respect all life and to love the stages of life. Farm country on a summer morning is one of my favorite things. I learned to tell the smells of different animals as I drive through that country.
When I wanted to do what “all the other kids were doing” he taught me that right is what is right not what is popular. He taught me honesty is always the best policy, even when no one knew if you were being dishonest. He taught me that being honest with ones self is where honesty begins.
In the 1950’s Alvin was a segregated town. On Saturdays the black people would walk down the railroad track to do their shopping in town. They would then walk back. In the heat of the summer they would come by my fathers feed store and rest on his side feed dock. It was one of the few places that they could rest. One of these Saturdays my Dad took me in the office and gave me money to take next door to the local café to buy some cigarettes.
Now today that might not seem much, but my Father did not smoke, nor did my mother, or any one I knew. I knew that my parents did not want me smoking, so the look on my face when my Dad asked me to do this must have been of one of question. My dad told me to just go buy them and he would explain later. Later he explained that one of his black customers who was resting waiting to go walk home could not go into the café and buy the cigarettes. He taught me what even benign racism was. He also taught me that one could respect people of all colors and faiths, by just not giving into racism or bigotry. The “N” word was never used in our house.
Also he taught me not to judge others. Just because a person does something that I do not believe in does not mean that I have to enforce my values on them. So cigarettes were purchased, I understood our values not to smoke, and learned that others have rights to make their own choice.
My father was the Treasurer of our Church. We went to Church every Sunday. He taught Sunday School from time to time. He slept during the sermon with regularity. He loved to sing, but could not carry a tune. The first Sunday after his death people who always sat in the area my dad did remarked how they missed his joyous off key singing.
I do not know how he felt about Jesus and God. We never talked about it. I just knew we never ate with out a blessing. We always prayed before we went on a car trip. I knew he rarely cursed (he said “Damn it” once when he hit his finger with a hammer, and for some reason said “Piss” once.). He did not drink Alcohol. He did not smoke. He was faithful to my mother in such a physical and emotional way that even when he was not around her you felt it. He adored her and placed a protective zone around her.
For years after he died people would come to me when they realized I was his son and tell me a kindness that he had done them that no one but he and they knew about. I saw some of that but most was done in secret. Allowing people to keep their dignity was a priority for my father.
When he died there was standing room only in the Church during the funeral. Our Church sat 1100. The procession of cars to the Cemetery stretched at least three miles. A separate memorial service was held at the Black Church in Alvin.
My Father was not the only man of Character in his time. That was how men were measured back then, at least in Alvin. While he was unusual in his humility and kindness, his values were the norm.
Forty years later, few people remember my father. Alvin has grown and two generations have past into twilight.
We seem to forget what it means to have Character as well. The truth is negotiable. Honor can be bought. Dignity is based on net worth. We talk about values today and they are generally served with a large slice of judgment.
I miss my father, today and everyday.