A Southern Boy Turns 50

I wish I could remember the day my parents brought my brother home from the hospital, but I can’t. I was seventeen months old, and I was angry. According to Mother, I avoided her and wouldn’t talk to her when they came home. I’m not a silent-treatment kind of person, but apparently, I was then. My life had changed forever. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a change for the better. See slideshow:

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Today, that baby brother turns 50. I don’t want to embarrass him, but I do want to celebrate him.

Growing up, we were polar opposites. Mother used to say, “No matter how long you were outside…five minutes or two hours…you came back in clean, and he came back in dirty.” He was all boy…snakes, snails…you get the picture. I was all girl. He was always funny; I wasn’t so funny. I made mudpies, but he made mudpies to have a mud fight. I hated to get in trouble; he didn’t mind getting in trouble. I was a rule follower; he was a rule breaker. I evaluated situations before getting involved; he threw all caution to the wind. I wanted to do well on standardized tests; he wanted to make patterns with the dots on standardized tests.

When we were kids, Brother (I call him Brother, and he calls me Sister) loved playing outside. And I mean he loved it. He loved fishing, hunting, baseball, basketball, getting muddy, Tonka trucks in the dirt…if he could be outside, he was happy.  He was always athletic. I think he could ride a two-wheeled bicycle before he was three; the neighbors in Brewton were amazed. He played baseball with the older boys in the neighborhood. He fished in the neighborhood lake. When we moved to Spanish Fort, he would talk me into going through the bamboo to the creek behind our house…where I once saw a gigantic rattlesnake swim past; I ran home and never went back after that, but he did. I would still venture into the bamboo with him, so he could show me green snakes eating frogs or black snakes slithering by, but I didn’t go back to the creek.

Daddy spent countless hours throwing a baseball with my left-handed brother. Oh, I was so jealous that he was left-handed; it got so much attention. We all had fun together, but Brother and Daddy were a team. They were both funny and appreciated each other’s humor, but Daddy was more serious and cautious than Brother.

Because he has always been adventurous and funny, there are stories. Oh, the stories! One of my favorites is about a phone call Daddy received one night when Brother was in ninth grade. It was from a teacher whose class I had been in two years before, Coach Long. I had always behaved very nicely in his class. And then along came Brother. That night, Daddy picked up the phone, and Coach Long said, “Mr. Parmer, I sure hated to have to call you.” I’m sure they exchanged pleasantries before Coach Long told him the purpose of the call. “Mr. Parmer, your son is a leader, but he’s leading my class in the wrong direction (emphasis on the first syllable..DI-rection).” Uh-oh. Uh, yeah…. Brother was in big trouble. Apparently, he had been quite the class clown during Coach Long’s class. For the rest of the school year, I had to visit Coach Long every two weeks and ask him if Brother was behaving correctly. He would laugh, and I would too, but Brother behaved well for the rest of the school year, and he and Coach Long developed a mutual respect for each other…later becoming friends.

When Brother was 14, Mother drove past a local church and saw Brother driving a friend’s car…doing doughnuts in the parking lot. When she asked him about it later, he told her everything was under control…he knew how to drive…at 14. Apparently, he had been driving a friend’s car…frequently…big trouble. Another time, after he could drive legally, he and a friend drove a truck into a construction site. It was a weekend, so no one was there. They drove the truck down a steep loose-dirt hill and then couldn’t drive it out. Daddy borrowed a truck with a winch to pull them out…more trouble…and a lecture about responsibility and self control. “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.” I know about the lecture, because I sat quietly at the top of the stairs and listened.

Brother is a lot of fun, with a contagious laugh and a sometimes warped sense of humor.   But Brother’s not all fun and games. He’s a licensed airplane pilot and skilled boat captain. He’s strong in a crisis. He helps folks on a regular basis and expects nothing in return. Over the years, he has helped stranded motorists on interstates and back roads; helped people move; and more. When we were young, we looked out for each other and felt each other’s pain. If someone slammed Brother’s fingers in a door, I cried. Mother told people when we were little that if something happened to her, since Daddy traveled with work, my 17-months younger brother would take care of me. We’ve been through life together. We’ve lost both parents together. Everyone else may not get us, but we get us. We are connected.  All his humor hides a big heart.

That class clown is all grown up now; he’s still an overgrown little boy, but he’s 50. He has a beautiful wife; two handsome, smart sons; and three awesome bonus sons. I’m lucky he’s my brother. Have there been times I’ve wanted to wring his neck? Yes. Have there been times I’ve needed his support? Yes. Now that both our parents are gone, we know it’s even more important to support each other. We talk almost every day  and often call each other with silly trivia questions.

I’m lucky my parents brought that baby home 50 years ago. Happy Birthday, Brother!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remembering Daddy

With Father’s Day approaching, I’m thinking about Daddy. His grandchildren called him Big Ken. He has been gone now for 12 years. Pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

We will order new flowers for my parents’ gravesite. I’m not big on visiting cemeteries. Never have been. Daddy was a good cemetery visitor. I don’t know if it made him feel closer to his parents, or if he did it as a sense of duty, but he was good about visiting cemeteries. My brother is good about it too.

It’s not that our family ever made a big deal about Father’s Day. My parents always said they should give us (children) gifts at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They didn’t give us gifts, but it was their way of saying they were happy to be our parents.

If Daddy were here now, he’d say the same thing again.

But he’s not here. I’ve said before Daddy was funny and charming. He could also read people very well. When we were in a group somewhere, he knew if someone looked uncomfortable, and he would try to bring them into the fold. He was good like that.

I got my love of sports from my parents. My daddy liked all kinds of competition, and he always believed second place was just the first loser. We spent a lot of time watching sports on television, and it wasn’t unusual for us to attend sporting events whether we knew participants or not. When I was a little girl, we would go to minor league baseball games, high school indoor track meets, football games…any sporting events. There were even times we would be driving down the road, and he would see information about a sporting event…and of course, we went. I sat outside at a lot of hot baseball games in Alabama.

I really think basketball was his favorite, though. He was tall, and he had played basketball in high school. He understood the game, and he loved watching college basketball. I don’t remember watching a lot of professional basketball, but we watched a lot of college games on television. In a state devoted to football, my daddy loved NCAA Tournament time.

We also watched a lot of Atlanta Braves games and Chicago Cubs games. WTBS, also known as Superstation TBS, at the time was owned by Ted Turner, who also owned the Braves, so they broadcast their games. In fact, we knew a lot about the players, coaches, the announcer, and the team, because they were on television all the time.  While I enjoy baseball, as a teen, I mostly enjoyed looking at some of the cute players. When the Braves played the Dodgers, I tuned in to watch Steve Sax, who was quite the looker, but Daddy thought he was a terrible second baseman. He might even be the player about whom Daddy once said, “He has messed up second base so badly that no one will ever be able to play it.” Cubs games were broadcast on WGN, so we knew all the Cubs too. This was before Wrigley Field had lights, so all their games were day games. Often, there would be a Cubs game on our TV in the afternoon, followed by a Braves game in the evening.Good times. Daddy loved it. Our summer is all planned out, but next year, I’m taking my daughter to a Braves or Cubs game.

Daddy also loved wordplay and trivia. He was a walking wealth of useless knowledge like me and my brother. We know all kinds of stuff that doesn’t matter one bit, till someone asks a question like, “On The Andy Griffith Show, who took care of Opie before Aunt Bee moved in?” The answer there is Rose. All that trivial knowledge comes in handy sometimes, though…I’ve bonded with lots of good folks over trivial information.

In the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, when Regis Philbin hosted it, Daddy and I loved watching it when I visited. We were watching together when the first big winner answered the winning question: Which of these US Presidents appeared on the television series “Laugh-In”? The answer, of course, was Nixon, and Daddy and I both knew it…because, well…useless trivial knowledge.

There was always a dictionary around, because we loved talking about words. I remember quizzing each other on the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and root words when I was growing up. We were weird, but honestly, that silly game we played probably helped me on standardized tests.

Daddy was a good storyteller too. We loved hearing stories of his childhood, because he was born in the 1930s, and the world made some huge leaps in technology and everyday life between the 1930s and the 2000s. He grew up in the Florida panhandle, a rural area, so his childhood had been very different from ours. He told stories of telephone numbers that started with community names…like “Greenwood 368,” and having to ask the operator to connect them instad of dialing the number.

And there were always stories of “ice cream on a stick,” Eskimo Pie to you and me. When he was a little boy, you could buy “ice cream on a stick” for a nickel at the local store. Often, Daddy didn’t have a nickel, so he was out of luck. As an adult, any time he found a nickel on the ground, he would comment on how that would have bought an ice cream on a stick when he was a child. He remembered where he came from. Therefore, when his grandchildren visited, he always shared ice cream on a stick or popsicles with them. It would have brought him great joy as a child to have it, and as an adult, it brought him great joy to watch his grandchildren enjoy it.

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At some point in his youth…I’m not sure of the age…maybe in high school…he worked at a full-service gas station, so he made sure I knew to tip the attendants when I stopped at one. He also made sure I knew about cars…how to check the oil, tire pressure, water levels, and how to correct all that if needed.

When I lived near my parents, I tried to visit them every Sunday evening. We would have dinner, and before I would go back to Mobile, Daddy would have to check my car. Interestingly, he seemed to always wait till I was walking out the door to leave. He would grab his tire gauge and a paper towel and walk out to my car. He had to check the tire pressure, and he always had to check the oil and water levels. Back then, I would get aggravated that he was slowing down my departure. I would wonder aloud to Mother, “Why does he always wait till I’m ready to go?” Now, though, I look at it differently. He was in no hurry to see me drive away. I smile thinking about it now.

And before I drove away, he always made sure to take me hand and press some money into it. Sometimes it was a $20 bill…sometimes more, but he always wanted to make sure I had “WAM”…walking around money. He continued that tradition with my nephews as well, and when they were really little, they knew he always had toys in the trunk of his car. Of course, Mother had helped him pick them out, but Big Ken got all the credit. He found so much joy in seeing them run to the trunk of the car, and then watching their little faces light up.

I also smile thinking about how he would love that I am growing tomatoes this year. He loved a tomato sandwich as much as anybody does. There are quite a few on my tomato plants now…they should ripen next month, “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And if I get the opportunity to cut a giant red tomato off the vine, when I cut into it, I will think of my daddy and smile.

My daughter would have enjoyed being around my daddy. He died just before her third birthday, so she doesn’t really remember him. She was crazy about him, and he was crazy about her. He always had a way with kids. My nephews were eight years old when we lost Daddy, and they were heartbroken when he passed. In his retirement, he had loved spending time with them…scavenger hunts, dinners, playing baseball in the yard…good times.img_7188

If he were here now, he’d be proud of all of them…and he’d be proud my brother and I look out for each other.

We miss him, and we will honor his memory this Father’s Day. I’m going out to buy a box of Eskimo Pies, and we will all sit out on the patio Sunday afternoon and enjoy our “ice cream on a stick” in memory of Big Ken.