Darrell Huckaby - 02/20/09

For years February was most notable to me because I had learned in first grade that's when a lot of famous people had their birthdays. Most notable among them were Abraham Lincoln, who has gotten a lot of press lately, and George Washington, the father of our country. And then, 21 years ago, we buried my own father in February, and my perspective changed considerably. Now when the third week of our shortest month rolls around, my thoughts turn to him.

It's funny what you remember about a person once they are gone. It's not always the biggest things that make the biggest impression, and when I think about my daddy it is the little things that come to mind. I think about the way he drove a car, for instance. I guess I paid close attention to what he was doing because it certainly made a huge impression. He was always proud of the fact that he drove Buicks - used Buicks, to be sure, but Buicks, nonetheless - with power steering. Power steering was not necessarily a common commodity, understand, back in the 1950s, and Daddy would turn the wheel hand-over-hand as he rounded a sharp turn and then let it sort of slide through his fingers as the car straightened itself out, causing the ridges on the steering wheel to make a click-click-click sound against his wedding ring.

I often wonder what my daddy would think about the cars of today and all the gadgets and gizmos and bells and whistles that come standard. I think he would be pretty impressed, but I can almost guarantee that we'd never see him driving down the road talking on a cell phone. He might drive toward Florida at 75 mph drinking moonshine whiskey from a Dixie cup, but he would insist that driving while on a cell phone is dangerous.

My daddy taught Sunday school forever in the Julia A. Porter Methodist Church - the Gleaner Class - and I would often sneak out of my own class early and slip in the back door of his classroom, just to listen to him. He kept one hand in his pocket, fiddling with his change, as he taught, and sort of rocked back and forth at his podium - but he had a wonderful voice and told the old, old stories of the Bible with humor, and a certain clarity that escapes most people. I have heard enough people tell the same stories to know.

I often remember watching him empty his pockets when he came home from an eight-hour shift at the mill. He was a weave shop supervisor, which meant he had a lot more headaches than the normal employee for not that much more money. He always carried a pocketknife - a very thin one - and a whetstone and a pick-glass. A pick-glass is a little fold-up contraption with a square magnifying lens that is used for examining the filament in a piece of cloth. In his other pocket he carried a bit of change. He always wore starched white shirts with two pockets. In one he wore a pocket protector and kept a collection of pens and pencils and a small notebook which was always filled with calculations and names and phone numbers and remarks about his day. In the other were, unfailingly, the Winston cigarettes that would one day kill him.

Homer Huckaby - that was my father's name - had many talents, but the ones I remember were quite simple. He could blow his fists, for example, and wiggle his ears, either one or both. I have spent hours and hours and hours trying to master that skill with no luck whatsoever. He could also pat his head and rub his stomach at the same time and then reverse tactics in mid-rub. Don't laugh if you haven't tried it. It's harder than it sounds.

It was my father who taught me to read, long before I darkened the door of a schoolhouse, and it was him who taught me to love books - and to love newspapers. I was raised in a four-room mill village house and we didn't have an indoor bathroom until I was in the fifth grade, but we always had books in the house and we had a newspaper delivered to the front door every morning. He and I would sit at the kitchen table - him sipping coffee, me sipping Sealtest milk, from a coffee cup, turned chocolate through the magic of Bosco syrup - reading the events of the day.

We started with the sports pages and then went to the editorial and opinion columns before taking a look at the front page headlines. Only after digesting the "important stuff" would we turn to the funnies. I guess they are called comic strips today - Snuffy Smith, The Phantom, Peanuts, They'll Do It Every Time.

Twenty-one years. Time flies. I wonder how many years it takes before I stop missing him. Thank goodness for the memories. They truly are precious, and how they do linger.

Darrell Huckaby