Storytelling with Dad

Stories from Dad continue. I find myself needing to have paper and pen handy so I don’t forget to write the nuggets down.

In the early 70s, Dad took a gig during his summer break from teaching in Oregon City to plant trees in the Mt. Hood National Forest. When he showed up, the Forest Ranger, an old friend, put him on a “hippie” crew run by a seasonal male “hippie.” Three of the eight-hippie crew were “hippie chicks” whose tree planting uniform consisted of shorts and halter tops. Not long into the planting session, the females dispensed with the tops and the males removed their shirts, too. Dad stayed fully clothed and was working with his usual determination, when the crew leader came up to him and said, “You need to slow down. We don’t work that fast.”

Dad laughed when he told me this. “It was the 70s! They worked pretty well, but so damn slow.”

During his high school days in Searcy, Arkansas, in 1949/50, he had a beloved English teacher named Miss Thornton, a sort of Emily Dickson, spinster-like educator, who required memorization of poems and taught proper grammar with the same zeal and discipline as Scrooge counted money before the ghosts wised him up.

Dad had Miss Thornton for two periods of English a day and what he most remembered about her was her habit of sipping sherry from a little silver flask stashed in a drawer of her desk.

What? Sherry! At her desk? During class!

I told him this was impossible to believe but he said he witnessed it for himself!

For the sheer helluva of it, I googled Miss Thornton and Arkansas, and sure enough, there she was as were some comments of how demanding she was with the poems and grammar.

Finally, he told me an interesting story of his military service as a combat marine in Korea. One day, two men from some investigative unit of the military or CIA or whatever, showed up at his tent to ask him about his step mother’s parents, who hailed from Russia. He had mentioned it in his enlistment papers and somehow much later, it raised a warning light with some bureaucrat and here the two men were, trying to determine if Dad was some kind of spy or traitor or whatever. It was the Cold War after all, and the age of McCarthyism.

We closed this storytelling session with some poetry and he ripped out some Blake and Tennyson and the insights were more relevant today than they probably were when they were written hundreds of years ago. It must be something special to write a poem or song that is eternal with its insights.