Daddy seems to be the preferred call sign of a southern father. You don’t hear Alabama ‘youngins’ calling their father, dad or father. The general characteristics of our Daddy depended upon which generation he belonged.
My recollection started with a few who were of the pre-World War II veteran generation—they were too old to get drafted or volunteer for the Second World War. Most of the ones I knew had been farmers, with a few cotton mill workers thrown in the mix, and a sizeable percentage had once nursed a moonshine still.
They all wore Liberty overalls, brogan shoes, and dipped snuff. Their headwear was a felt hat not a cap, most had two; a ‘Sunday-Go-To-Meeting Hat’ and a work hat which once lived for Sunday but now was well stained with sweat from hard labor in the Appalachian sun. It seemed the majority had no teeth and the ones who had a few were usually a little gnarly. The few that had dentures tended to keep them in a jar more than in their mouth.
Most of them had mellowed out by the time I was born so I can’t speak to what they were like in their youth but I know they were tough as pine knots and they knew how to work. They had raised a big family during the Great Depression and lived to tell about it.
This senior group of grandfathers usually went by granddaddy or Papa. Most of us grandkids simply called them Granddaddy or Papa when speaking directly to them but in talking to other people specified them with an added last name. So mine were Granddaddy Lee and Papa Whitt (even though I never knew my Papa Whitt). To a man, they all had a certain aura to us, the little baby boomers, because we gave them honor as to a king even though they wore faded denim and sweat stained-crowns.
As previously mentioned, I only knew my maternal granddaddy, Luke Lee, Sr. He was a big man with only a little band of hair around the sides of his head (in New York they called this a Caesar but we just said he was bald). He had little “learnin” as they would say—he could not read or write but could sign his name (my siblings and cousins might disagree but I saw him to do it once). He was a share-cropper all his life, worked some in a saw mill for fifty cents a day, and tried his hand at corn liquor. He was the father of fourteen children with one little Irish woman named Miranda Flanagan Lee. He didn’t know how to dial a phone but if you gave him a sack of seed and a mule he could raise a crop.
Then came along the Greatest Generation, the World War II veterans—the men who literally saved the world from monsters. These brave soldiers and sailors came home proud and with a dream for their children. They worked hard in stores, factories, and farms to give their children an opportunity to a better life in a better world they had secured by the hand of God.
My Daddy was of this strong group. In my mind they were a little more stoic than later generations of fathers, perhaps their experiences being raised during the Depression and fighting a cruel war framed their personalities. They rarely said, “I love you” but they showed it in their strong work ethic if you cared to notice. Most of the ones in this group that I knew were country boys who worked in factories. They treasured a steady paycheck after scraping out a living in ridge-land that grew more rocks than cotton. In those days, life revolved around Daddy as Mamma scheduled life by his work schedule.
We were fortunate that Daddy worked first shift. He came sliding into our gravel front yard around 4:00 PM and supper would be waiting on the table or almost done. My childhood memory reminds me, Mamma’s menu was more to Daddy’s ‘liking’ than to the kids. We learned to eat what Daddy liked—by the way, this has served me well in life because I will try almost anything. Supper was cornbread, peas or beans, some other vegetable like cabbage, squash, or corn. We usually had some type of meat but not always.
Occasionally, we would have a supper that was a throwback to poor Depression days when Mamma would prepare only cornbread, a big pot of turnip greens, and a sliced onion—it wasn’t that we could not afford more but this was all Daddy wanted so you ate your fill and didn’t complain. Mother could cook the best fried chicken, beef roast, country-fried steak, and catfish but the Whitt kids also learned the taste of rabbit, squirrel, quail, hog tongue, beef tripe, liver, hog brains with scrambled eggs, and an occasional snapping turtle, all because of Daddy.
My Daddy’s friends for the most part were war veterans. I quietly listened to many of their war stories on our front porch. My Daddy and his friends would tell and re-tell again what seemed like an adventure to me but it was their time in hell.
He told of coming home on a troop train from the west coast after fighting in Okinawa. With a sparkle in his eye, he recalled the first meal on the train when these victorious warriors were each served half of a chicken with sides. You could see that wonderful moment in his face as he re-told that story. In my mind’s eye, I could see his greasy lips as he ate that succulent chicken leaving only a pile of bones, wiping his mouth, and leaning back with joy in his heart that after going through hell, now he was finally going home to a wife and two small kids. Three other children would be born in those post war years of which I am the last.
I have turned up Sand Valley Road numerous times wondering how my Daddy must have felt when he returned from the War; riding in the back of an Attalla taxi making that last exciting three mile stretch to home. My sister tells of their reunion outside of the taxi with many hugs and kisses and how unselfish my Mamma was to let go of Daddy so his two little kids could get their turn too. Daddy had to apologize to driver for delaying his stay.
My Daddy began his life anew. He worked hard and steady building a life for us he never had. Daddy died seven months before Mamma; the early morning hour he died, my Mamma stood beside his bed and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to Jesus for living with a husband for 67 years in a happy and peaceful home. I followed him up Sand Valley road his last trip that way. I said the last words over his grave giving him his final discharge papers Home. Daddy, I’m glad you are finally Home. Thanks for traveling a gravel road to pave my way!
Harry L. Whitt