Celebrating Daddy

 

Kay Harper 

 

© Copyright 2019 by Kay Harper 

 
          

 

Photo of Kay's Daddy.


Father’s Day – June 17, 2018.

Today, I’m honoring my father not only due to the fact that it’s Father’s Day, but because it’s also the 102nd anniversary of his birth! We lost him in his 76th year, but time has not diminished the profound influence he had on the lives of my two older brothers and me. He was an original through and through, and he taught us to be originals, too!

Norman Lee Harper was raised in the town of Charleston in southeast Missouri’s Bootheel region—bordered by the Mississippi River. He grew up during the Depression with a father who had a hard time making a living and a sweet and beloved, salt-of-the-earth mother. Daddy had fond memories of walking around the town at Christmastime, pulling a little wagon with his mother’s popular and delicious fruitcake. He loved going door to door with her as they peddled it. Sadly, she died when he was only 14. I don’t think he ever got over that loss. Fortunately, his mother had four sisters and five brothers (together with their wives) who took turns doting on their favorite sister’s only son.

Daddy was fascinated with electronics, and knew more about radios as a teenager than anyone in town. He spent four years in the Navy during WWII as an electronics instructor in Chicago and San Francisco, but his home was always Charleston. In 1945, he met my mother. Legend has it that they were both at a blood bank. (Donating blood was a crucial way to support the troops in those days.)

Moma was tired from her busy day, so she sat down and put her feet up on the coffee table between them—leaving her donor card on the table. Daddy walked over looked at the card which had only her name on it, so, he asked, “What’s the rest of it?” Moma says she snapped, “It’s in the phone book if you’re interested. Look it up.” Well, he did, because when she got home that night the phone was ringing. Five months later they were married!

They returned to Charleston to settle down and raise a family. Daddy continued with his work in electronics, and was the TV, radio and stereo wizard of the town. He had a loud-speaker system that he anchored to his truck—riding around the town during elections to get out the vote. He was the announcer for Charleston Blue Jay Football for years. His speakers came in handy as he organized every parade in our small town.

One of the annual highlights of our young lives was the summertime fun of our family vacations. One year we had a snowball fight in July on top of Pike’s Peak. Then, we witnessed a mountain goat standing high up on Mount Rushmore in George Washington’s eye! On still another trip we rode on the backs of Oklahoma’s giant turtles.

When you’re young you don’t really put grown-up plans together. Years later Moma told me that they couldn’t afford to give us a “big” vacation every year, so they’d take us to The Ozarks every other year. It was only about 250 miles from our hometown, but it was chocked full of wonderful fun. We roamed around in the hills, hit Eureka Springs and yummy Cedar Grill in Mountain Home, stopped to see how glass was blown, ate and ate, rode paddleboats, ate some more and swam in a giant pool in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It had long rope that you could swing on—letting go over the water for a big splash down.

But no matter where our final destination happened to be, we usually started our trips with a visit to Chicago—my mother’s hometown. In later years I realized that this destination was my parents’ “City of Romance” because they had met, courted and married there.

Chicago was an exhilarating place—especially for kids from a small town! Every time we went to that big city we’d stay in the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue and eat at George Diamonds (a first-class steakhouse with flaming grills all around.) We’d also visit Moma’s sister, Aunt Marge, and her three boys. One day was always set aside for what became a tradition in our family. My brothers would pal around with our cousins, and Moma and Aunt Marge would head off to that giant department store, Marshall Field’s, so she could study the latest fashions and get ideas for her sewing. Most importantly, she could get sweet tooth satisfied with Frango Mints!
Meanwhile Daddy and I would go down to the multi-leveled,                   ever-showering Buckingham Fountain, smack dab in the middle of         Grant Park—the vast expanse of green that was nestled between             Chicago’s mighty skyscrapers and its watery border, Lake Michigan.       There, we’d share our favorite pastime—watching people and making     up stories about them.

Daddy could be amazingly accurate. Like the time he said, “See that     man over there—the one with the gray hair, holding a pink rose,” he     paused to give me time to spy the guy.

Got him!” I squealed.

I’ll bet he’s waiting for his high school sweetheart. See, they married other people a long time ago and have been separated for many years. But both of their mates have died now, and they’ve decided to meet because, secretly, they never stopped loving each other.”

Taught by the master himself, I threw in, “And during their phone conversation to set up this meeting she told him she’d be wearing a pink dress. That’s why his rose is pink!” We laughed and waited patiently.

Sure enough, ten minutes later, a woman with silver hair tied up in a neat bun, wearing a pale pink dress entered the fountain area. When the man saw her coming in the distance he began to move quickly toward her. When they finally met they stood for several minutes staring at one another, then they talked for a few minutes before falling into each other’s arms.

 Daddy laughed and slapped his knee. “What did I tell you?” Then he added, “And look,” he said proudly, “she has on a pink dress just like you said!”

Some of our stories were brief, some went on and on, but all were affectionate homespun creations that kept us entertained. I can think of no greater gift a parent can give to a child than the desire to cultivate their imagination. So, I celebrate you today, Daddy, and thank you with all my heart. I am a storyteller today because you took great delight in sharing your passion for spinning yarns with me.

Contact Kay

(Please type author's name
in the subject line of the message.)

Story list and biography for Kay

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher