Quiet Desperation

Stolid, solid, dearly missed — happy birthday, Dad

Posted

My father was born 100 years ago today as I write this.

There hasn’t been a day since he died in 2008 that I haven’t thought about him, and more this day than usual simply because of the anniversary. Doing so, something occurred to me that has never occurred to me before.

Harry Earl Smith wasn’t philosophical.

I’m philosophical about everything from breakfast cereals to dime store parakeets.

He accepted and dealt with whatever was in front of him, and left it at that.

I don’t know where that attribute comes from. I sure don’t have it.

He was born in Flint, Mich., left the University of Michigan to enlist, captained and piloted a B-17 on 30 (thirty) missions, returned and started a family.

My father finished his degree in 1949 and later in life took night classes at Fullerton Junior College in southern California.

He worked in a spark plug factory in Flint after the war, then sold cars, and eventually became a regional sales manager for Hoover Ball and Bearing.

His transfers and promotions meant I attended seven schools in four states within eight years. Lots of geography and abbreviated friendships.

His preference was Republican.

He didn’t give me guns on my birthdays: He gave books instead.

He rarely swore, unless Ohio State intercepted. He never yelled at me or my mother, or talked salaciously about women.

He motivated me by example and not with the broken-record yammering of a motivational speaker.

He never missed a day of work because of illness, and never brought home a paper clip that didn’t belong to him.

He wasn’t flawless and his marriage wasn’t perfect. He married his high school sweetheart in 1943, and they spent the next 64 years with each other. How? Why?

It wasn’t Nick and Nora.

They bickered, argued, and balked. Watching it was difficult. I’ve wondered if their contentious relationship discouraged me from marrying.

He was constantly reading something. It seemed like he read every sentence in two daily newspapers. His library was all nonfiction.

Would you want to know someone if they weren’t your father, brother, sister, or aunt?

I think that’s a very good test.

I have answers for all of my relatives and I’m guessing you have answers for yours. I wish Harry were my next door neighbor right now.

My father was liked by everyone who met him. He was genial, kind, witty, was never loud or obnoxious, didn’t brag, or high-five.

Guy de Maupassant (1850-93) said, “Memory gives back life to those who no longer exist.”

I often have dreams about my father and actually look forward to them. The dreams don’t make any sense and none take place anywhere we lived, but I always welcome “seeing” him again.

I had an after-school pass in high school and I’d hole up in the art room without telling my mother. She would send my father to the school to bring me home. I can still hear his Florsheim footsteps in the hall. It didn’t happen all the time and when it did he never scolded me.

A left-brained, conservative businessman had a kid who found poetic meanings in smudged charcoal. How did I get so lucky?

Unlike him, I’m endlessly philosophical about it.

And as grateful as can be.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

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