Conversations with my Father

by cindy

I don’t go home to visit my father very often. I’m not particularly proud of this but I  have to be satisfied with whatever time my life allows. Our days are ridiculously busy—a fact that, quite frankly, surprises me. I suppose the explanation for this is fairly simple: I just cannot pack into each day the amount of “stuff” I once found manageable. My vision of being of a certain age was a life paced more slowly, certainly a life with more time for leisure pursuits, and, possibly, less cooking…

Ah, well…

One of the last times Dear Dave and I visited Dad, we brought a box filled with very old family photos. Together, we spent an entire afternoon perusing each faded black and white image, studying them with an old magnifying glass. For a man who cannot remember what he ate an hour before, Dad gleefully shared memories triggered by the photographs. It was one of the most enjoyable visits we had had in a very long time. And the stories he shared were time capsules of his life. Here are a couple of those stories with some memories of my own tucked in for good measure…

The Mighty Buick

These are photographs of my dad’s father or, more accurately, my dad’s father’s car. In the first one, Pops is seen standing in the middle of some road while Mom-mom, visible in her white cloche, is on the other side of the car. Dad didn’t remember who took the photo—or why—but he was fairly certain that Mom-mom, his mother, was standing beside the car, taking a pee.

This is very likely. I remember as a child, sitting beside my grandmother during one of our excruciatingly long family trips to Ocean City, Md. Upon my request for some chewing gum, she opened her mammoth purse pocketbook to search for some Wrigleys. Crammed amongst the gum packets, tissues, coins, and lipsticks were no less than three rolls of toilet paper. When it came to roadside necessity-stops, that woman was prepared.

Another photograph shows the car loaded with bundles of gear. Dad remembered this photo being taken as the family headed off for a camping trip sometime during the Depression. I imagine my grandmother had a pocketbook stuffed with toilet paper even then.

Because the car looked old and to me an old car is a Model T, I asked Dad for confirmation of that. “No! That’s not a Model T. A Model T is a Ford! That’s a Buick! My father only ever bought Buicks!

Of course it was a Buick. I remember now, painfully. Sunday afternoons with my grandparents: My sister and I, old enough to spend the weekend away from the rest of our family, were privy to the “Great American Sunday Afternoon Grandparent Experience”. Sitting together (carseat-less, safety belt-less) in the back seat of whatever Buick they currently owned, we were taken on delightful excursions called the Sunday Drive. Windows rolled up tight (no drafts allowed–nor fresh air), winding back country roads (great for the car-sick one—me), sun beating in through those smokey, dusty windows, and my grandfather at the wheel puffing merrily away on his pipe.  I turn twenty-two shades of green just conjuring the memory.

Moving on,

We found this photo:

Graduation gift for dental school 1939

That’s my dad’s older brother in a car, which I suppose is also a Buick. Uncle Ted was given the car in 1939 as a gift for his dental school graduation. Learning this begged the question,

“Dad,” I asked, “Did you get a car when you graduated from medical school?” His answer was swift and sure, “No! No, I certainly did not!…Do you think it’s too late for me to ask?”

Uh, yes.

The Preacher’s Daughter

My dad was raised in a little house in Lost Creek, WV, a tiny farming community with nary a stop sign, let alone a traffic signal, at least not until I had married and moved away. Directly across the road from my grandparents’ house is the house owned by the local Methodist Church. It is in this house that the pastors and their families lived while being assigned to the church, which, as it happens, is directly behind my grandparents’ house. No matter which door you opened, you couldn’t avoid being reminded of the Almighty. It was a very clever way to keep us well-behaved. On Sundays, at least.

In all the years that my grandmother was alive, I never heard her refer to the preacher as anything but The Preacher. His wife was The Preacher’s Wife. The kids were The Preacher’s Boy or The Preacher’s Girl. No names—first or last—were ever attached.

Thus, when my father would tell us the story of The Preacher’s Daughter, we never really expected to hear her name.

The story of The Preacher’s Daughter is famous within our family. On one rainy afternoon when he was five or so, Dad was invited to play across the road at, yes, The Preacher’s House. Bored, The Preacher’s Daughter suggested a “new” game. The premise was that Dad, being the younger of the two, was to stand at the edge of a scatter rug. On the count of three, The Preacher’s Daughter pulled the rug out from under him. Yep, ass-over-timbercups. The first time she did this, it was fun. The second time, Dad lost his four front teeth.

Fortunately—or not, depending on one’s outlook—my grandfather was a dentist. After some fierce reprimands to my father, my grandfather fitted him with four new front teeth…all made from gleaming, shiny gold. It was good that the lost teeth were baby teeth but it still made for a very long year (or more) waiting for new, adult teeth to arrive. To say that Dad was teased unmercifully would be an understatement.

Imagine our surprise then, on that afternoon with the box of photographs, when we found this picture:

In the center, the chubby-cheeked fellow is my father. On the left, we are told, is his friend, Charlie Watson. Then followed  this declaration:

“That’s her!”

“That’s who, Dad?”

“Jo Reeder!”

“Who’s Jo Reeder?”

“She’s the girl who knocked my teeth out!”

“WHAT? That’s The Preacher’s Daughter???” 

To those of us who have lived with this story all our lives, this conversation is remarkable for two reasons. One, Dad, in his dementia, remembered the girl’s name. And two, we now know the surname of ONE of the many preachers of Lost Creek Methodist Church. Apparently, some had names after all.

Here is a photo that, when viewed with our trusty magnifying glass, shows Dad smiling with his gold front teeth.

Ted and Burl (age 5 years)

And, remarkable too, is this photo. It shows an older Dad with an older Jo Reeder. They remained friends in spite of it all, though why they’re sitting on their dogs is anybody’s guess…

Jo Reeder and Burl



The word, by one definition, means hard to please or satisfy. 

Synonyms include challenging, demanding, severe, exacting, formidable, rigid, unyielding, my father.

It would surprise more than a few of those who knew us as youngsters in that small mountain town, that our childhood—my siblings and mine—was anything but idyllic. Unpleasant comes to mind but I will leave to another time, p’haps, more accurate descriptions or greater detail. It is enough to know that our childhood was frequently unpleasant.

It took me a very long time to cast aside the pain, anger, and turmoil from those years. Healing was slow to come. The love of my husband and children kept the balance. They held the key. They made my effort worth my risk.

Eventually, my father and I developed a comfortable relationship; the gift of forgiveness is another topic for another day. Having confronted his actions long ago, I try to honor our relationship as it is today, even as he drifts into aged-related dementia. It is difficult to watch anyone diminish. In his case, he knows just how diminished he is: lonely without my mother, angry that she died and left him alone, frustrated by the failures of his body and mind. It is hard to watch and impossible to stop. There simply is no way to make his days better.

Given his history as a “difficult” father, however, there is still a part of me that hopes for some resolution for the past. Not all of my siblings have been able to address their history with him; not all of them have found a place of comfort. Any visit with Dad renews my dream that he will say something, anything, that I could share with the others in the hopes of bringing them peace.

Dave and I visit when we can. After dinner one evening several months ago during one such visit, Dad stretched out on his couch. Hands covering his face, he sighed,

“I should have been more patient.”

What? What did he just say?

“I should have been more kind.”

Oh. My. God! Here it comes! An apology! Is he about to apologize? Can I finally tell the others that he is, after all these years, sorry?

“I should have been more loving.”

Dave and I looked at each other. Our eyes bulged, our mouths gaped. I had to make certain. I had to make sure I heard what I thought I heard.

Carefully, calmly, I asked, “To whom, Dad? To whom?”

 “To my mother.”


“To your mother?”

“Yes. To my mother.”


No cigar.

I’ll keep listening.