I have honored the dads in my life just about every year around Father’s Day. My own father, William David Strother, died at age 51, when I was 30 and left a million memories of my childhood and a million more what-ifs behind. My wife’s father, Thomas Henry Weir, now 80 and still spry, still sharp, still shooting close to his age in golf, and still as good and godly a father and figurehead as any family might hope to have has been a second dad to me. My maternal grandfather, William Austin Henager, the Old Testament prophet-like figure of my boyhood, the Christian Rock of Gibraltar, the hard-working, hard-preaching, practical-loving, no-nonsense man one always felt inadequate when measured against, was the gold standard for manliness.
But the Dad who escapes these pages most, the one I remember as the most flawed of the bunch, is the fellow we kids called Little Granddad – my Dad’s Dad.
William Daniel Strother was shy of six feet by three or so inches, slight in build, walked with a cane, chewed Red Man tobacco every day, smoked King Edward cigars only until the box Mom bought him at Christmas time ran out, lived with us most of my childhood, and seldom smiled or laughed.
Little Granddad had a couple of step-daughters, Dad’s older half-sisters, old enough to be my grandmothers and dad’s moms. He had but two children of his own: Dad and his baby sister, Shannon.
LG (we will dub him for short) almost wasn’t a husband or dad at all. He was near 40 when he married and was 41 when dad was born. He was Grandma’s second husband, her first having died young. He married late and lost his wife early. I was only three when she died in 1964. I have no memory of her.
All of my memories of LG are of a little old man in a white shirt buttoned at the collar, slacks, a fedora, and a Bear Bryant scowl. He didn’t work anymore because he couldn’t really. But he got dressed and went to work with Dad every single day. Dad and mom owned D&F Battery and Electric, Inc in Mineral Wells, Texas. LG was the unofficial mascot, the designated bullshitter, sitting in the lobby, regaling the customers with talk of the weather or baseball or cars or crops. He was way friendlier to the D&F customers than he was to us most of the time.
LG was not one for long stories or investment in the grandkids. He saw daylight as an opportunity for a kid my age (whatever age I happened to be) to by God work, because that is all there was and that is what it meant to learn to be a man.
I spent more time with Little Granddad than any of the other grandkids back then. I was the oldest and the most interested in the old days. I tried to pry stuff out of him about his adventures back the olden times. I mean, this guy was born in 1899! Dad always teased him that he was a year older than time, because if it was 1976, for example, he was 77 years old.
Granddad loved baseball and he and I listened to games on his clock radio, when we could pick them up in Mineral Wells, the near-West Texas outpost where we lived. He liked the Reds and the A’s, I recall and, when the Rangers came to town, he adopted them. He said baseball was, by God, a man’s sport. Football, my favorite sport, was not, because only cowards gang up on a man and look at how many guys would maul the fellow with the ball.
I enjoyed those arguments because they revealed a passion that didn’t have anything to do with an honest day’s work, which, at 11 or 12 or 13, I was not all that interested in. (I was 10 or 11 when I went to work at Dad’s shop, so shut up already.)
LG was in his 20s in the Roaring ’20s and in his 30s during the Great Depression. He was in his teens during World War One. He was a little young for the first world war and too old for the second, so he never soldiered. Nor did he give a rat’s ass for politics or politicians. He pretty much felt the same way about preachers, which my Dad happened to be (in addition to a car guy), and which my maternal grandfather was as well…and which I would declare myself as early as 8 years old (though my Dad insisted I think about it more and I waited until I was 12 to make it “official”).
Granddad would haul out his shiny black shoes and his whitest white shirt on Easter and again on Christmas and go with us to church (not every year, mind you, but most). He attended a few more times, as well. But he was not one for churches or crowds and I don’t know why. He would also throw down a cuss word or two, but none that were double-syllabled or related to sex or anything horrible like that, of course. He said he loved Jesus and he had an old Bible by his bed.
I wish I could have heard the stories of his youth and early adulthood, like when he went “the southern route” to California as a teen, or maybe barely into his twenties. I wish I had known what sort of adventures he had been on that almost kept him completely from marriage and starting the family that started me. I wish I had made him laugh a little more and laughed with him. I wish I knew more about his younger brothers, Otto (who never married), Archie, and Glenn.
He never told me that he loved me or even liked me. I guess he assumed I knew. He would, however, always brag about Shannon’s three boys. I thought he must have liked them better.
In 1986, when he died, we buried him in his favorite town, Cisco, Texas. After the burial, at lunch, I told Shannon’s boys, Tommy, Steve, and Terry, how much Little Granddad loved them.
Tommy said, “That’s funny because when he was with us, all he talked about was you.”
And that’s how so many men from his era were: awkward with the “I love yous” and quick to hand you a broom to sweep an auto shop stall while you rested.
Today, I am glad the ornery little fellow with the natural scowl and the cool hat was my Little Granddad. The coolest guys don’t know how cool they are.
He didn’t. Neither did I, until he was gone and later resurfaced in my memories.
Happy Father’s Day, LG. I like baseball, too.
But I love football.
[Note: The picture on this page, which is in my library and of which I snapped a pic with my phone, was taken by my talented uncle, his son-in-law, Gerald Richie. It is exactly how I remember him looking every day of his life. I didn’t think he walked on water, but Randy Travis’ song about his great-grandfather, in the description of the man, reminds me of Little Granddad every time I hear it.]