That NEW Adage

A pressure-relief valve about God, and just about everything else.

Old Lion, Same Heart

“Within the chests of lions old,Beat hearts that made the blood run cold.” 

Derrick L. Williams

My father is in his sixties now. To most, he would be considered old (to HIMSELF as well!). When I see him, though, I see that same formidable force that l at once feared and loved. “My pop can lick your pop!”

This used to be an often-heard phrase in my and other neighborhoods in a strange, mythical time when fathers actually LIVED with their children. Boys idolized their fathers. I was no exception. The real exception was that, as it pertains to that phrase, my pop really COULD lick your pop. I knew this not just because he said so (which he did), but because everybody who knew him said so, too!

I have seen feats of courage and power and rage that made leaves crumple up and die, that made the sun turn tail and run at high noon! He was a huge, fearsome, fearless, not-to-be-messed-with kind of dude whose transmission had no reverse. He has left a trail on which I could never imagine even taking TWO steps. I mean, why don’t YOU try being the one whose father whupped EIGHT guys at a beach party! No lie. His friends and his own MOTHER told me about it. (My friends couldn’t STAND it when I tried to tell them about it. It was like trying to convince them that he was Santa Claus)

I remember this one time when I was a kid…. We were at my mom’s folks’ farm house in the country. Their house was off a dirt road, and whenever it rained heavily, the ”driveway” became a quagmire. My mother is one of seventeen kids, and it seemed that they all had come to visit on this day. The driveway was full of cars, and cats and dogs were falling from the sky.

When the rain slacked up, everyone prepared to return to their various homes. There was a problem, though: the nine or ten cars piled in the long unpaved drive were all pointed toward the house, and in order for anyone to leave, all the cars had to be turned around. Under dry conditions, all one had to do was simply pull forward and make a right turn around the smoke house. The rain had turned the entire place into mush, though, and my uncles and aunts commenced to getting stuck in mud all around the farm. The place looked like a junkyard. This was apparently a common occurrence down there (why is the country always “down,” and the city always “up”?), because country dudes l had never seen came from seemingly out of the trees.

The country quicksand gave up its captives one by one, and in maybe two hours,only a lone prisoner remained. As many men as could got behind the vehicle to push, but this one happened to be off to the left side of the road in the ditch and seemed to be sunk down to the bumper. They put planks under the rear wheel, but to no avail. I don’t know why I was standing out in the mud watching this except maybe for the fact that I, like all boys, loved mud and dirt and water.

For some reason, my father hadn’t been helping with this car, and after maybe thirty or so minutes of rocking this huge sixties-era behemoth back and forth, someone went and got him.

When he was about twelve or so, my father, being dirt poor in West Palm Beach, Florida worked on an ice truck and saved enough money to buy bags of concrete. He mixed it in a bucket, stuck a pole in until it dried, and repeated the process, making cement barbells with which he bulked himself up from a scrawny kid to a ”muscle-bound” one. He went out for the football team, and by the time he graduated, my father could bench-press 450 pounds, and squat over 700.  In the fifties! No steroids.I’ve got pictures, and the same weights. He played his way to a free college education. (After hearing all this, I was scared to step out onto the stage!)

“Somebody go get Horace. Maybe HE can hep us git tiss thang out!” Somebody did.

All l know is that within two minutes of Pop bracing himself under that bumper, that car was up out of that hole kicking mud all over everybody! My chest was ”swole” up big enough to hold a tractor motor! That wasn’t ANYBODY else’s daddy but mine. All those other daddies couldn’t get that car out of that ditch, no matter how hard they tried, but mine was so strong that a mere touch sent it flying like a smacked horse!

My father is physically -and mentally- stronger than I ever hope to be. To this very day 450 is the goal I hope to reach on the bench press. I mean, he WILLED himself to stop being ticklish! l almost peed on myself trying to duplicate THAT one! He could lift a Volkswagen end by end. He once locked himself in the bathroom with a rodent until he killed it. This was like slaying a dragon to me at the time. I was amazed!

Nerves of steel.

In the wee morning hours, a burglar broke into our house. I was about nineteen. He came in through an unlocked window on the back porch. I don’t know how he knew it was open. My mother had taken to walking in the mornings at the same hour, and it is a blessing that on this particular morning she had decided not to.

While in college, Daddy says that in order to create a draft in his dormitory room, he would sleep with his door open.

“Weren’t you scared someone would come in?” we kids would ask.

“Naw. Whenever somebody walked by the light in the hall, I would wake up.” He was an incredibly light sleeper! My sisters and I spent our entire childhoods trying to sneak up on him while he was asleep. We never could. We never worried about somebody coming in and getting us because we knew they couldn’t get past Daddy.

Apparently, the burglar went down the hall peeking into the bedrooms to see what he could get. I was quartered in the living room because my paternal grandmother,living with us, in the grip of Alzheimer’s, had my room. I learned later what happened here: there was a nightlight plugged in the hallway outlet in order that my grandmother could find the bathroom in the night.

He cracked open the door to my folks’ room. He closed it. This woke my mother, who would normally be awake now, around 5 AM. My father, the light sleeper, said HE heard the backporch door open and assumed that I was rustling around. I was, and am, a nightowl and a jokester.

The crook opened the door again. Here, my parents had two separate thoughts; My mother thought she would whisper, “Who is that?” while Pop thought to himself,

“The silhouette against that nightlight is too short to be Derrick. That’s a burglar. I’m gonna let him come in and jump him and break his bleepity-bleepin’ neck.” As soon as Daddy formed his plan, Ma blew it;”Who is that?”

“DURNit!” is close to what Daddy said.

The door closed slowly. Two seconds later, the crook swung the door opened, flashed the lights on and off again ( an ingenious move that still amazes me) momentarily blinding them, slammed the door shut, and ran out the patio door!

We had a dog at that time who, when he wanted to go outside, would scratch at the patio door something fierce. To prevent this, Daddy put the fan in front of the door. The burglar didn’t know this, and in his rush to escape, he tripped over the fan.

I wish I could tell you that Pop caught and dealt with the guy, but what happened was that I ran from the living room with this huge stick I had, and Daddy came from the bedroom and ran empty-handed out into the backyard in his drawz after the guy. Having been disoriented by the flashing of the lights, Daddy wasn’t able to catch him. I have never forgotten the cold, hard nerve it took to formulate a strategy in the midst of danger.(Could l do the same?) Not to mention the boldness that possessed the burglar to enter a house full of people.

My father isn’t Paul Bunyan, or John Henry, that steel-drivin’ man. They aren’t real. I saw him do these and other things. I never saw fear in his eyes. He ain’t smaller than ANYbody! I’ll never live up to the example he set. But I will always try.

Boys used to be CRAZY about their fathers. Are they still? Will my son see me as a lion, or as a wildebeest?

My father is in his sixties. More yesterdays than tomorrows. Some might say he is a little smaller now. Some might say he’s not as strong. But when I look at him, I only see that man pushing that car out of the mud when five or six others couldn’t. He still has the same heart, the same fire. And he still gets the same reverence from me. He is that same lion.

My pop can lick YOUR pop! Believe me or not, I don’t care. Feel free to think the same way about yours, if you are blessed to have one. If not, make sure that you become the kind of father a son will exalt and emulate.

Age will catch and clutch us all in his withering grip. When you see an old man and assume that that is all he is or was, think of your father and the invincibility he possessed in your eyes. Think about how he protected and fed you, how he killed spiders and ran the bogey man away. Remember the strength and will he had, and how he snatched his piece of the pie from the hands of this avaricious world. Revere that old man, if for no other reason than that he fought life, a formidable foe, and won seventy or eighty rounds.

July 14, 2007 - Posted by | Aging, Life, Parents

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