It was Thanksgiving. We did not have much, but I didn’t know it. I was 11 about to turn 12. My whole world was my family. I was loved and, in turn, especially loved everything my Daddy loved – church, sports, and particularly fishing and hunting. Being eleven in our house meant that I got to fish a lot more than I got to hunt. When I did get to hunt, it was with Daddy by my side for instruction and discipline. His chief task was to try to keep me from wiggling and frightening the squirrels away. No easy task, I assure you.
After dinner, on my 11th Thanksgiving, Daddy organized an afternoon hunt with my granddaddy, my older brother, who was 15, an uncle, and a cousin. They were going to walk the sagebrush fields behind our house to try to kick up a covey of quail or a cottontail, or maybe even a buck. Since it was important that everyone knew where everyone else was at all times, and the sagebrush was, in places, as tall as I was, I had to stay home. There was too much chance of my getting in the line of fire when I would, very predictably tire of walking and start wandering.
Before the hunting could begin, everyone had to navigate over an old rusty fence line. Daddy and my brother managed it to navigate the fence without incident. However, when my cousin started over the fence-line, his britches got tangled in a strand of barbed wire, and, in trying to get free, he pulled the trigger of the double-barrel shotgun he was carrying and shot Daddy in the right arm from less than 10 yards away. My brother ran to the house to tell my mother that Daddy had been shot, and from that moment forward, I would know the meaning of poverty.
After several surgeries, Daddy eventually lost his right arm four inches below the elbow – guaranteeing certain and sure hard times were ahead for an automobile mechanic who, at the best of times, was in a low-wage job. While Daddy had to give up working on cars, he didn’t give up. Not on himself. Not on his family. Not on church. Not on fishing. Not even on hunting. Not on any of the things that had brought enjoyment and meaning to his life and to ours. He would persevere.
On this Thanksgiving Day of 2019, let us be thankful for all those who taught us to persevere in the face of great difficulty, and without complaining. I don’t ever remember my Daddy grieving about that day he was shot. I do remember the many days he came home from the woods or the water with a satisfied smile on his face. If I close my eyes today, I can remember, as if it were 1964, the smiles Daddy had for me when I exited the dressing room after a game and hear him tell me, “You played a pretty decent basketball game tonight, son.” Any criticism erased by the smile on his face and his firm left hand on my shoulder.
That was my Daddy, and I am thankful for all the lessons he taught me.