Daddy's Song of Saturday
My daddy was born on a wooden table in the tiny kitchen of a house his daddy built up near the head of Bob's Branch in Johnson County, Kentucky. Seventy-seven years later he died about five miles south of his birthplace in the master bedroom of a house he built for himself on Sant Preston Branch. In between he was a hell of a man, my daddy-a man tender enough to take delight in a nest of just-born kittens and tough enough never to miss a day's work at the mines, however agonizing his sick headache might be. He lived in a time and a place where self-absorption was not an option and though he faithfully carried out his responsibilities, Daddy never took himself seriously. His legacy to me and Sister and to our children is one of effort and tenacity sustained by the inevitable laughter that comes off seeing the world as about a bead off plumb.
My daddy could build anything. Not only that, but he could also fix anything that was broken or had quit for any reason. He did most of what he termed his "Jake-leg" work on weekends or evenings in fall or spring when it was too late in the season for gathering or too early for grubbing. He'd come home from work afternoons around 4:30, wash the coal dust off him-Daddy never was one to use a bath house-eat a bite of supper, take his cup of coffee with him, and go off to construct or to repair. Sometimes the implement that was to be repaired or untangled was small enough so he could sit in a chair and pass the time with the rest of us while he worked at his leisure. Most times, however, he would work on the broken object just wherever it came to rest when it ran aground-inside the house, on the driveway, or in the backyard.
Since he drove-and hauled riders-twenty-some miles to and from the David coal mines five days a week, many of the repairs were car-oriented, and it seemed as if Daddy always had some kind of little car problem. Hollie Daniel, who lived about a half a mile up the creek from us, did the big car repairs, but Daddy didn't take the car to Hollie until he had determined that it would require a part that could not be put on without some equipment we didn't own.
One Saturday when I was about 9-years-old, my daddy taught me a lesson in perseverance that went unnoticed for just a lot of life. One of the Pack boys had broken his power saw, decided he probably needed a new one anyway, and traded the old one to Daddy for some combination of carpentry tools-and maybe a pocketknife or two. Daddy was always trading off one thing or another with other fellows on Two-Mile or around on Greasy; trading off provided a regular pastime for a lot of the men. On this particular Saturday morning, Daddy had carried that saw across the backyard from the can house, where he'd kept it for a week or so, backed up behind other more pressing jobs necessary to our day-to-day lives. Unlike essentials such as a broken refrigerator or a flat tire, scheduling the power saw repair had some give to it.
That Saturday morning, I watched Daddy breaking down his new power saw as I was throwing feed to the chickens, and he was putting it back together when Momma called us for lunch. After we had finished eating, Sister and I went to the can house for a couple of Mason jars so we could meet Gwen to catch crawdads in the creek out front. Then we tarried to watch as Daddy tried for the first time to start up the repaired saw.
"Goddammit," he said, when on his third attempt he couldn't get a rise out of the thing. Just to be certain, he tried her one more time, then began-piece by piece-to break it down again. He was reassembling that saw as Sister went inside for a nap and Gwen and I shifted our attention from the apprehension of fractious crawdads to playing house over on the bank below the hog lot. This time Daddy tried only twice to get the saw going before silently beginning to take it apart.
Late that afternoon, as Gwen and I began to turn out our final set of dirt cakes, Daddy once more tried in vain to fire up his saw. As I passed him to go help Momma cook supper, he slowly shook his head and muttered to himself, "Now, I'm not to be outdone."
Around 10 that night, I was getting into my pajamas when I caught the first low whine from Daddy's all-Saturday project, but it was not by any means the last time I heard its keening. I don't believe he got another saw until well after our house burned five or six years later. While the fire took everything else we had, that old saw survived by being in the trunk of Momma's car, and Daddy used it to rebuild the new house.
Daddy was never one to talk about money-never said we had it, never said we didn't-but Momma would tell me from time to time when the family financial fortunes were particularly bad or good. One spring, when I was about 13-years-old, Momma confided that Daddy'd been able to get a lot of overtime the year before and had made nearly five thousand dollars. In the early '50s, that must have been considerably more money than folks in our community made-Momma always knew such things. She was clearly proud of that figure-wouldn't have bothered to tell me otherwise-and it sounded like about all the money in the world to me. I kept it to myself, of course, and I might well have forgotten all about it had it not been for the Johnny K incident.
A few months after Momma had imparted this wage information to me, I walked back across the road from an early evening water-fetching trip to find Johnny K sitting in the yard with Daddy. As I stood at the well box, drawing the second bucket of water, I had seen him pull in on the driveway and had barely edged my two-bucket load past his big black Chrysler, barely pulled off the road. Johnny K never would pull his car all the way into our driveway-out of concern, he said, for whether "that little bridge will hold it." He made a point of saying that every time he came to see us, and nobody ever pointed out that the boy who brought our winter's coal routinely drove his fully loaded half-ton pickup across that "little bridge" without incident.
By the time I got my cargo in the house, poured me a glass of tea, and joined Daddy, Momma, Betty Holbrook, and Johnny K in the yard, our guest from the north was into a full-tilt bragging fest. The four of them were sitting in those heavy, arch-backed, aluminum lawn chairs-the ones with the ninety-degree bent-back pipe supports-that Daddy had painted pink, and Sister was piddling around over on the rope swing about fifteen feet away. I spread out the old yellow towel I'd brought from inside there on the ground and plopped down on it. As I took the first sip of Momma's supersweet tea, cooled by the lone cube of ice (ice was not easy to come by in that long-ago Kentucky summer, so we rationed it very carefully), Johnny K launched into a new story.
He began, "You know, Lifie Jay, I give Uncle Sam more than five thousand dollars in income taxes this year," and he paused to allow this bit of information to sink in. Without missing a beat, Daddy slowly shook his head, said, "Aye, boys. Don't reckon you could loan a feller a couple bucks, could you?"
We all laughed and Johnny K continued with his tale.
By Russell Reeves, Sr.
My father Bert Reeves was married to my mother Doll Harris Reeves 18 years before I was born.
He was an even 6', 165 pounds never gained or lost a pound.
Our homeplace was on old Salt Lick Road. Our nearest neighbor was a mile away, except for Aunt Pearl who lived within hollering distance.
With bronchitis and emphysema, my father never a healthy man.
He was a switchman for L & N railroad, then a farmer after losing his job with L&N over a leave of absence.
He pushed a wheelbarrow for WPA at Lynn Camp high school, which he walked three miles one way rain or shine. You had to be there on time every day; if it was raining cats or dogs, you were checked off, sent back home in rain for no pay. A no show was no more job.
His only obsession was "be careful, don't hurt yourself."
The only discipline I ever received from him was a good smack if I was in his reach if I fell down.
Being carefully taught how to build forts with sharp sticks, and dig dugouts with shovel and mattock, so I could hide from "Indians."
I could hunt or fish, alone or with him or my mother, when I was 6.
But I was never allowed to attend ballgames or other school functions; I might get hurt.
My mother and I were probably the only two people who really knew my dad.
He forgot his jump jacket in the blacksmith shop one early spring. His only one. A week later on a cold rainy day he went back to get it. A jenny wren had built a nest in its pocket. He took me back to see four tiny eggs in the nest. He wouldn't let me touch them, said if I did the mommy bird would not come back. He would step over a bug. Catch a baby rabbit while mowing hay and let me hold it for a few minutes. I could feel its heart beat 100 mph, then return it to safety.
Ham never did, but he was eager to tell of drinking moonshine, roaring cars, and lots of fist fights. He was of small stature, but stocky, and no one ever heard of him getting whipped.
Later, he called me Big Ooch. I never knew why, but if he'd told me to walk on water, I'd have drowned before I was five. As it was, when I was six, I went off to a small one room school.
Eight grades, one teacher, Alf Jackson.
He rode a mule four miles to school, but seldom got to ride it back, because some misguided student was always intent on untying it. It'd proceed on home alone, followed by old Alf, some time later.
There was one coal house and one well house, with a bucket and chain to draw water. One girls outhouse. One for the boys.
There was a wooden floor, which was oiled every two or three years, two coal buckets, and one big pot-bellied stove which would get hot on cold days.
The stove ended up with a shotgun shell in its belly every week or two, which stimulated the students by blowing the door open, sending soot and ashes everywhere, and allowing everyone a 15 minute break outside until the smoke cleared.
As I went off to school, Ham's only advice was if I got a whipping, I was to say 'thank you.'
That didn't take long, being an only child, I could see I had a lot of people to impress.
Old Alf was a big fat balding man far more interested in getting his hay in dry than he was in us, and would dismiss school at the slightest hint of a cloud in the sky, but he was still not impressed with my command of the Queen's English.
He called me up and gave me a few mild smacks with a substantial paddle.
And as I stepped off the stage at the front of the room, I politely said "Thank You," as directed.
My foot never touched the floor.
I was snapped back and took several more licks-and unwilling to let Ham down-I repeated "Thank You" after each one, with undying devotion.
Finally, with tears welling up in both eyes (without one escaping), I was allowed to go back to my seat.
In my mind, I had the respect of Ham, and the memory of his enormous laugh.
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