Daniel Ray Willson

What do I remember about my dad? First of all, I remember knowing he was a good man. He swore. He smoked. He drank. I’m sure he did his fair share of crap. But, I remember him as the man that helped Roger learn how to read. The guy who kissed my mom in the doorway to the kitchen. He was quite proud of the Holy Floater, that reddish-orange boat that seemed immortal. He had a mole on his left leg that matched mine. I remember that brown robe and those hairy legs and fat feet. I got his feet. I think we all did. I remember sitting in front of the mirror getting ready for church. He told me I looked beautiful and didn’t need the makeup.

He was always in the background. Or maybe, I was always in the foreground. When we’d sit at the dinner table, I remember getting to sit on his lap when we were done. I would tell him to tickle me and he would and then I’d scream with both agony and laughter. I’d tell him to stop and he would. Then it’d start all over again. He was the disciplinarian. At least I think he was. All he’d have to do is bang his fist on the table and we’d all shut up. And playing bull. Those were the most fantastic times of life. He’d crawl around on the floor and we’d climb all over him, trying to ride the bull. He’d buck us off and we’d try again. I’m not sure if we’d ever win. The light was always dim in the living room.

I remember shooting the bow and arrow in the back yard and going to find earthworms in the bin he had made up at Lake Isabella. Lake Isabella was his haven. When we’d go to bed in the trailer, he would always walk by the window and scare us. I remember getting up early in the morning before the sun was up and going fishing. We’d sit there for a few hours, it’d be pretty cold out and I’d wear that bluish-gray spring jacket that was always in the front closet. We’d troll out past the “no wake” buoys and then go “wide open” to the right, past the point, and into the far end of the lake. There we’d drift along, I’d show off my bravery by baiting my own hook. I’m not sure if we’d talk. We might sing the “fishy fishy in a brook, fishy fishy on a hook, fishy fishy in a pan, baby eat him like a man” song. Or maybe quote Ernie and Bert “here fishy fishy fishy FISHY!”

Dad would often get his lure caught in a log and he’d probably swear and be upset for a minute. Whenever we’d catch something, he’d always help us put it on the stringer. Sometimes we’d see deer on the bank and the sun would slowly come up and warm our backs. We’d drive back to the trailer where my mom would be getting up and we couldn’t wait to tell her whether we had caught her any lunch. If we had, we’d go to the rusty round table on the front lawn, bring him his knife and he’d clean the fish. I liked to touch the eyeballs, another piece of evidence that my bravery of baiting my own hook was all show. I wasn’t conquering any fear, I really liked to touch gross stuff. He’d always open up the belly to show us if the fish had any eggs in it.

I think about those days at Lake Isabella. Time seemed endless, there was no need for a working bathroom or sink. Those things came. There were glory days at the Lake. Dad spent hours hooking up the shower and the toilet, getting the oven to work. The day that we were able to use the shower was magical. Of course, you had to stand to one side, be really quick, and the handles were opposite of what they said, but it was something else. He put on a back porch too. We’d grill in the back and sit at the picnic table. At night, dad would take us up the road in the dark to visit Grandma and Grandpa Willson. They’d always be sitting in the living room and we could pretty much count on ice cream to eat. It’d always be that big tub of vanilla with the swirls of fudge in it. Dad would sit and talk to them and we’d either sit and listen or look around at the millions of collectables they owned.

When I was learning to ride my bike we all took a trip to the park. My mom held the seat all the way to the end of the road but once we got to the hill she let go and I went flying down. I remember that I ended up practically in a tree and was all scraped up. I pouted the rest of the way to the park. My dad drove up and took me with him. I remember feeling better. I think he gave me some sympathy and a bandaid. As I think back on it, I wonder why my dad had that much time off in the summer. Was he laid off?

Dad would go hunting during the month of November which meant he wasn’t around for my birthday a lot of the times. I remember one birthday when he called to wish me a happy birthday. I remember feeling complete once he called. In retrospect, somehow it bothers me that he wasn’t there for my birthdays.

He would always give the best backrubs. Before bed he and/or mom would tuck us in and I’d often ask for a backrub. He and mom would always say goodnight, sweet dreams, and Jesus loves you. And then we’d proceed to sneak to the end of our beds to see if we could peek at the t.v. When I was really little, my dad went to a different church than my mom. He was very involved in Mount Hope and we’d go with him every once and a while. He was good friends with the Carney’s. A family with 6 kids who lived on a farm somewhere. I remember the night Mr. Carney died, my dad started to cry and told me about it. We were standing in the dark in his bedroom and he asked if I remembered his friend and explained that he was driving a truck with a bunch of gas tanks on it and one exploded. He was crying and I remember realizing that my dad had no shame in his tears.

Dad always seemed to be in his element with his family and friends. He’d always smile when he told that story about Grandma Great. He asked her to pass the rolls and she chucked one across the dinner table at him. He always seemed to be helping his family. He would laugh and talk. He would tell stories. He would tease Aunt Diana. My husband reminds me of him a lot. Working hands. Loves his family and I know he will make a great dad someday too.

A couple years ago I wrote an essay about why my father was my hero. I shared it with my family around my dad’s birthday. My mom responded by explaining that I had a very limited understanding of who my dad was. I was only 13 when he died and I really only remember the good things. Besides a spanking here and there. And he had a bit of a temper. I don’t recall having a close relationship with him though. Not the way that I see others have with their parents. Was it cut off too soon? Did he know I loved him?

© 2011 D. Willson

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