Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Ralph E. Doll, My Dad
Father's Day is coming up on Sunday and I've got a treasure chest full of memories of Dad.
Off and on when I was growing up, I thought I had it tough. Of course, my thinking was unrealistic and immature. Nobody has a perfect life but now when I look back, I can see that I had it made and then some.
Dad worked hard, no matter what he was doing. For 35 years, he worked at the big corporation in town as a patternmaker. Dad never missed a day of work, in fact, the only time I recall him being ill during those years was when he had a bad case of hives.
Mom got up early with Dad every morning. She made his breakfast of coffee, a soft-boiled egg or two and a shredded wheat biscuit or two in a bowl with milk. After he ate the shredded wheat, he'd pick up the bowl and drink the remaining milk from the bowl. If it was time to leave for work and his second cup of coffee was too hot to drink, he'd pour it from his cup into the bowl to cool it and drink again from the bowl. (He wasn't concerned with highfalutin ways and wasn't impressed by folks who were). While he was eating, Mom packed his lunch in a metal lunch pail. When he finished his coffee, he'd walk around the kitchen table, kiss my mother and then me good-bye (if I happened to be up early that day), pick up his lunch bucket and walk out the door. I liked his kiss and the smell of coffee on his breath.
We had one car. If Mom needed the car for the day, she took Dad to work. My brothers and I rode with her when she picked him up at the end of his work day. We'd eagerly watch the back door of the castings division building for his face while we waited in the parking lot beside the river. Each of us wanted to be the first one to spot Dad when he came out. He'd appear amid a swarm of men, all swinging their lunch boxes and happy to be breathing the fresh air. To this day, I remember the smell of iron castings that drifted from his skin and clothes when he slid behind the steering wheel. I liked the smell.
Dad always planted a big vegetable and flower garden in the backyard every year and flowers along the side of the house by the driveway. He nicknamed me, Shaddy, because I followed him around the yard like a second shadow. I liked being his Shaddy. Peony bushes, rose bushes and endless other flowers grew over the years under his care. He planted apple and cherry trees, including a Bing cherry tree, about the time his family began to grow. A table for two grew until, eventually, seven of us sat at the supper table and squeezed to fit into an entire pew in church.
Being an experienced patternmaker, Dad happily and skillfully worked with wood. He appreciated all the varying types and kept a sizable inventory of scraps for his woodworking projects. He crafted anything my brothers and I asked of him when we had homes of our own. All he needed from us was either a picture or a detailed description of what we wanted. While I was expecting our son, Jared, I found a picture of a hanging crib in a magazine and fell in love with it. Of course, Dad made one just like it. Lon painted it bright yellow to match the colorful giraffes and elephants in the wallpaper. Our baby's room was something to see, thanks in large part to Dad.
Although Dad wasn't against relaxing with a beer and enjoying life off his feet, if a project needed doing, he stayed at it until it was completed. "You've gotta make hay while the sun shines," he'd say as he toiled for endless hours, shoveling dirt, cutting wood, hammering boards or whatever was needed. The harder the job, the harder he worked.
At supper time, Dad worked hard too. "You can tell what kind of worker a man is by the way he eats," he'd say as he hunched over his plate and shoveled in Mom's good cooking until his plate was clean. Mom would refill his plate and bring him dessert and coffee when he was ready for it.
When I was a little blue-eyed blonde toddler, Dad would sit on the davenport with his legs stretched out in front of him and his feet on the floor. I'd climb up on his lap and then slide down his legs for the pure fun of it. I never tired of climbing up and sliding down. When Mom said it was bedtime, my brothers and I'd pretend we didn't hear her. Dad would simply click his fingers and my four brothers and I scrammed.
When I got my first job, I had money to buy Christmas presents. Dad's eyes filled with tears and he jumped up and gave me a big hug when I gave him his gift. I'll never forget how my small gesture affected him.
Lon and I remember Dad often as we go about our daily lives. We use some of his sayings and tell some of his jokes or just remember the way he was. I could go on and on and on with memories of Dad and it'd be fun, especially for me. I'll do that again some other day.
I wish Dad could come back for a visit on Sunday. Lon would grill him a steak and I'd make him strawberry shortcake. We know if Lon would ask Dad if his steak was good, he'd smile and say it was absolutely perfect. The strawberry shortcake would be the best he'd ever had. Yup, that's what he'd say with appreciation, sincerity and love beaming from deep within him. We'd soak it all in.
On June 21st this year, Lon and I will be celebrating Father's Day and our 40th wedding anniversary with our son. I don't want to detract from memories of Dad, yet this milestone is memorable as well.
Thanks for letting me tell you about Dad; Happy Father's Day to all of you dads out there.
(I've included photos of a cast iron ashtray with Dad's first and last employment dates and a sampling of his handiwork. He made the rocking horse to entertain his grandchildren, the glass-topped tables and wall mirror for our home per our special requests, the truck bank for our son, and a whole bunch of other items (a bracelet, letter opener, boomerang, whistle, napkin holder, birdhouse and trinket box) for our use. You're looking at only a tiny, tiny fraction of all the woodworking projects he tackled and completed in his lifetime for my family alone).