September 20, 1936, A sandy red-headed boy came screaming into the world. Born the fifth child — of ultimately nine — to a deeply religious, mountain family in the Blue Ridge Mountains, twenty or so miles south of Roanoke, Virginia.
Deeply troubled, embittered, this young man turned to moonshine liquor by the time he was fourteen or fifteen years old.
He escaped the austere religion, the mountains, the moonshine business, but never escaped the taste for liquor. His demon haunted him nearly to the grave.
I come from a colorful family. My dad’s nickname was Red. My mother’s name is Violet. So everyone referred to them as Red and Violet.
When he wasn’t on a drinking binge, he could be a loving, fun, funny father to be around.
When something struck him funny, you could see it transform across his face forming into a sly grin before the humorous words came out of his mouth.
My fondest memories are of baseball and fishing. Dad loved baseball and fishing.
The summer of 1969, Dad was on unemployment. In between looking for a job, he taught my younger brother and me the fundamentals of baseball. He taught us to catch, He taught us to throw, how to hit, and played with us all summer long. That was a dry summer as well. He did not drink the whole time.
Next to baseball, was fishing. The moment the ice thawed off of Lake Champlain, we went fishing. We fished the rivers. We fished the lake. We fished the mud puddles after a good rain.
We all caught them, I ended up cleaning buckets of fish, and mom cooked them up for us.
Despite the dark cloud over our household while growing up, the light did break through at times. During my early adult years, I developed a new love — coffee shops.
I joined the US Navy at nineteen which took me away from my hometown of Plattsburgh, NY. When I was home on leave, Dad would say, “You want to go get a cup?” We would head to Mr. Breakfast and Donuts, drink coffee, and bond.
I saw behind the demons.
I saw behind the alcoholism.
I saw a man who could love.
I saw a man who wanted love.
It was only in the last few years of his life that he stopped drinking. During his remaining five or six years he stopped drinking.
Emaciated, throat cancer, a tracheal tube, fed through a tube in his stomach brought sobriety to this man. He finally passed away, August 24, 2004.
Today is his birthday. I will drink a cup of espresso in honor of the best father in the world. He is MY father.