June, 2004 - A Tribute to Fathers Day
THAT'S WHAT DADDIES ARE FOR
By Billie Marie Zal
The hum of the "clean out" of the oil refinery stills always lulled me as I lay in our swing on the front porch, a favorite "thinking place."
In a large flower box beside the swing, the scent of nasturtiums blended with honeysuckle, inebriating me with their perfume. Mama always insisted on those nasturtiums and their clean, sharp odor remains in my memory. And honeysuckle! Who has ever smelled honeysuckle and forgotten it? I always fell asleep until Mama prodded me awake when Daddy got home.
Daddy was the one who made everything beautiful for us. We had moved to South Arkansas when I was five; I had been accustomed to a small city, with streetcars clanging their way past our apartment. And when we arrived at our new place, my heart sank. Main Street was muddy, oil rigs were everywhere and I got homesick.
The house was worse than I could have imagined. It was a "company house," and stood with three others no farther than two city blocks from the refinery where Daddy would be working. Worse yet, another oil refinery belched forth its horrible fumes and smoke on the OTHER side of our compound.
For a child who loved and desired beauty and tranquility, this was a disaster! I know now how Mama must have felt as we stepped foot in our new home. It was a "shotgun" house--three rooms right in a row, the kitchen being made smaller to accommodate a bathroom next to it. I could stand at the front door and see all the way through our house.
The light fixtures were bare bulbs hanging from the middle of each room. Exposed wires ran up the wall to them. The kitchen was a dark cavern with a sink and cupboards at either side. Across from the sink was just enough space to put in an old fashioned ice box and one table and four chairs. The stove was flat against the other wall so every time we needed something from that ice box, Mama had to get up, move her chair, and get it.
If children could be depressed, I would have been. But Daddy's optimism was contagious! "We'll fix it up, Bea," he said in a firm, reassuring voice and as far as I was concerned, it was done.
Daddy was an artist and had given up a life of lucrative show business engagements to "be home with Bea and the girls." His love never failed and he began to make good his promise that we would live in a pretty home.
First, he began working on the floors of that old house. He sanded them carefully, by hand, then stained them with a honey pine varnish and they simply glowed!
Then he painted the wallboard bright, happy colors. Before long, our little shotgun house reflected his love of beauty, and now he would begin on the yard.
I stood beside him the day he made THE PLAN. There was not one sprig of grass anywhere, but the yard's boundaries were marked with five foot wire, connected by large, rough hewn posts. I felt forlorn, just looking at it.
"Daddy, how are we going to grow grass here" I asked. He just smiled and said he had the plan in mind, and to wait and see. And within a few days, he began making trips to a field nearby that belonged to no one. It was covered with Bermuda, a wild grass which flourishes in south Arkansas. Daddy painstakingly cut large, even squares out of the field and brought them home, day after day.
Before long we had a yard that was covered with beautiful green grass!
THE PLAN was formulated to take one thing at a time. Daddy worked seven days a week with no time off and sometimes up to ten hours a day. But somehow he managed to dig a flower bed all the way around the fence. The bed was at least three feet across, so this meant our yard would be encased with glory!
"You have to work hard to make things beautiful," he said to me. And so I helped. We worked the soil in the flower beds and dug out weeds and rocks. It was good soil, it really grew things!
"We will plant big Zinnia plants all the way around, and then we'll plant smaller flowers beneath them. Up and down the front walk, we will plant petunias and they will bloom all summer." I was ecstatic! This wonderful man who was my daddy was going to let me help plant flowers!
Daddy never had any money to spare, so he grew his own seedlings. After the Zinnias were a few inches high, he called to me. "Bickey, it's time to give them their rightful place. Come with me and I'll show you how to plant so they will grow tall and beautiful."
I followed Daddy as he knelt and made little holes for every plant. He let me put in the seedlings and then water them. I know now that I took much longer than he would have at this task, but that's the way Daddies are. And at last we completed our work.
The petunias grew quickly and never in this life time will I forget their sweet scent outside our door. Daddy's green thumb had worked. We finally had our yard reflecting God's glory. The Zinnias had blossoms at least six inches across and I had never known that God had made so many colors until they all bloomed at once.
Daddy would bring them in to Mama and ask, "Did you ever see such a flower?" He let the petunias just grow, but he taught me to pluck off the dead flowers just beneath the buds, so they would multiply.
Once THE PLAN took place I had time to enjoy other things. My sister Kathleen was three years older and I adored her, no one else could compare with her. We did have fights which she always won but it never changed my admiration of her. She was always limber and she learned to do the splits, hand stands, all of the things kids love to do. She taught me how to mimic her but I was never as good at it as she was.
About that time, Daddy found out that I had secretly wanted a fish pond. My friend Nina had one in her yard, and I was dying for one, too. I told Daddy about it, but he didn't say much. I figured we didn't have enough money for fish ponds, they did cost a lot.
But one day soon after I had talked about a fish pond, Daddy got home early. He had a huge box in the back seat of his Studebaker touring car.
I ran to meet him, asking what the box was for. "Well, Bickey, it's going to be a fish pond. You are going to have one of the prettiest fish ponds in the whole world before I get through with it." He smiled then, and his eyes crinkled. When his eyes crinkled I knew that whatever he said was really going to happen.
First, he dug a hole in the front yard which was the exact size of the box.
"But Daddy, how will the water stay in the box?"
"Just you wait and see. We'll fill the box with water and the wood is oak and it will swell. Once we let it set awhile it will hold water. And th n it will be time to bring in the fish."
Every day I checked anxiously on the water level. Finally, Daddy's word came true. The water held. But where would we get the fish? When I asked Daddy, his eyes crinkled and he replied, "Well, Bickey, I've staked out a little pond filled with cat tails. It's Artisan water, coming up from a place where a well was drilled once. It looks just right for fish."
So on a hot, quiet night when the stars seemed so close I could touch them, we went "gold fishing." To this day I don't know what kind they were. But some were at least ten inches long and their color, a brilliant gold. On moonlit nights we hardly had to use the light to get one in our nets.
Once we went back and a gigantic bull frog had gotten himself caught in a net. I still see the sorrow etched on Daddy's face. "This is such a bad thing, Bickey. I should never have left a net where he could get caught. He couldn't get out of the net and he drowned." I was learning about caring, so I shared Daddy's sorrow.
Finally we had just enough fish for our pond. Then Daddy decorated it. About one hundred miles from where we lived was the city of Hot Springs. It lay between two tall mountains and once in awhile we would make the drive up there. But not often.
On an early Sunday morning, however, I was awakened with, "Girls, get dressed. Clarence is taking us to Hot Springs. "Mama was always a nervous wreck when we planned a trip, so Daddy had sprung it on her!
I didn't know that Daddy was going up there on account of THE PLAN. He took us out to "crystal Mountain" where we could dig up crystals all day for nothing. It was there on that day that I dug up a perfect cross made by two crystals fused together by the tremendous heat in eons past. That cross is still with me.
Anyhow, we got loads of sparkling crystals and then Daddy told us that they would be the decoration for our pond. "It will keep varmints away and still be beautiful," he explained. And so it was. Daddy packed those crystals all around the pond and it was the prettiest fish pond I ever did see, just as Daddy had promised.
I missed our nights of fishing, but then Daddy, realizing my longing to be with him, began to take me out to one of the oil leases where a little shack sat in the midst of a great pine forest. I loved the trip out there; the road was a two rut road, all sand, and we bumped along in anticipation of a night of fun at Ed and Lillian Caston's place. Ed played banjo and Lillian played piano--the best we'd ever heard, all without being able to read a note of music. And Daddy played trombone.
It was so beautiful--the music, the stars, and the sweet scent of pine needles. Their two kids and I would shuck Indian corn, and make real popcorn. When it was time to go, Daddy would call out, "Bickey, we'd better go home and check on your Ma." And away we would go!
Even now the memories return as I sit out front on my deck late at night and hear the music of the forest creatures. I can feel the soft caress of the wind and once in awhile, through the leaves of our great Oaks, see the stars. On moonlit nights I am reminded of the fish pond, the yard that was a glorious tribute to my Daddy's artistry, and the jazz music that filled our hearts and the forest night as we munched on pop corn.
But memories cannot carry us through life and we can only pull them out and hold them for a little while--then tuck them away again. Life is reality and memories remain just memories.
I often miss the sight of my Daddy's hands as they labored over just the right plant to put where. And when they decorated the huge Christmas tree he would cut for us and drag home. It filled half our middle room, but no matter. It was the most beautiful tree in town. Kids from all over would ask to come in and see it.
Daddy was particular about that, too. He used silver reflectors, shaped like stars, and put lights in them, every light the same color of blue. I slept in the middle room and Daddy would leave the lights on, just to make the room look magical.
Bad times came. Daddy lost his job and we were hungry. But not once did he ever stop believing that somehow we would make it. His optimism again was contagious. We moved to another house, a large one, but it was a wreck. Again, he fixed it up, and he let me help. I stained the floors like he had taught me and before long the rooms once again reflected his love. Then tragedy struck again, he lost his job when the refineries shut down and we moved out to a really tacky house.
I didn't worry, I knew Daddy would fix it. He just rolled up his sleeves, carried in hot boiling water from the big pot in the yard and scrubbed the house down with lye water. Then he painted and stained and before long our house look like a mansion. As a last touch, he built a fireplace.
Good times returned and we finally moved away from south Arkansas. Chicago was so big and so exciting, and Daddy introduced me to all its wonderful sights: the Field Museum, the Aquarium, the Planetarium, Brookfield Zoo. He managed our lives with love and grace. We never realized that he WAS managing.
He did me one last wonderful favor just before he died. He was in a coma in intensive care, dying. I was very sick, too, but somehow I got up and went to see him. I HAD to see him one last time. The moment I said, "Daddy, it's Bickey," his eyes opened wide. He took me, then, into the very vestibule of Heaven just to make sure I wouldn't be afraid. I wanted to stay with him, and go on with him. But I knew I wouldn't. Life was waiting for me.
I often think of all the big celebrations that we have for Mothers on their Day. I wish I could put on that same kind of celebration for a man who was so grand and so wonderful--my Daddy.
For all that he was, and is, all the beauty and love and dignity of spirit and the will to make things better is forever locked in my heart.
Because that's what Daddies are for.
The Worth of a Man by Billie Marie Zal
Billie and her daddy on their
trip to Vegas in 1981
The telephone rang early in the morning and awakened me out of a deep sleep. I had the flu and for a moment I could not make sense out of what the doctor was telling me.
Daddy had gone into the hospital with the flu, and no word concerning his not making it was mentioned. Now, the doctor was saying that he had taken a turn for the worse and he would keep me posted.
The following two days are a blur to me. I had a raging fever and was too weak to move; then the doctor called again and asked permission to perform a biopsy. I would have to come down to the hospital and sign a release. The disease was so aggressive that they were concerned that it might be Legionaries disease.
Somehow I managed to get there. I was so weak that I needed a little help to stand. But Daddy was dying and I had to tell him goodbye.
When I arrived at the Intensive Care room, the scene was appalling. A respirator breathed for my Daddy. Tubes were everywhere. He lay in restraints, his head drawn to one side and his face badly swollen. I stood quietly, longing that he might know that I was there. He looked so tiny, so fragile, so very vulnerable lying there.
“I will try to let him know how much he is loved,” I thought.
Bending over his bed, I kissed his swollen forehead. Then I said softly, “Daddy, it’s me, it’s Bickie.” This had always been his pet name for me.
I will never, ever, even in eternity, forget the joy of that moment. A miracle happened, for Daddy, who was comatose, immediately opened his eyes and began to smile and nod. Throughout his lifetime one of his eyes had never been any good and it was dim and lifeless. But now - lying there with his body as good as dead - BOTH eyes shone as though from a golden, inner light and I felt warmed by its rays.
Then we entered into what I believe is the “communion of the saints.” We spoke to one another, but not in audible words. Out spirits touched and the language of the spirit is unhindered by the physical. Once again I said, “Daddy, it’s me. And I love you. . .” My tears splashed hot upon my cheeks and fell upon the blankets.
He answered me, “I love you, too, Bickie. And everything you have told me about Glory is true. It’s all true.”
Again, I said, “Daddy, I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU. . .”
Then it seemed that he became very excited, and his body moved with a sudden burst of energy. He smiled that golden smile again and moved as though to touch me, but the restraints hindered him. Then he said to me, “I KNOW NOW HOW VERY MUCH YOU HAVE ALWAYS LOVED ME.”
My last words to him came naturally, freely, as though some giant barrier that had previously hindered our complete communion was removed. “Daddy, you are going to get to see MAMA.” His dearest wish for the three years since she had died was to “go see Bea again.”
He became excited again and then he spoke something so precious to me that I will carry it within my heart as “that blessed hope” until I, too, leave this mortal body and join all the others in eternity who have gone on before. His eyes radiating pure joy, twinkling with a secret that he wanted to share, he said, “Bickie, I HAVE ALREADY SEEN HER. And it’s so beautiful there.”
He closed his eyes and left me and I walked away from that tiny figure lying so quietly among the earthly bonds that had kept him waiting for me. I would not look back; he was already in Glory, and the tremendous blessing of his love settled like a warm, glowing coal of fire in my heart. Daddy had waited to share with me, “a hidden ray from God’s eternity.” I would never be the same again. There would never be any questions in my mind about death. Death WAS indeed swallowed up in victory. My Daddy had made this Truth real to me.
The difficult part of saying goodbye is going through the personal things of the one whom you have lost. As I sorted out Daddy’s treasures, I found only beautiful things. There were paintings done in pastels so lovely that they are breath taking. Paintings done with the hands of an artist. Yet those same, sensitive hands were used all of his life to work long hard hours as a pipe fitter so that he could provide for “Bea and his girls.”
I had to sort through his business papers and I was amazed at his generosity. I shouldn’t have been; he was always a giving person and if he had a dollar he would gladly share it with someone in need. Once he had no money to buy me a graduation gift, so he hocked something he loved (his trombone) to buy me a beautiful Amethyst ring.
As I checked his papers, I saw that month after month, according to his canceled checks, he had given more than one half of his pension money to help the aged, the children, the poor. I am reminded of his deep concern for the “old people.” He never identified with them - he was eternally young - and so he was worried when he saw their shopping carts at the grocery store, so bare of the goodies that people love. Once I had to discourage him from standing at the door of the IGA and asking elderly people if they would like to get a ham or a roast. I was afraid they would be offended and hurt Daddy’s feelings.
I discovered that he had kept most of the cards that had been sent to him by folks who loved him. Maudie Purser wrote, “If I loved you and your wife more, I would have to have another heart, for this one I have is full and overflowing with love for you all.” And there was “little boy” notes and scrapbooks about his grandsons. Every simple thing was precious to him.
After Mama died Daddy moved to our mountain and set up a beautiful mobile home. But I insisted that he spend most of his time with me. His last three years were good ones, except for his sorrow at being parted from Mama. I can still see him, standing on the love seat, our little Chihuahua curled in his lap, as he shared TV with me. I knew how hard it was for him to get up and down, so when he would start to get up I would turn away, pretending to be busy with something else. I had tried only once to help him, and he let me know right away that he could get up by himself. I never waited for him to go get his own coffee. I always fixed him a cup in his favorite orange cup and ignored his trembling hands, placing it close so he wouldn’t have to reach out far to pick it up.
I always bought his favorite candy bars (Hershey with almonds) and after awhile it became hard for him to unwrap it so I removed the wrapper before I ever gave it to him. In this way we could pretend that he was as agile as ever. He might permit others to “baby” him, but never his daughter!
As Daddy’s steps became more and more labored, I fretted continually. I never went to sleep when he slept down at my house and would not rest until I was sure that he had gotten up to his own home. He was driving and becoming more uncoordinated and all kinds of “What if’s” marched across my mind. Finally I made a special petition to my Father God and said, “Please don’t let him burn himself up or hurt himself by falling. You love him ever so much more than I do.”
Eventually I became more accustomed to accepting his infirmities as something that just happens to the aged. And by the time he left me, I realized that all along the way I had let go, ever so gently, of the determination to “keep my Daddy forever.”
Now I am left alone with my own memories. The things that give me the most joy and comfort are the personal, private things that he shared only with me. In his old foot locker where he kept most of his treasures I found a scribbled poem about God’s glory. Daddy was the “door keeper” of a great Church in downtown Chicago and he wrote about looking up at the spire and recognizing the power of God’s love (I had never known that he was a poet). I also found a beautiful poem about his near-perfect Mother, thanking God for her life.
He was my knight in shining armor, my hero. And I am a child who must grow up now and help others to know that there is a Father in Heaven who loves them, who reflected His love through my Daddy’s life.
If I were to sum up Daddy’s philosophy, I would say that he reminds me of a little verse I found in one of the cards he had kept. The verse reads, “It is not what he has. . . which directly expresses the worth of a man, but what he is.” (Henri Amiel)
And what my Daddy is became very clear to me when I found one of the things he had left behind and told me to open “after he was gone.” I was to read it, then give it to his grandson. I opened the tiny box and inside were eight marbles. And, tightly folded across the top of them was a note:
“To Ritchie Elvin:
These are the Agates I played with forty-five years ago.
The big ones are some of my favorite taws. You can tell by the
moons in them. I was considered a dead shot by my playmates,
but I always played fair. Remember to always play fair in all
your games and may your aim be as good as mine.
Yes, my Daddy was always a dead shot; and he always played fair. And I am praying even now that my own aim shall always be as good as his. Somehow, I think it will be.
Memorial Day, 2004
This month it was Eddie and Shirley’s turn to pick out a message. So they chose That’s What Daddies Are for. And since it is Father’s Day on the 20th someone else suggested we also reprint The Worth of A Man. It’s maybe one of my three favorites, ever! I first came to know Billie’s Dad through these two stories. I never got to meet him; but I’ve seen some of the results from the talents that God gave him; and more importantly I’ve heard a lot of family and friends talk about him, and I’ve known and loved the people he loved (and still do), and I know that he was probably the finest man I never got to know.
Prayer Requests for June, 2004
For Our Shirley. She has pain in both hands and it's more than an inconvenience. She is in a lot of pain and hindered somewhat from doing things she needs and wants to do.
For Sharon Franzen and Terry Franzen, Brian's brother and sister-in-law. They live in Florida. Sharon has lung cancer and her and Terry both need your prayers.
For Michael Small who is at Menard, Illinois.
For Katheren Peters of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who needs prayer for her health.
For Pete Kerns' (who is at Lawton, Oklahoma) Grandmother, Fada King, who needs a healing from depression.
For Willie Scott at Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Pray that Willie stays cancer free and healthy.
For Sister Ann and all the nuns at Carmel.
For Our neighbors, Colleen and Sandra. Pray for their heath and recovery.For Tommy Hayes and everyone at the Robertson Unit at Abilene, Texas.
For Robert Heffernan at Grady, Arkansas, who recently had to see a cardiologist.
For Isaac Douglas at Canton, Illinois, who asks us to pray for the warden and the administration there.
For Sandra Wilson of DeQueen, Arkansas. Sandra is the daughter of George Hurst, a friend of Billie's, and for most of us here, for years. She has 3rd phase stomach cancer.
For Richard Taylor At Boley, Oklahoma, that his ulcer doesn't get any worse.
For Adam Tate's brother and sister, and for Adam. Adam is at McAlester, Oklahoma.
For Anthony Grayson at Fallsburg, New York. With his legal efforts.
For Ken Hogan's son, Kyle............U.S. Army, Afghanistan. He is MIA. Pray for him and for Ken.
For Judy & Steve. Judy had another surgery last week......this time for a bad hernia..
For Arthur ("A.P.") Pennington, Tulsa, Oklahoma.........that God continues to bless him with his new life..
For Robert Heffernan at Grady, Arkansas...............His Heart!
For Dorris and her family; that they will be comforted during their time of loss.........she has been so good to us.
For all our brothers on Death Row
And pray for all of us at Wingspread.
"Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body."
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