the most interesting man in the room
My father was born on December 4, 1935, in Louisville, Kentucky. His father was a typesetter for the newspaper, and his mother finished cabinetry for television sets. Later, his mother stayed home to raise her sons. Dad’s parents were both deaf and mute, and because of this, he learned to sign before he learned to speak. My father was the first-born son, and two more boys were to follow over the next eight years. My father was a tough kid who grew up in tougher times.
In 1954, he graduated from high school. He later attended college at the University of Louisville. At some point, he moved to New York City and studied marketing at Columbia University. He might have graduated with a degree from one of these universities, or he might not have. Throughout my life, those details were never important to me. What mattered to me were his stories of living in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.
My father loved being in love. His first marriage was as a teenager, and the relationship lasted approximately 24 hours before he and the girl had the marriage annulled. Dad never liked me counting this one, but I count it anyway. His second and third marriages didn’t last, but each resulted in a child. I’m grateful for Dad’s second marriage, because it resulted in my sister, Tina. And, if he had not been married so many times before, he probably would never have met my mother.
My father met his fourth wife, my mother, in a bar in Louisville. Dad was working at a bouncer, and my mother was having a drink with some friends. They married when he was 34 and my mother was 27. Fifteen days later, she would turn 28. My mother wore a slim, brown dress, and her father – a Methodist minister – officiated the ceremony.
My parents lived in Nashville, then New Orleans, and finally, Savannah, where I was born on a cold October day in 1972. My father was a traveling salesman at the time, and in the early 1970s, his travels took him to Columbia County, Florida. He became captivated by the crystalline waters of the natural, fresh water springs in the area. He wanted to move there, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life there. In 1974, he moved my mother and his two-year old daughter to Fort White. He never moved anywhere else again.
That same year that we moved to Fort White, my father turned a hobby into a business. He was fascinated by stained glass, so he ordered some glass and some lead, and he set up a small studio on the front porch of his home. Later, as the business grew, he built a freestanding studio on their property, just a short walk across the yard from the house. Over time, he renovated and expanded the studio that was home of his business, Advent Glass Works, and he later added on a large woodworking shop in the back of it. He used that studio to design and build stained glass windows for churches all over the country, though mostly in the southeast.
My father did so many things in the course of his life. He was a boxer when he served in the Kentucky National Guard. He learned to fly airplanes. He was a photographer and developed his own film. He was an excellent woodworker, and he put these skills to use when he remodeled my parent’s home. He built the tables in their home, and he built my daughter’s bed. He read constantly, churning through his favorite books, including anything by Ken Follett and Louis L’Amour. He could identify any bird or tree or snake he came across, and his interest in naming living creatures was passed on to me.
My father was charming and gregarious, and he was always the most interesting man in the room. He told stories that seemed outlandish and elaborated, and maybe some were. My husband and I joked about this, about Dad’s wild stories. When my father wasn’t around to hear us, we sometimes questioned whether his stories could possibly be true. But, without fail, some third party – an old acquaintance or friend – showed up and provided details that verified that my father’s stories were, indeed, true.
In 1998, my dad became Mayor of the town he fell in love with back in the early 1970s. He had joined the town council seven years before, and he loved civic duty, so becoming Mayor was only natural for him. Over the past year, as his dementia ate away at his memories and his personality, a good friend of his who works with the town would visit regularly to give him updates and to check in with him. Last Tuesday, she visited him in the nursing home and brought him cookies. When I visited Dad last Tuesday, he remembered that she had been there. He told me they had talked about town business. He never stopped being Mayor.
In June this year, my parents would have been married 44 years. And even though their marriage was never perfect, he loved her more than anything else in this world. He called her name over and over again in that nursing home. He wanted to be with her, always.
On February 27, 2014, at 5:15am, my father died.
I miss him terribly.