the most interesting man in the room

my father

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.

my father and me

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.


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26 Responses to “storytelling through writing: four tips”

  1. 1

    You had a well-deserved spot on that panel! It was so lovely to finally meet you. Hope you get a chance to dive into that new Stephen King book soon!!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 8th, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

      Thank you so much, Anna. I loved getting to meet you and Lisa finally. Travel safely home!

  2. 2
    Macaroni Mama — June 9, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

    Great tips Merry Jennifer. Maybe I will start reading again.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

      I sure hope so!

  3. 3

    I’m sure you did absolutely wonderful! Your writing is amazing, and I’m excited whenever you have a new post up. You make it seem effortless. 😉


    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

      Thank you so much, Denise. Definitely not effortless, but thank you for saying that!

  4. 4
    Ali | Gimme Some Oven — June 9, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

    You are such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing this, your candid thoughts on the panel this weekend, and your amazing recipes and stories week after week. You are making the world a better place in so many ways.

    Such a privilege to meet you this weekend too! I definitely look forward to staying in touch, and hope to get more time to sit down and chat more sometime soon! 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

      It was so great meeting you, Ali. I would definitely love talking more in the future. (keep with that music!)

  5. 5
    Kathryn — June 10, 2013 @ 4:28 am

    I would have loved to be able to listen to your panel discussion – this post is inspirational enough so I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in the room. Some really great advice here, thank you.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

      Oh, Kathryn, I wish you could have been there — but mostly so that I can finally meet you. 🙂

  6. 6
    Momo — June 10, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    Your seat on that panel was well-deserved and I think this post proves it! Thanks for being part of BlogHer Food ’13!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

      Thanks so much for having me, Momo! I had a blast on the panel – and at the entire conference.

  7. 7

    i have always enjoyed your blog and you are a big inspiration <3

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

      Thank you so much!

  8. 8
    Beth Lee — June 10, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

    I felt the same way as you last year but you know what? we both deserved our “place at the table” and each of us had very different and still very meaty and useful tips to share. Congrats on what sounds like a great conference and panel. I, too, thought the questions were excellent during my session. Brought out even more good stuff from the panel.

    Wish I could have been there in person. I’m sure you were outstanding!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

      Thank you so much, Beth! I wish I could have seen you, too. Maybe next year?

  9. 9

    You did well during the panel, it was lovely to accidentally meet you the night before and thanks for this post. MUCH better than the notes I took! 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

      I loved how we ran into each other after that fortuitous introduction on twitter the day before. 🙂

  10. 10
    Amy at Kid Cultivation — June 11, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    I attended your session and found it so heartening and inspirational to hear about your writing process in the midst of a very full and busy “real” life. And if it’s any consolation, I was too shy and awed by you 4 amazing bloggers on the panel that I didn’t even introduce myself. I guess that’s why so many of us stick to writing. It’s much easier to be brave and confident on the screen! Thanks for speaking and yes, you belonged there.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

      Oh, Amy, next time you simply must come up and say hello! I would love to have met you in person. Thank you for being there!

  11. 11
    Paula — June 11, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

    Great tips Merry-Jennifer. I’m glad you enjoyed the conference. I’m sure everyone who had the pleasure of hearing you speak were enriched by what you had to say.

    I think that even though you have taken a course and have signed up for another one, that you are a gifted and natural born story teller.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

      Paula, you have no idea how much that means to me. Thank you. xo

  12. 12
    jenny r — June 13, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

    I think we left one crucial thing out at the conference: feeling like an imposter is absolutely vital to the experience. And as soon as we realize we ALL feel like that (I’m betting even Stephen King did when he first started) the sooner we can plow through whatever is holding us back. Great post! Great to meet you!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 13th, 2013 @ 8:20 pm

      You’re probably right, Jenny. That’s one of the hardest things to get over.
      It was wonderful meeting YOU!

  13. 13
    Nutmeg nanny — June 16, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

    Really great tips 🙂 wonderful post!

  14. 14
    Michelle — June 18, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

    Merry-Jennifer, like so many others have already stated, I agree that you more than belonged at the table as a member of that panel. I’m no longer food-blogging, but I will tell you that there have only been about 3 or 4 food-blogs I continue to personally follow, and your’s is one of them. You inspire more of us than you may ever truly know with your real-life -busy-motherhood-spouse-Dr-daughter-friend stories that speak to our hearts, all while staying connected to the heart of the home, the kitchen. Brava!

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