Friday, February 05, 2016

100 Years Ago Today

On February 5, 1916, my dad Marion Reasoner was born in the community of Indian Creek, Texas. Like most rural Texans at the time, he and his family had a pretty hardscrabble existence. As a young man, he helped on the family farm, worked as a cowboy, and eventually became the manager of a bowling alley in nearby Brownwood. He was one of the top amateur bowlers in the country at the time. Later, after marrying my mother, he worked as an aircraft mechanic, first as a civilian employee at Randolph Field in San Antonio during World War II and then later at Convair/General Dynamics in Fort Worth. In between those two stints, he served in the U.S. Army and was in the Signal Corps, going overseas to Austria right after V-E Day. As he put it years later, he strung telephone wire all over Austria and developed a lifelong affection for the country. He always wanted to go back and visit, but he never did.

While working at Convair in Fort Worth in the early Fifties, he took a correspondence course that taught him how to repair televisions and radios. This was in the early days of TV, of course, so he was in almost on the ground floor of the TV repair business. This became his second job for many years, and he worked at it full-time after he retired from General Dynamics in the mid-Seventies, opening a business that sold and serviced TVs and appliances. (This is the shop where I worked for five years.) After closing that shop he continued to work on TVs part-time for his old customers for several years, before finally retiring to devote his time to gardening, his grandkids, and volunteer work such as delivering Meals on Wheels. He decided to put in a garden at my house, and I can still see him in my mind’s eye, 85 years old, wearing khakis and a long-sleeved shirt and a battered old hat, wrestling with a gas tiller out there in that garden in the middle of summer.

As a kid, my dad loved to read, but as an adult he devoted most of his time to working, as many in his generation did, and didn’t read much for many years. But when he got older and slowed down some, he began to read again and went through hundreds of books, mostly Westerns and historical novels, but really, he would read almost anything he could put his hands on. The fact that I was a writer had something to do with his renewed interest in reading, I’m sure, and he became a fan of my books and a great salesman for them. He would carry around copies of them when he was making his TV service calls and sell them to his customers. Often when he’d stop by our house, he would take a $20 bill out of his pocket and give it to me, saying, “Sold some books.” Actually, I suspect he gave away a lot of them and just used that as an excuse to feed me a little extra cash, since he knew we were struggling financially a lot of that time and had two kids. That’s exactly the sort of guy he was.

He loved telling stories and jokes, watching baseball on TV, and whistling along with gospel music. He could whistle a version of “Amazing Grace” that would make chills go up and down your spine, it was so beautiful. His favorite TV shows were Westerns. Saturday night in our house meant HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL and GUNSMOKE, and Sunday night was BONANZA, if we got home from church in time. He could spend hours in his back yard pulling weeds and “dopin’ them red ant beds”. He hated weeds and red ants with equal passion.

His health began to deteriorate as he entered his late 80s. Eventually he had to move into a nursing home, which he hated worse than weeds and red ants. The last time I visited, when I started to leave I commented that I had some pages to get written. He said, “Better get your work done.” Those were his last words to me. They summed up his life pretty well. He was a man who believed folks better get their work done.

His passing wasn’t unexpected, but it still left a hole in the lives of everyone who knew him. For several years after that, almost every day I had the urge to ask him about something or other, before catching myself and realizing I couldn’t. Even now, more than a decade later, that still happens every now and then. The ones who’ve passed on are still supposed to be there, damn it, so that when we think, “Oh, I’ll just ask him; he’ll know”, we’re not left with that sudden feeling of loss.

A few years after he died, the phone rang at my house one day, and when I answered, the caller said, “Is this the TV man?” I used to get those calls all the time, people looking for him, while he was in the business and after he retired, too. That was the first such call I’d gotten in a long time, though. Even though I had to say, “No, I’m sorry, that was my dad and he passed away,” I had a smile on my face, glad that people still remembered him. I have to suspect I won’t get any more such calls. Too much time has passed, and anyway, TVs are throwaway items now. If it doesn’t work, chunk it, go down to Wal-Mart, and buy another one. But if the phone does happen to ring someday and somebody says, “Is this the TV man?”, I won’t be totally surprised, either.

This is a bit disjointed and probably a little too maudlin, but right now I’d give a lot to be able to stand out in my driveway with him, leaning on his car, talking for hours about everything under the sun like we used to. I still have a lot of questions I’d like to ask him. But there are pages to be written, and like he said . . .

I’d better get my work done.

18 comments:

Bill Crider said...

A great tribute, James, and not maudlin at all. I'm glad I got to meet your dad up in Wyoming and that we're all in that Old West picture together.

Jerry House said...

Wonderful memory, James. Like your father, mine was born in 1916; I still want to seek his advice on a daily basis even though he's been gone for more than 35 years.

Walker Martin said...

Thanks for allowing us to read this fine tribute to your dad, James. My mother was born in 1916 also but she only made it to 68. I still miss and think of her even though its been over 30 years since she died.

One sad thing about living longer, we unfortunately get to see some of our friends pass away. As you point out, I'm always thinking about asking some of my old book pals something and then I remember I no longer can. They are dead and live on in our memories. But that's it...

Tom Johnson said...

Wonderful tribute, James. 1916 also saw the birth of my mother in May. She was 73 when she passed.

larry said...

Thanks for a peek into your life,great tribute.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very nice to read about your Dad.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks, folks. This blog is as close as I'll ever come to writing an autobiography, so I like to indulge myself in posts like this from time to time.

jhegenbe said...

This was probably the best thing I ever read by you. Better than many other folks' recollections, too. Thanks for sharing. I'm pretty sure he would have been proud to have read it. I know I was.

David Cranmer said...

Beautiful tribute, James. Felt like you were talking about my dad who I still look to for advice.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds in many ways like my father, who was of that generation. Get your work done. I loved reading this piece. Good memories. it helped bring back a few memories of my father for me.

Keith West said...

I'll echo what jhegenbe said, this is probably the best post I've seen here. Your dad sounds like quite a guy. In many ways he reminds me of my grandfather (who was about the same age) and my father (who is thankfully still with us). Feel free to write posts like this more often than "from time to time".

Cap'n Bob said...

A wonderful and touching memory. I never knew your dad but I knew many like him from that generation and they were a special breed. I doubt we'll ever see their like again.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, wonderful post, I agree with jhegenbe and Keith. Your dad sounds like he was a gentleman. The thoughts of him giving away the books and then slipping you some cash is probably right on the money, that generation would do kind acts, but never wanted to have it acknowledged.
David P

Bruce Harris said...

Marvelous tribute. Thank you for sharing. My father was also a TV repairman. I fondly remember a basement full of tubes and tube testers.

Richard R. said...

Touching, heartfelt, beautiful. You paint a picture of the man we can see with our mind's eye. Thank you, sir.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Thanks for sharing that with us. I love him taking your books around to sell or give away, a really nice tribute.

My father was a few years younger, born in 1924, and also did repairs, though his were more vacuum cleaners, sewing machines and other small appliances. This was after enlisting at 17 after Pearl Harbor and working on planes for four years in England.

He made it nearly to 90.

SteveHL said...

As Bill said, not maudlin at all but very moving.

Anonymous said...

Very moving, you are lucky to have such wonderful memories. Sounds like your father had a life well lived.

Ken.