Yesterday as I drove home from grocery shopping, I had my sunroof open and my music volume up. It was a beautiful sunny day, which means the perfect day for the “California Dreaming” playlist on my ipod. This playlist reminds me of the years we lived in Huntington Beach as a child, and the first few summers after we moved up to Washington State. It reminds me of the beach, camping, long car trips and easy Saturday mornings. It’s filled with 70’s artists like the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, and Starland Vocal Band. What came on as I drove yesterday was a song by Hoyt Axton. I’m guessing most of you have never heard of Hoyt Axton before, and I probably wouldn’t have either- if it wasn’t for my dad.
Hoyt Axton was a folk/country singer with a deep bass voice and a penchant for storytelling. He was a songwriter as well, and, in addition to writing most of his own songs, also wrote “Joy To The World” for Three Dog Night. (You gotta know that song- one of the most unusual opening lines of a song ever: “Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine.”) He never had a number one hit of his own, and only cracked the top 10 twice. But those songs evoke memories for me that take me right back to my childhood, and every one makes me think of my dad. The one I heard yesterday was a strange little ditty called “Della and the Dealer.”
“It was Della and the Dealer and a dog named Jake
And a cat named Kalamazoo
Left the city in a pick up truck
Gonna make some dreams come true.
If that cat could talk what tales he’d tell
About Della and the Dealer and the dog as well
But the cat was cool and he never said a mumblin’ word.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZHSIhdYSZY (Della and the Dealer)
I’m not gonna lie- I have no idea what this song is about, but I can sing every darn word of it. I remember long car trips where my sisters Colleen and Shannon and I were jammed in the back seat while we sang along at the top of our lungs to the Hoyt Axton 8-track.
We took a lot of car trips when I was a kid. Partly that was because all of our family was still in Southern Cal, and partly because my dad just loves to drive. We rarely flew anywhere if we could drive. And every car trip had an accompanying soundtrack. I remember one trip in which my father had somehow managed to sneak in a song that was so cheesy and awful that it became the theme song for the whole trip. I can still remember singing,
“Put another log on the fire
Cook me up some bacon and some beans.”
Unlike Della and the Dealer, the meaning of this song was very clear. It’s a male chauvinist anthem, although it probably was a little tongue in cheek.
Music was a big part of my childhood. When we would go camping with our friends the Setterlunds, we would all sit around the fire and sing songs, mostly John Denver, while Steve played the guitar. We did stuff like that a lot growing up- camping trips and sing alongs. I know it sounds made up, but we really did.
My mom and dad got married in February of 1971. At the time, My dad had two children, Billy and Heidi, who were almost teenagers. My mom had 4 year old Shannon and 18 month old Colleen. I was born a little more than a year later. The blending of the two families wasn’t always easy. My brother and sister lived with their mom for the most part, but with my two very young sisters, there was suddenly a family of 6. Shortly afterwards, 7. My mom was a single mother, and my dad chose to legally adopt my sisters. Most of the time I forget that fact, because there is no doubt that my dad loves my sisters as fiercely as he loves me and his older two kids.
And it couldn’t have been easy, living with all those women. My brother (who goes by Bill now but I can’t ever stop calling Billy) was 14 years old when I was born. He did live with us for a short time, but he mostly stayed with his mom before going out on his own. That meant it was my dad vs. 5 females. Even the dog, Daisy, was a girl.
But he handled us all with patience, and kindness. He was firm, but not unforgiving. And he was steadfast. Always steadfast. There has not been a moment of my entire life where I didn’t know with absolute certainty that my dad has my back.
It’s very rare to find a man who will always be there for you. Who will go out of his way to help. He rarely balks at anything anyone has ever asked of him. I know that I am very blessed to have him for my dad.
I love our existential talks, about life, the universe, history, the Bible, science and the meaning of it all. I know that I get that inquisitive side from my dad. That part of me that wants to know why, and how. He knows all kinds of weird and interesting things. He knows the details that not everyone cares about- but I do. Nathan said to me that after spending the weekend with my dad while we were out of town he came to realize how smart he is. He said, “It’s like having conversations with you- only he explains it way better.” I love that my kids are starting to understand the treasure trove of information that is my father.
He wasn’t perfect though. One night we were driving home and someone talked him into stopping for ice cream. He said he would go in. We all waited in the car in anticipation. What would he get? Chocolate? Mint Chip? Rocky Road?
He came back to the car. My sister said, “What did you get?”
He handed her the carton.
“What is this? Burgundy Cherry?! What in the world is Burgundy Cherry? Who gets Burgundy Cherry ice cream for children? Chocolate something- anything. But BURGUNDY CHERRY??”
Burgundy Cherry. A flavor that would live in infamy.
He would never live down Burgundy Cherry.
He also has his own share of idiosyncrasies. Jeff calls it ingenuity and obscure creativity. My dad is a left-brain thinker, a draftsman, a mechanical engineer, a do-it-yourselfer. He looks at a problem and is determined to find a solution. His solutions aren’t usually mainstream thinking. One time, when my mom was out of town, he got locked out of the house. Instead of calling the locksmith, he went into the garage, pulled out one of his tools, bore a hole adjacent to the doorknob, reached his hand through, and unlocked the door. For months that hole stood testament to my father’s way of handling the situation.
He also has a propensity for grilling inside the garage, even though the label on the side expressly warns against it. He considers it more of a guideline; One which he chooses to ignore. He grills year round, no matter the weather. If you are driving through Snohomish during a snowstorm and you smell barbeque chicken, it’s probably my father.
The best day to be at my parents’ house, though, is the fourth of July. This is his favorite holiday by far. One year he slipped Jeff a piece of paper discreetly and said, “When you go to Boom City, go to booth #49 and ask for Mike. He’s my contact up there. He has the big stuff in back.”
Their house has hosted some elaborate 4th of July parties over the past 25 years. One year, as the fireworks display entered it’s 3rd hour, Jeff leaned over and said, “Some people have 401k’s. We have fireworks.”
The Snohomish police drive down the hill next to their house every year, and, although they see my father loading illegal reservation fireworks into the mortar launchers he has attached all along the guard rail, they simply wave to my mother and drive away. You always know things are about to get crazy when you see my dad walk by with the propane torch he uses to ignite the explosives.
Every year we insist he gives us some sort of warning before he sets them off. A couple years ago my sister and I demanded that he yell out “fire in the hole!” before launching anything. Sometimes he remembers. Every year we are also convinced it is the year someone will have to go to the hospital or we will light the neighbor’s house on fire. It’s inevitable.
Yesterday at Parker’s last baseball game he came back from his car wearing this:
I don’t know why. Maybe there is no reason.
But he was there, cheering Parker on, just like he is for almost every event my kids participate in. My dad has 5 kids. He has 13 grandkids. And as of last week, he is now a great grandfather. And loves every one of us more than we can imagine. He shows us through his devotion, his loyalty, his willingness. He shows us through his kindness and his servant’s heart. What a great example for my kids and a beautiful legacy.
I don’t want to end my Father’s Day post without giving a shout out to the father of my own kids, Mr. Jeff Jackson- Hey! You! Jeff! You’re a good man and a great dad. You bring humor to our home, you have balanced out my crazy, you have stood by my side through all the ups and downs of raising 4 kids for the past 18 plus years. Thank you for loving our kids and giving them a great role model. I’m sorry for making you build your own father’s day present last year ( A BBQ smoker) in the rain, and then cook your own father’s day dinner on it. This year I promise not to make you do anything you don’t want to do. Except spend it with us. Happy Father’s Day.
photo by Di Miles at Natural Approach Photography.