Dry Gulch

My father was a story-teller and a great one.

Hazen was a funny, funny man.

And more than wit or beauty, my Father admired women who were funny too. He put great stock in each of his “girls” having a sense of humor. Daddy taught us to see ourselves through a less-than-serious lens. He crafted his own humor around his own foibles and expected us to have the self confidence to do the same. His humor was always… at least partially self-directed… contrived in such a way that it was never cruel.

There was something clubby…some essence of being part of a favored inner circle…to be included in Daddy’s stories. You wanted to have AT LEAST some minor role because it meant you were part of HIM. To this day, I suppose I follow that rule. You’ll know we are REALLY good friends when you make the story-cut. Till then, I’m pretty circumspect.

My Father taught us that telling a funny story… about yourself… is the greatest ice-breaker of all. I think it’s a sign of our mass cultural insecurity that so few people can laugh at themselves anymore. My Father understood there was no greater display of self-assurance than to allow others to join you in some self-directed humor. Likewise, there is no more appalling evidence of base insecurity than to target others unkindly or tolerate sycophants doing so in your presence. (We had a cringe-worthy public display of this recently when Obama allowed Paul McCartney to ridicule Bush at a White House party.)

My Father taught us the best follow-up to a friend’s embarrassment is an inclusive tale of some dopey misadventure of your own. That way, an awkward episode becomes a bonding moment between friends. I have a collection of personal mishaps to fit any occasion. I use them like greeting cards. I was brought up to be self-effacingly prepared.

As a family, we loved our stories so much…we told them over and over again. We enjoyed them even more as we embellished and exaggerated our misadventures into a verbal family history. These stories even acquired short-cut names.

Like “Dry Gulch.”

My parents spent the summers with me when my children were small. I lived then in a hilly rural area joined by twisted curving roads. My Father’s least favorite highway was “Dry Gulch” (as Daddy called it)…that curved at the bottom of a very steep and wooded hill…where we had to make a left turn to go home. One rainy day, Daddy miscalculated and we had a near miss as he turned in front of a large truck barreling toward us.

We barely made it. Mother and I were white with fear; my Father was red with shame. It was not a good moment.

The next day, I was the designated driver. On another curvy stretch, I was changing channels on the radio and drove the car at 50 MPH into a ditch. As I overcompensated, the car swung wildly in circles across the highway…and eventually came to a stop facing the wrong way on the other side of the road.

We sat there…breathless…dust flying up…all of us terrified, and, me…of course, mortified.

My Father’s voice emanated from the back seat. “Celie,” he said to my Mother, “I think she’s retaliating for Dry Gulch.”

In a instant,with those words, he had consoled me with the commonality of humans making mistakes. He had reassured me with his humor that MY carelessness was forgiven. And, by linking the two incidents together, he had reinforced the point, that both HE and I needed to work on our driving skills or start calling cabs.

For summers after that…when any of my children seemed burdened by their own mistakes…I can see Daddy now…arm about them…pulling them in…patting their backs…”Ace,(everyone was “Ace”)… we just have to learn from our mistakes. Use them to improve. Haven’t your Mother or I ever told you about Dry Gulch.”

On this Father’s Day and every day, I remember one of the best gifts and some of the best advice, Daddy ever gave me. Fifteen years old, furious and heartbroken, I told him some dramatic tale of wrongdoing directed at me by some long forgotten villain.
He patted me on the back and said a few consoling words. Then his face brightened and he leaned in conspiratorially…”But Ace,” he said ” You realize…SOME day…this is going to make a great story.

Happy Fathers Day, Daddy.

We still tell your stories.

You live in every moment of our everyday life.

You are loved forever.

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4 Responses

  1. You are beautiful, Little Sister. Thanks for the beautiful story of our beloved Dad. He still lives with us every day….Love you and hugs

  2. It has been theorized that what separate primates from humans is that human parents teach their young what they know and take great joy when they succeed.

    Sounds like your father was a great teacher

  3. Six days ago my wife and I drove almost 350 miles to attend my high-school class’s 45th reunion. I had been asked to speak at the affair, which every year on the third weekend of June combines the gatherings of all the five-year classes from the 5th to the 70th. At this year’s event I happily encountered classmates I hadn’t seen since our graduation day–even though I’ve appeared at this extravaganza every five years since 1985. In my talk I exhorted all the attendees to count their blessings, as in my travels I had never met anyone from any other place who could so conveniently plan to reunite with his high-school chums.

    My reunion trips have facilitated my celebrating Father’s Day no less frequently than every five years with my still active parents. After reading your lovely tribute to your own father, I’m resolved henceforth to tag the reunion–and not Father’s Day–as the lucky coincidence.

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