Happy Birthday to my Dad—and a very Special Father's Day
I just posted last week, and though I would like to, and at some point might, I just do not have time to write a weekly post just now. So, this is a special edition, a rather public celebration of my Dad on his name day, and a chance to get a bit nostalgic about the state we both grew up in, separated only by a generation and a world where change, culturally and technologically, was kicking into high gear. When I think about growing up in Florida, those memories are inextricably linked to recollections of my mother and father as they were then. I fully realize that so quickly has the world transformed this last half-century (Post World War II) that the Florida I grew up in was already far different from the one my parents passed their childhoods in. And even for them, coming from different parts of the state and different backgrounds, it was a divergent experience. Both of them spent their childhoods in a world that was not really more innocent, but considerably more naive, and in some ways much harsher and less forgiving than later times would be. They entered into this world in a decade in which the Great Depression was ending only as the world was being plunged into a horrific war. Children were not the pampered, indulged and overprotected little beings that many would come to be a couple of decades later. Life was hard—parents were often strict and harsh disciplinarians who were more concerned with survival and putting food on the table than bonding with their offspring. Both of my parents childhoods were marked by a great deal of personal freedom of the sort that would probably be called neglect in these enlightened days. However, they also had to adhere to strict codes of behavior which brought grave and very corporal punishment if breached.
|Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/160868|
|My Dad's Aunt Hilda with myself and two of my younger sisters. National Gardens.|
In those days, TV was still a marvel and getting to watch a treat. There was Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo in the mornings, and for me at least as the oldest, the special treat of being allowed to stay up and watch Wagon Train or Bonanza. For the most part, life was activity though. Much of it was about making do, about putting food on the table or supplementing income, but for us kids, it was mostly just having fun. My Dad is a big man, and a very intimidating one. He can still send chills through the heart of the most stalwart misbehaving child (or employee or most anybody else) with a single look. That was the effect he had on us most often. We found him utterly terrifying though he never lifted a hand to us, but we loved him dearly nevertheless. With the me-centric assuredness of children, we thought that most of the things we did as a family were purely for our entertainment. As strict and sometimes frightening as my Dad could be, he took us nearly everywhere he went. He expected good behavior from us, and mostly got it, and as long as we did behave, he was proud and happy to have us along. So, we got to do things that many children these days will never experience.
|Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/67358|
My Dad fished and shrimped because he liked doing those things and always had, I think, but more often it was to put food on the table and to sell for extra money in those lean days. He worked hard all day, and yet put many hours in doing other things as well. When my sisters and I were still very small, he had an old fishing car that I dearly loved to ride in. No seat belts in those days (I am not 100 percent sure of my memory sometimes, but at least some of the time, I don't think there was a back seat) so us kids and the dog would stand behind my Dad's seat singing "Puff the Magic Dragon" or some other silly song as we drove out Old Dixie Highway or across High Bridge to the beach. While Dad fished, we swam and sunned and played, and later learned to fish ourselves, though it was always play to us. He also had a part time job at the concession stand of the Drive-in Theatre during those early years. That was my first real exposure to movies, and the beginning of a life-long love affair with the Cinema. Dad would take us along, and while he worked, I got to view whatever was playing. Often, my Mom and younger sisters would be sleeping by the time he got off work, but young as I was (five or six), I would still be watching. I loved so many movies— drama, romance, horror, but most of all sci-fi, even as cheesy as it usually was in those days.
Many things changed as we grew up, but my abiding love for that simpler, sleepier Florida lasted a good many years more. We moved to suburban Ormond Beach until my Dad was ready to build his first house. There, it was bike rides to the main street drug store, complete with ceiling fans and a soda fountain, for root beer floats, or to while away a blazing afternoon at the new library, the first building in town with central air conditioning. When we built the house in Tomoka Estates, we were once more out-a-ways. During construction, we kids were on the site every weekend and many evenings after work or school. We helped or got in the way, or explored the new wonderland that would be our next home. We swam in the canal that ran behind the house, we played in the marsh and woods that were all around us, and later took our small boat through the winding waterway to the Tomoka River and lazed away afternoons while sea cows scratched their backs on the bottom of our small craft.
|Aerial view of The House circa early1970s or so.|
|Donald G. Meyer|
Dad has always said that he got cheated, having a birthday that falls within days of Father's Day every year, but I don't think so. My Dad gets celebrated for being a Dad every birthday.