In memory of a good provider, loving father
When my father was old and frail, he sat on our patio every morning awaiting the arrival of Freddie the Freeloader. He kept a sack of cracked corn in his lap and as soon as Freddie arrived, he scattered a handful of it on the table beside him.
Freddie, in his cautious way, conducted an aerial surveillance for any hostile elements (cats) in the vicinity before he flew down from the garage roof for breakfast. He cooed a greeting to my father as he pecked away at his morning repast.
My father’s conversation with Freddie usually began, “Well, you’re right on time again this morning,” to which Freddie would respond with a soft “oo-coo-roo.”
“You’re a smart old bird, aren’t you? Never pass up a hand-out, do you?” A head-bobbing “oo-coo-roo” from a preoccupied Freddie, who was methodically consuming every minute fragment provided for him.
“No sense working for a living, is there? Not when you’ve got some old guy who’s willing to give you something for nothing.”
But Freddie, whose name we had appropriated from the Red Skelton show, while not exactly working for a living, was nevertheless giving a great deal. When he made his pigeon-toed way across the table and perched on the back of my father’s chair to coo in his ear, he was offering his trust to a weary, white-haired gentleman whose world had become very small.
Feeding Freddie gave a purpose to my father’s days. It enabled him to continue his longtime role as the good provider. He had taken responsibility for a needy bird, a bedraggled avian specimen who had not kept up with the flock. Perhaps Freddie had been through about as much in his lifetime as my father had been in his. They did seem to understand one another.
This particular memory of my father typifies for me his matter-of-fact kindness and easy generosity. He did not expect special recognition for what he gave, and I’m sure the “blessedness” of giving never crossed his mind. He was simply a practical man who felt an obligation to extend a helping hand when it was needed.
My brother and I were orphans, aged 7 and 4, when he and our mother-to-be took us from the Wyoming state children’s home to be their own. Their unspoken commitment to us was exactly the same as their wedding commitment to each other: “For better or for worse …”
Our mother, who had been one of 12 children, regarded selfishness as a cardinal sin. Whenever my brother or I showed any signs of greed or a reluctance to share, she shamed us by reminding us that our father was always prepared “to give anybody the shirt off his back.”
His childhood was one of unrelenting hard labor as he struggled along with his German immigrant family to survive on their Nebraska homestead. I have often thought that if anything would make a person stingy, it would be growing up under conditions where every bite of food was so hard won.
But his attitude was directly opposite to that; his greatest enjoyment lay in inviting people, including friends, relatives, and the traveling salesmen who called on him at his store, to our home for a hearty meal.
The lines in my father’s face grew deep during the bitter years of the Depression. He often drove to work through the dust storms that added to the general misery of those hard times. Brown billows blurred the sun and robbed the color from Wyoming’s skies.
Precious top soil blown all the way from Oklahoma, powdered our hair and clothes, sifted into buildings and gritted on the city streets. Nevertheless, his music and stationery store opened six mornings every week, as clean and orderly as it was humanly possible to keep it, and somehow he managed to maintain his business without discharging any of his employees.
My mother turned the worn collars on his shirts and patched the linings of his suit coats. My brother and I had little concept of our parents heroic daily struggle to provide for us. We were loved, and our father was with us every day, teasing us, hugging us, bragging about our accomplishments and encouraging us to take another stab at the things we found hard to do. What more did we need? Like Freddie the Freeloader we had it made.
I wish I had understood enough to coo in my father’s ear the way Freddie did.
Lucille Lovestedt lives in Grass Valley.
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