This trip was almost 40 years in the making. Hubby wanted to see Reba since he heard her first album, several years before he met me. As usual, life got in the way, and other needs took place over Reba tickets. One day, the Heavens opened and granted a wish. I was going to Avon RepFest 2018 in Columbus, OH and taking the Hubby along for the trip. Reba would be playing at the Ohio State Fair at the same time. Gold! Struck Gold I tell you. I surprised him with tickets. I bought the tickets late in the game, so we were not able to sit together. That was fine. I knew my Man would be oblivious to anyone else in the room except for Reba. For me, this concert was all about Hubby. Little did I know that I would be the one walking down memory lane.
Turns out, I ended up on a row by myself. People were either on the sidelines dancing, at the booth buying t-shirts, or I smelled because my vehicle A/C broke a few hours back and we were sitting in bumper to bumper Cincinnati traffic before hitting Columbus. I was minding my own business, enjoying myself, when THAT SONG came out of nowhere. THAT SONG I had not thought about in years. Now, I was sitting in the audience, hearing THAT SONG sung in person and it had an even greater impact than it did years ago sitting in Hubby’s truck. I sat on that row by myself, tears rolling down my eyes. Memories started rolling in……..
Sometime in 1992, riding with Hubby in his truck, Reba’s beautiful voice came through the radio. This was a new song, one we never heard before. At the end, I was bawling my eyes out and said THIS SONG could have been written about me and my Daddy. Perhaps you heard it – The Greatest Man I Never Knew….. I cannot hear this song without crying. I cannot write this blog without crying.
The greatest man I never knew
Lived just down the hall
And everyday we said hello
But never touched at all
He was in his paper
I was in my room
How was I to know he thought I hung the moon
Maybe it was the era of the WWII man, I don’t know. Red, from That 70’s Show, reminds me so much of Daddy. Dad did not have much interaction with us. To me and my sister, our Dad just existed in the house. We considered the Family Unit to be Mom, Sister and Myself. We had two older siblings; however, they were already out of the house as we were growing up. Well meaning family members, who should have really shut their mouth, would tell me and Kris that our Daddy was different when Eric and Donna were growing up and he seemed closer to them. Well thank you very much. Kris and I had nothing to do with us being late in life babies. We always figured Daddy, who was almost 42 when I came along, was just plumb tuckered out by the time we became active and needy. We considered Daddy the grouchy, old German that lived in the house.
The greatest man I never knew
Came home late every night
He never had too much to say
Too much was on his mind
I never really knew him
And now it seems so sad
Everything he gave to us took all he had
Now please don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. One of my first memories of him was on Saturdays, when Mom was working at the local A&P. Dad would take a nap around 1:00. Dad was rather round. I would watch him in his room as his belly slowly rose and fell while breathing. I would climb up on his belly and lay there riding the ride. Never woke him up, or if it did, he never stirred to disturb me. When I got bored, I would climb back down and go back to my Barbies. Daddy also loved the Road Runner. He would belly laugh at the antics of the coyote every Saturday morning. He and I were the early risers. We would get up and watch that cartoon together. Later in the day, Sister, who was into hair and make-up (yet I became the Avon Lady), would want to wash Dad’s hair. Why, I don’t know, because he didn’t have much to style. Dad would obediently sit in the bathroom while Kris washed, rinsed then combed his 10 strands of hair. At some point in the day, I would decide to iron Dad’s handkerchiefs. I was probably only 6 at the time, and why they let me near an iron, I don’t know. I would grab a can of starch, spray the kerchief like a maniac and iron, fold once, spray the kerchief like a maniac and iron, repeating each step until the kerchief was folded in the square Dad liked. Never once did he complain about his handkerchiefs being scratchy on his nose.
Then the days turned into years
And the memories to black and white
He grew cold like an old winter wind
Blowing across my life
Looking back now, Daddy did pay attention to us, but just not in every detail like our Mom did. Kris and I wanted more. We wanted hugs. We wanted loving, undivided attention. Dad was rather cold. And loud. Dad, for the most part, always seemed cranky and yelled a lot. That is what I remember most – him yelling.
Fast forward several years when I was a pre-teen and Sister was a teen. The chasm really grew between us and Dad. We wanted him to take an interest and look at our report cards like Mom did, and have conversations with us. This rarely happened. Looking back now, during this chasm, I see that I grew selfish and snobby and probably did more to push Dad away instead of trying to draw him in.
We didn’t have much in common with Dad at all. The biggest bond he had with Sister was his love of fruitcake (Gross!). Kris could bake anything and everything she put her mind too. I remember for many years, several months before Christmas, Dad and Kris would work in the kitchen together assembling a fruitcake. Kris would bake, Dad would soak the finished product in alcohol, then they both would carefully wrap this disgusting concoction, and put it away in a cabinet to let mature. The Family Unit never touched this stuff. What we didn’t know was Dad would bring the fruitcake to work to share and would brag on his daughter’s baking abilities. I heard he bragged on me too. About what, I don’t know, because Sister sucked all the craft talent out of the Family Unit. I can’t even draw a stick man.
Fast forward to when I turned 14. Our oldest sister FINALLY had a baby. This little package was so welcomed into our family. Dad, the grouchy, old German, turned into a puddle of mush. We had no idea who this man was. He invaded the Family Unit with a vengeance. When my niece turned one, Dad drove home from work with the biggest stuffed teddy bear I had ever seen. He had it sitting in the front seat of his truck when he pulled into the driveway. I blew a gasket. I made a big scene about the fact he never, ever did anything like that for me – and I was his baby – the baby of the family! Six months later on my birthday, he rolled into the driveway with the same teddy bear for me. I saved that thing until a few years ago when we downsized. I had no more room for this big blue and white stuffed monstrosity, and stuffing was leaking everywhere.
Over the next few years, the grouchy, old German started changing. He became human. Old Woody was yelling less, he loved our friends – our friends actually came to our house to see him! He would sit in front of the TV and laugh his head off watching Three’s Company. He came to parades to see me march with my high school Flag Team. Who was this man?
And then we learned just how cruel fate could be. Dad was gone in a blink of an eye. He died one month before I turned 18, 4 months before I graduated high school and 4 months before my sister’s wedding.
The greatest words I never heard
I guess I’ll never hear
The man I thought would never die
He’s been dead almost a year
He was good at business
But there was business left to do
He never said he loved me
Guess he thought I knew
Dad has been gone almost 40 years now, about the time Reba was breaking into the country music scene, about the time Hubby was first hearing of Reba. Full circle – closing the gap with me hearing THAT SONG live.
My Dad was once a grouchy, old German, but he was my grouchy, old German. He was my Dad. He is MY DAD. And I love you. Guess I thought you should know.