Sunday, June 18, 2006

Henry Clay Part I

Henry Clay was my father. Most people called him Clay. I remember him as a big man with a big voice. He was quite handsome and appeared younger than his years. I see pictures of Henry when he was in the Army and I am amazed at how thin and tiny he appeared, for that is not how I remember him.

If I had to describe my father in a word it would be two words actually - a character. There were so many sides to him that a chapter in a blog cannot capture.

My dad was born and raised in Horse Cave, KY. His parents were George and Hattie. Daddy had 2 brothers, Emery and George Jr., and two sisters Pat and Mary Elizabeth.

Henry Clay was a very smart man. I hear from the family elders that he had thought once on entering law school, which would explain the law books that were sprinkled throughout our house. He read a lot, watched the news religiously and we would often go to him for those tidbits of information we needed, whether it would be for a school project or just to settle a discussion. I didn’t need Google or the internet, my daddy always knew the answers. I am not sure, but I am inclined to believe that my father did not have a high school education.

My dad’s brother, Emery, owned a Television repair shop, and Emery wanted my dad to go into business with him. For some reason, daddy didn’t do it. My dad served in the US Army. After his stint in the Army he started working at the Quartermaster Depot in Indiana. Somehow or another his working career ended up at the Census Bureau, which was also in Indiana. I can’t remember my dad working at the old Quartermaster Depot, but he spoke of it often. I only remember him working at the Census Bureau. Daddy would go off to work everyday to the tune of “I’m off to gather statistics.” After his death, I was going through daddy’s desk, and found a quote that he had clipped from a magazine that said, “Old census takers never die, they just go to where they don’t count anymore.” I appreciated the cleverness of that quote as it related to daddy – he was a clever man.

My dad had five daughters much to his dismay. He wanted a son more than anything. I guess Carol was the last attempt at a boy. As we girls grew older and began having children, daddy would offer us $25.00 to name any sons we had after him. I considered naming my first born son Henry, but wasn’t real sure I wanted to name that cute little baby boy. . . Henry. Daddy did worry about the Miller family name being carried on. He was the only one of his male siblings that had any children. I had a cousin Vicky, but she was adopted, and later one of my aunts had a son (Kevin). When my father’s brother died last year, the Miller name legacy died with him.

I’m not sure how Henry did it. He had five daughters and sent them all to catholic schools. As I was growing up and in high school, I used to whine and complain because I had to clean after school to help pay my tuition. Now that I am an adult, I am amazed that he paid for that catholic education on his meager salary – and believe me – his salary was meager.

My dad’s nickname for me was “moon-face.” As I was growing up, I didn’t understand it, but I did later, because my face was indeed round. He also said I was the “sneaky” one. I wasn’t sure what he meant by the “sneaky” thing either, but I think he had me pegged. I just didn’t want to admit it. After all, I was the one who wanted to write on the bathroom wall, so I wrote Carol’s initials so “I” wouldn’t get in trouble. Only problem was Carol’s name was Georgia Carol Miller, and I wrote JCM on the bathroom wall. I didn’t know how to spell Georgia , so I wrote it phonetically. Caught! I guess “sneaky” applied there.

I don’t remember much (if any) affection from my father and most of my memories consisted of me being afraid of him. It’s funny sometimes what you think, and the acts of kindness which stick in your mind. After I graduated high school, I became pregnant “out of wedlock.” I was scared to death of my parents’ reaction to this news. I was scared of everything associated with my pregnancy. I remember one interaction with my father. He had the pregnancy news already, and I’m not sure who told him, but it wasn’t me. One day, daddy needed something from the kitchen and I brought it to him. He said “thank you hon.” He called me “hon!” He had never done that before. That one little word meant so much to me, and with the speaking of that word, I knew things with me and my father were OK. I took it to mean that he understood about my being pregnant and was not angry with me, and he really did accept me, and I wasn’t not going to be thrown out on the streets.. It’s really hard to explain, but for me, the utterance of the word hon was a “moment.”

My dad never drove a car that I can recall. Dad would go to work everyday on a bus. It was somewhat of an inconvenience not having a car. My dad knew the bus system like the back of his hand. I never understood why he did not drive, and often resented the fact that we didn’t have a chauffer. We would often times depend on others who had the luxury of a vehicle.

We were raised in the Catholic Church and went to catholic schools. Mom, my sisters and I would all go to church on Sunday, but my dad never went. Daddy would attend special occasions like first communions, but never went to church. I wasn’t sure he had a religion, but can vaguely remember him telling us he was of the Methodist faith.

When I was little, I would remember my dad sitting in his chair watching TV. His Monday through Friday routine was the same for years and years. He would come home from work, eat dinner, take a nap, wake up from that nap then watch TV until the 11 o’clock news was over. He would then go to bed to wake up the next day to begin the same routine.

My dad was paid on Fridays. I loved that day because sometimes my mom would walk to the corner (the neighborhood beer-joint) to get fish sandwiches for us all. That was a real treat back then.

Many of my Saturday nights were spent with him watching TV. My mom would be off to the bingo. Sometimes I remember Carol being there, and I know Sandy was there. I do not remember Sandy and Carol on Saturday nights, just me and daddy watching TV. I would be in the rocker in front of the fireplace watching Gun Smoke.

Saturday mornings today are a time for families to relax, but not at my house in my younger years. Saturday mornings was the time my mom and dad talked about . . . the bills!! I hated that time, because most times they would argue. This was done in the kitchen, and I always stayed in another part of the house during that time. I would listen intently though because, I would often times ask for 5 dollars to go downtown shopping. I had to wait until the Saturday morning arguments were over to see if my request would be granted. More times than not, I received my 5 dollars.

Weekends were always a special occasion too because it was time for my father’s Saturday night bath. My dad only bathed on Saturday nights. We used to tease him about it too. He would just laugh and say he was ready for his Saturday night bath.

It would be hard to describe my father without describing his relationship with my mother. Their relationship was considered traditional, meaning my mom waited on daddy hand and foot. He would often call her into the living room, from the kitchen just to turn the TV channel. The strange thing was, mom would do it. Sometimes she would complain about it, but many times, she did not say a word. She cooked all his meals, washed all his clothes and brought him a million cups of coffee. Mom ran the house, took care of us kids and daddy made the money. We tried once to try and talk daddy into buying our mom a new automatic dishwasher. His reply was, “I’ve had a dishwasher for over 30 years, and haven’t had to replace a part on it yet.” Daddy, of course, was referring to my mom.

Part of who I am today, I believe, can be attributed to my father. I am afraid to speak up sometimes, I avoid conflict and I do not like loud discussions. My dad was always someone that intimidated me. Sandy always stood up to my father and she paid for it. Daddy would whip her sometimes at night after she wouldn’t do what he said or she would argue with him. Those whippings, although probably not as bad as they seemed, scared me badly. In many ways I was afraid of him. My mother used to try and justify those whippings by telling us my father was so frustrated. My other sisters also said Daddy was the same way with Dorothy Ann, but I don’t remember that – just his interactions with Sandy. I remember the whippings stopped when Sandy was seriously hurt in an accident. That was the first time I can remember him being worried and remorseful. I remember Sandy needed pajamas for her stay in the hospital, and there was no argument over the money for those pajamas, daddy just gave mom the money to get what Sandy needed.

On Sundays my uncles would sometimes visit, or my sisters would be there with their husbands. Whoever the visitors were, they and my dad would sit at the kitchen table and argue. They would argue over just about everything; politics, religion and how wide Main Street was. One time, as I was told, they actually got out and measured the street to see who was right on the issue. I’m not sure who won that argument, but I’m sure there was a lot of discussion first. My dad would argue, just for the sake of argument sometimes. He may have been in total agreement with you, but for the sake of argument, he would take the opposite side. Daddy just plain liked to argue.

Despite the arguing, I can remember him mostly as a jovial man with a good sense of humor. With teenage girls in the house, many times we would ride him out about his lack of bathing, his “zoot suits” as he called them, and the way he dressed. He took the criticism in stride and would many times tease us right back. In our adulthood my sisters, mom and I bought him a real suit for Christmas one year. It was very nice, but it hung in the closet. He was grateful, but never wore the suit. There was something strangely odd about his resistance to that suit. I think we all felt that one day we would just bury him in the suit. . . .and, we did.

My dad was noted for his love of junk. He would often walk to Consolidated (K-Mart type store) on Saturday and would often take me and Carol with him. I loved those trips, but it seemed daddy was always buying stuff he did not need. On one occasion he had some sun glasses he wanted to wear. I remember him saying they were his “cool-cat” sun glasses. Carol, who was going with him, did not want to go if he wore those glasses. I remember him laughing about it and going on and on about the cool-cat sunglasses. He and Carol went on to Consolidated without the sun glasses. I guess he wanted the company more than he wanted to wear the sun glasses.

My dad’s love of junk was never so apparent than when we had yard sales. After mom and dad moved to Indiana, they lived on a corner of a busy street, and it was an excellent spot to sell our junk. We had several yard sales there. My mom had brought my father a watch for Christmas, and he never wore it. My mom placed the watch in the yard sale. My dad, being our best customer, brought the watch for 5 dollars. After purchasing the watch, my father placed the watch in a drawer and he never wore it. Mom took the watch and placed it in the next yard sale the following year. Again, my father brought the watch, not even being aware that it was the same watch he had received for Christmas, and had bought at the yard sale the year before. It still makes me chuckle when I think of that watch.

My father’s other famous pieces of junk were a Christmas ornament that chirped like birds. He bought that to take to work and play pranks on his co-workers, I can still see him chuckle when he would plug in that ornament to show us how it chirped. It absolutely drove my mom nuts. There were also tiny, magnetic dogs that when placed on a table would automatically move toward each other. The house was literally sprinkled with my father’s junk.

Somewhere along the line my father found religion. I think a preacher came to see him one night, and my father was saved. I was an adult by then, and I wasn’t real sure what “saved” meant. He was relatively quiet about his religious experience, but none-the-less my father started going to church. My mother was so pleased with daddy’s new found religion she started going to church with him – a Baptist church.

My mother and father became very active in their church activities. Daddy became the church treasurer and they would go to church religiously (no pun intended.) It was actually good to see them attend service together, but I had my own difficulties with the newfound religion.

My husband Jack and I would take them to church on Sunday mornings, pick them up and take them home, and would repeat the trip Sunday night. The trip was ok when they lived in Shively, but once they moved to Indiana, I really did resent my Sundays being taken with the chauffeuring we had to do. I did not do the driving, but would go along. My mom always said that Jack would receive a special place in heaven, and I agree. I divorced Jack, but will always remember the kindness he showed towards my parents. As selfishness dictates, once we didn’t have to drive them anymore, I missed the trips.
Mom would always prepare a dinner for us on Sundays. It was very nice when everyone would sit down to eat. My father had an enormous appetite and would always be the first at the table.

Eventually Mom and Dad started attending a church in Indiana, where a bus or another parishioner would drive them to church. They were very active still in their Indiana church. These were the day that were the beginning of the end to the life of Henry Clay Miller – my father.