The Greatest Gift

By Katherine Marlar

My father spent his childhood in a town known as the site of Patsy Cline’s plane crash, a town famous for death. My grandfather was a truck driver who hauled chickens across the country. Until the day he died, he wouldn’t eat a chicken to save his life. My grandmother raised the three boys while he was away. My dad, the oldest, was the father-figure, or so I always imagined. A true man of few words, my father’s repertoire consists of quips and how-is-work type questions about your life—he rarely talks about himself or his childhood. Yet my father pulled himself away. He uprooted, graduated college, moved to Mississippi, and has only worked for two companies in his adult life. He’d still be with the first company if they weren’t bought out in 1994.

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The rest of us—my mother, brother, and I—are wordsmiths, not necessarily that we can write pretty words, but we appreciate those who do. My accountant father is the outsider. The last book he read was The World According to Garp in the early ‘80s. Why he chose that book to be his one and only novel is a mystery. If you asked him today, he probably wouldn’t even remember he read it, but my mother does.

Daddy’s one real passion is Harley-Davidson motorcycles. His hands have glove marks tanned into them from riding through Mississippi and Tennessee on his Electra glide. He fell in love with two-wheeled vehicles riding a cheap dirt bike with his brothers in middle and high school. To him, Harley represented the ultimate in life. In his early 20s, he had enough money to either buy a motorcycle or my mother’s engagement ring. He bought the ring. I’m sure at times he regrets it, especially when we’re at a party and Mother slurs her words. He loves her. He truly does, because anyone who doesn’t love her couldn’t have lived with her for 39 years. It’s a fact.

I feel guilty when I think of all of the burden I’ve put on him over the years, especially in high school when girls are cruel and boys begin to flirt. Alcohol starts making appearances at parties. Lifelong friends plot jealous, backstabbing coups. Life is so much more black and white in his world. He never understood the importance of homecoming to a 16-year-old girl—the perfect dress, the perfect date, the perfect limo full of friends. I was elected Junior Maid and he had to build a float made of chicken wire for me to ride through the center of town. The man is not a carpenter. At 16, I came home from cheerleading practice crying to him because the coach told me to wear two sports bras. He watched my mother hem and haw and stress over which sorority at Ole Miss would choose me. He picked me up from the Alcorn County jail at 4 a.m. These were issues he’d rather not face.

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I wonder if that young boy in the town famous for death, dating the girl whose dad owned the local teen hangout, would have predicted this would be his life.

Through it all, he is, without a doubt, the most reliable person in my life. If he says he’ll be there in 45 minutes, by damn he’ll be there in 45 minutes. He wakes up like clockwork at 6:00 every morning and goes to work. On Sundays, he sits on the fifth row of the left-hand side of the sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church in Corinth unless it’s his week to be the Assisting Elder, then he sits up front with the pastor. If I need him, he is there. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I really learned to appreciate that quality. It’s so rare in life to find someone constant like that. I have a father who unfalteringly provided for his family and did what he could to make sure we have happy lives. I am one of the lucky ones. I hope I can be the same steady rock for my child. It is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.

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