(Originally published 11-17-2012 – Owen)
I went for a drive in the surrounding countryside this morning, an absolutely perfect November Saturday, and found myself thinking about my father. Autumn leaves were blowing across the roads I travelled under a glorious blue sky, and I stopped at a chance point and headed into a chain drug store. I picked up a few snacks, and, looking around the store, I saw (and purchased) something which brought the memory of my father back that much stronger: a bottle of Vitalis.
For those who don’t know, Vitalis was a very popular men’s hair care product of yesteryear. I have no hair to speak of, so I put in on my beard and brushed it through. The scent of it reminded me of my father from my earliest memories. It isn’t a strong smell at all, very pleasant, and decidedly masculine.
One memory of my father is of him coming to pick me up from an airport. I was eighteen years old, and had just washed out of the Air Force after only eleven days. I left home afraid, but full of the confidence (or arrogance) of my adolescence; I came home broken, but on the road towards getting wiser, perhaps. He told me in the car of the disappointments he had suffered in his career; I had known none of this until that moment. My father could be a hard man to communicate with, but whenever things got really bad or really serious, he suddenly snapped into a sort of bracing directness which I will always cherish in my memory. I felt somewhat better knowing that a person could go on through somewhat humbling circumstances. as he had.
My father was a brilliant man, of course, a master of so many talents that I listed them for paragraph after paragraph giving his eulogy years later. He was also a very reticent and introspective man, albeit of an oddly chatty kind – a trait I have inherited. People rarely spot me for the introvert that I actually am. He was generally recognized as an introvert, and seemed happiest being left to his hobbies. On the other hand, he loved more than anything when our entire family would make music together, usually by singing. Music was his society.
As I drove on, drinking my Coke Zero and smelling the Vitalis on my face, I remember my father taking us for rides in light aircraft. He belonged to (and had founded) the “Aero Club”, local pilots who got together an purchased small aircraft for common recreational use. I never cared much for flying, but I remember our short trips to various spots nearby. Oddly, the meals we would have on the ground often made a bigger impression on me than the flights. Many of the local airports were at or near the countryside I am driving in now, in western Georgia and south and east Alabama, near our then-home in northwest Florida.
So many people remember neglect or abuse in their childhood, and, make no mistake, I was often a troubled and angry child; nonetheless, for my father and my mother (who is still alive), I remember more and more the many things they did or tried to do for us kids. Many beautiful times, travelling across the country by car, singing at home, playing games, having family devotions, making music, discussing issues of the day over dinner. The view of parenting they had was to love us, provide for us, and get us ready for adulthood with the tools we needed to make our choices in the world. Its a view of life that never goes out of style – like the smell of Vitalis or breezes on a cool Autumn day.