January 9, 1922 is the birthday of my late father, Frank Thomas McCall, Sr. A veteran of World War II, he served with the Army Air Corp in the European theater. As an airplane mechanic he never saw combat, but he lost his pilot and best friend who stepped on a land mine while taking a walk in the French countryside. My father never spoke of the incident to his children, but the war and the death of this pilot affected him deeply as we would learn in later years.
When my father returned home from the service after the war my mother asked what he was going to do.
“I’m not going to do anything for a year” was his reply.
“And, he pretty much did what he said he would do,” my mother related to me. “For that next year he didn’t do a whole lot of anything.”
Looking back, I realize there was wisdom in his action (or inaction) because he allowed himself time to reacclimatize to civilian life.
My father was a man of the seed and the soil. He was a farmer by nature and my calling. Gifted with a mechanical genius, he was a tinkerer and an inventor. He never met an internal combustion engine he didn’t like. From small lawnmower engines to diesel tractor engines, he could tear them down and put them back together. If an engine had a tendency to run “hot” he knew how to “baby” it to keep it operable.
His clothes always smelled of diesel and gasoline. My mother speculated that was reason he was never bothered by ticks, chiggers, fleas, nor mosquitos. My best childhood memories of summers past recall him in bib overalls and faded denim, long-sleeved shirts. He wore his shirts with the sleeves rolled up above the elbows. His forearms were powerful and tanned the deepest color of bronze. His feet were fitted with dark brown work shoes also known as brogans or “clod hoppers.” He didn’t wear the expensive kind. They were usually ordered from Sears and Roebuck or picked up at the Co-op. His head cover of choice was what we called “a turtle shell hat.” (It was the kind of hat the bad guys wore in the Tarzan movies.)
Bumble bees and wasps were no match for him when he went to battle with that hat in his hand. I can still recall the unique sounds emitted when each wasp and bubble bee met its maker.
Consistent with his generation’s commitment to “American made,” my father was a GMC man. He purchased new GMC trucks in 1948, 1958, and 1968. Each was purchased minus the metal bed. My father custom fitted each with a flat bed and wood “cattle rack.” The 1948 model was forest green equipped with a 4-speed floor shift. It was a powerful old truck. The 1958 model was red in color and sported a 3-speed shift “on the column.” It was less powerful than the one before.
In 1968 my brother, Tom, enrolled as a junior at the University of Tennessee. Consequently, the 1968 GMC featured a white cab and an orange cattle rack. I promise you, there was not another one like it in all of Middle Tennessee. It, too, featured a 3-speed shift on the column, and was less powerful than the one before.
In later years, my brother, John, who returned to the farm, purchased most of the heavy working trucks. I recall another GMC and a Chevrolet.
Well, the years flew by. A ten-year span took me away to college and then, to life on the road as a livestock marketer. I returned to the old home place one day to visit my mother and father. My father met me out in front of the home.
I guess that marked one of the first times I realized the world had changed. Instead of overalls, my father was wearing dungarees (blue work pants with a belt.) And he was sporting a short-sleeved shirt. Atop his head was a baseball cap. And his shoes? They were Nikes! Running shoes! And to beat it all, he has just purchased a new “Ta-yota” pick up truck!
But some things never changed. Until my father’s death on Father’s Day, 2003, he remained the same kind and gentle man he was – true to his family and his God – solid as a rock. I miss his bashful smile.
In his closing remarks at my father’s funeral, his longtime pastor and friend, Bro. Junior Dickerson looked at my brothers and me and said, “Boys, your father left some mighty big shoes to fill.”
Try as I might, those shoes he left are still too big for me.
Copyright 2017 by Jack McCall