I just feel like talking about my daddy. I don't think it's because Father's Day is next month or the fact that he died one week after that special day. I think of my father often all throughout the year. I think it's because he taught me so much while I was growing up. Over the past few weeks, he has come to mind in several different areas. With Spring here, tennis lovers are on the courts. Approaching Summer brings beaches and the opening of swimming pools. I attended a function last week and one of the desserts was a coconut candy my dad used to make for me and my two sisters. My heart has been touched, once again by his love and the memories of all he was and what he meant to me. So, I just feel like talking about my dad.
What my dad taught me did not come in the form of lectures or "come on Barbara, let's talk." He was a man of very few words and I can count on one hand the times we had serious or lengthy conversations. Yet, I always felt his love and he was not afraid or hesitant to say "I love you."
The lessons I learned from my dad came in the form of demonstration. Each morning he left for work. We lived in the Bronx and he did not own a car. There was about an eight block walk to the subway. High winds, deep snow, sub-zero weather. A native New Yorker might not have a problem with this, but my dad was a Caribbean boy born in the Bahamas. I often wondered how he stood it. So, he went to work. He did not have a formal education, but he was very intelligent and he worked very hard.
Simple Man, Simple Life
My dad was born on a tiny island called Cat Island, in the Bahamas. Each morning before school he along with his sisters and brothers ran down to the beach for a swim before school. He loved the water. Our trips to Orchard Beach in the Bronx always meant swim lessons. I, personally, just loved to splash and wasn't interested in swimming in what I considered shark infested waters. As long as my feet touched the bottom I was happy.
Often on rainy days, my dad would play his Hawaiian guitar. He would make up silly songs and melodies and we would dance and twirl and laugh until we were exhausted. He would literally entertain us. I love the memories of those days. I'm not sure if we owned a television. we learned to love music during those times. My two sisters learned piano and I the clarinet and played in the school band. We could sing any song on sheet music because daddy taught us how to read the notes. It was fun during our choir practices because we three would begin to just sing the song while others were waiting for the director's instructions. There were no Wiis or cable or internets. We were close, happy and content. My mom was always there, smiling and glad her family was together.
One day my dad came home with some playing records. I thought they were music, being that he was an avid musician and music lover. However, they were records on the Spanish language. Dad's new job (he was a cook for the Bronx V.A. Hospital) put him in contact with people of different nationalities and there were several Hispanics on the job. He wanted to interact with them and so, he taught himself the Spanish language. He was a professional in the kitchen. Patients often sent back their "compliments to the chef!" He was well-liked and respected. He loved learning new things and always was glued to the radio for new events and loved history. Someone taught him how to play chess and I can remember the bantering back and forth with my mom. She always thought he was cheating. As she improved, she would practice with my bragging boyfriend. He left whipped and humbled. Anything daddy learned he tried to pass on to his girls. We each took turns as he explained the strategic moves. Unfortunately, that was the time I was pursuing the life of a fashion model...always running out for an appointment. Well, I'm retired and I'm learning. Wow, dad, you were awesome!
Dad learned to drive in his late 40's. He bought a car and we traveled out of our little world of the Bronx. Then, of course, he taught me to drive and took me to my driver's test. He always wanted to pass onto us the good. He was never threatened by challenge.
We were really happy in our formative years. I'm not saying we didn't have trials or difficult times. Yes, my sisters and I had squabbles and complaints and made mistakes. We were punished and/or spanked, but that came from my mom. My parents had private conversations about things we didn't understand but they were always behind closed doors. However, my dad was there. Always there. There was never one day that I was afraid he would not come home. Yes, I totally agree that I was thoroughly blessed. To this day I will always be grateful.
Each Friday was grocery shopping. We all, my mom, dad and two sisters went to the A & P. We argued over who would push the shopping cart or take items off of the shelf to place in it. Simple things, always fun. When we needed new clothes, we went to Alexanders Department Store. When we were sick, we were rushed to the doctor. There were times that the illness warranted a home visit from the doctor. We were cared for, loved and taught how to take school seriously, respect our elders, keep clean, and play well with each other and neighbors. Discipline is what I believe it's called. Not too much of that is seen today.
My dad had a love for three things aside from his family. They were tennis, music and cooking. On his days off from work, he ran to the tennis court. When we were old enough, he took us along. We each had our own tennis racket and permit (about $.50 at that time) and he gave us lessons. My dad's tennis partner was the man who taught Althea Gibson to play. She broke the color barrier in that era of the 50's and 60's. It was amazing to me at the age of eight to see this man play. He was sleight in height, especially standing next to my dad who was 6 ft. Also, I think because he had one arm. It impressed me early that disability doesn't mean you are disabled or exempt from doing anything.
Especially clear in my mind were the nights I would see my dad sitting at the dining room table. He would be lost in thought as he sat and wrote letters. They were letters to his siblings in the Bahamas. Each night he would write two or three. He would write to his brothers and sisters and give lengthy details of his family and life's events. My aunts and uncles would respond. No details were left out - who graduated and became a nurse or teacher or earned a government position (very prestigious in the islands). There were marriages and births, building of a new home and, as in all families, a precious loss. When we received a phone call, it would only last about 10 minutes. Calls were very expensive and for some reason they still are in the Bahamas. During Christmas, my mom would shop and try to buy gifts for my cousins and always for my family there. He loved them very much and when he talked about them, I always saw a distant sadness. It was great that he was able to reunite with them and spend very good times of laughter and memories and of course, those delicious foods.
I didn't know that our family was considered a low-income family. My mom was chronically ill with asthma and although she struggled with going to work, most of the time she was a housewife and caring mother. She was a fiercely loving 5'1-1/2" woman who protected her family and cared. Her acumen with numbers, finance and budgeting was a phenomeon I have never acquired. We were abundantly fed, neatly dressed in nice clothes, took trips in the summer to the Bronx Zoo, the beach, Circle Line, etc. Each Easter we had new outfits and there were always gifts and toys under the tree during Christmas. What's so "low-income" about that? It was hard work. My mom and dad were a team. Now I know my story is about daddy but behind every great man is a great woman, right?. That was my mom.
My dad was a genius in the kitchen. He would keep his memories of his Bahamain home and family alive in that kitchen. My daddy was the only one of his siblings to come to the United States. He came here on a work project and never returned. At some point, he joined the U.S. Navy and did a tour. When he met my mom and got married, time just went by and he didn't get back to Nassau and his family until I was 17 years old. A wife and three children was hard to provide for and a trip just wasn't in the budget. He was determined that he would go back with his entire family, so going alone, with a wife and young children at home, was not an option.
Dad literally brought the Bahamas to us through his cooking. He made peas & rice, johnny cake, benny cake which is a delicious candy made with molasses and sesame seed and a coconut drop candy. At Christmas there was the traditional dish of "souse" made with lamb, beef and pork, lots of onions and limes and pepper corns and can be spiced up with red peppers. On the Christmas Eves when he had to work (by now he was a cook for the Veterans Administration Hospital) he would give my mom directions over the phone and she would make it. Over the years, her cooking of Bahamian dishes was just as good as daddy's. Now, I enjoy making some of these dishes including, grouper fish stew, conch fritters and salad.
So Much More
Although I can't tell all I remember about my daddy in this Hub, there are just certain things I must put in print. I love the memory of him dancing with me at my First Cotillion (thanks to the women of etiquitte of St. Martin's Church in Harlem) and at my wedding. He loved me and understood when I left my husband for a brief period and I stayed with him to heal. Mom was gone by then. He supported me and counseled me until I went back home. He loved me when I walked away from God in anger and struggled with my faith. I still have a loving letter hand written to me on how in this life we will have tribulations, but can only make it through if we hold on to and trust God. I believe, I can consider that a "sit-down" conversation. How I cried reading that letter. I am so glad he lived to see me embrace my God and faith again.
He had a strong faith and was indisputably the most important demonstration of his love for us. He took us to church and Sunday School. On rainy days, when weather was too bad to go, he would give us our Sunday School lessons and teachings from the Bible at home. Oh, what a love.
After my mother died, a few years later my dad re-married and moved to Florida. Several years later he was diagnosed with cancer. I am so glad my dad lived to see my daughter, hold her and play with her, sing to her and love on her. We visited with him and cooked for him. His wife was loving and caring and we supported her in caring for him.
Dad is gone. Yes, he made mistakes, but so did I. I did not see the true height, stature and depth of my father until he was gone. I took for granted too many things that were to me, just a normal part of an ordinary family. Many people did not grow up as I did, even within my neighborhood or apartment building. My dad, my special dad...how I miss him. He was a faithful servant of a loving Heavenly Father. He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Up until his illness, he played the guitar for his church, played tennis almost every day and swam in the ocean. He always stayed in touch with his three girls and two sons. He also loved grandchildren and great-grand children.
Daddy lived to see his children attend college, one earning two Master's Degrees in Social Work and Elementary Education. He enjoyed reading our literary works, and hearing the musical talents in playing the guitar and music writing. He consistently encouraged us to go farther, but was very proud of whatever we achieved. All three of us girls sound alike on the phone and we loved the game of "Hi Daddy!" "Hi, which one am I talking to?" We would make him guess, and most often he was wrong, but laughed and loved to talk with us. I see his smile and still feel his hug. He would pat your back over and over again in loving comfort. Funny, my brother Kilroy, hugs the same way.
So you see, I just wanted to talk about my daddy.
In Loving Memory of Roy E. Wilson - February 17, 1917 - June 26, 1992
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