Tuesday, May 08, 2007

There's a song in Johnny Cash's "Cash" album called 'Sam Hall'. It's based on an old old song about a man going to be hung for a terrible murder. One of the lines Johnny sings sounds exactly like Dad when he was singing similar songs to us, often following us around the house singing loudly, making up lyrics and generally acting like a drunk at a wedding reception. Man, I sure miss those concerts now. "My name it is Sam Hall, Sam Hall. My name it is Sam Hall, it is Sam Hall. MY name it is Sam Hall and I hate you one and all. I hate you one and all, damn yer eyes!" Seems curious, doesn't it? Yet Daddy didn't hate anybody, unless you count bigots and fools. Still, he didn't take crap from anybody either. "Well, the sheriff he came too, he came too. The sheriff he came too, he came too. Well, the sheriff he came too and he said, Sam how are you? Well, Sheriff how are you, damn yer eyes!" Dad spent time in prison, hard time, and he came out sounding like he had actually tried to get some good out of it, some kind of better attitude.

I see old men from time to time who look just like Dad. They're big in the gut, white haired and deliberate in their actions. They act like men going somewhere, taking no grief from anybody until they finally drop dead either lifting something too heavy or just pass out in their naps, leaving behind sons and wives but not too many close friends. They were just too ornery. Lately I seem to see them more and more, in stores and at gas stations. I think maybe they were there all the time, but now that I see them in my bathroom mirror I see them more on the street.

Dad went tiger hunting once, in India. It was during the war, WW2, and Dad was stationed in Calcutta or some big city like that. He and his buddy had been refining work on their still that Dad had designed. They decided it would be great fun to take a tiger skin home so they took a jeep and a couple of machine guns and went into the jungle looking for big cats. They were not brave men, just stupid according to Dad and they had a hard time finding tracks. I bet Dad thought that since he was a Kentucky born tough guy he'd be able to track a tiger through the jungle but they never found any tracks. Dad said they sobered up after a few hours and as they were getting into the jeep to drive back to the base they noticed a huge tiger who'd been standing a few feet away quietly watching them look for tracks. They jumped into the jeep and high tailed it home without firing a shot. He seemed a bit embarrassed by that admission years later and being Dad did not pump up the story with any crap about shooting the cat and leaving the skin or anything. He sadly admitted that sober and tired their only thought was to get away from the beast before he stopped being amused at their antics.

Dad bought a baby once. He was in the market place and a woman was trying to sell him stuff he didn't want. He got tired of it all and held out some coins and offered to buy the woman's baby. "Oh, no, Sahib! NO!" she said. He added a couple of coins to the handful and she suddenly thrust the baby at him, grabbed the coins and scampered into the crowd. Seems the baby was a girl and not very valuable to a poor family. Dad kept the baby in the barracks and the men took care of her for a few days and then they took her to an orphanage nearby. She would be about 60 years old now and probably never knew that for a few days she was an American.

Dad claimed to never get lost, being a surveyor and all. One time we were at friends having a barbecue and the parents were drinking hard, as they did back then. After midnight Dad and Mom got us in the car and Dad insisted on driving home. Mom never won that kind of argument so she would say, "Just don't kill us, Bill." Dad drove off into the night. Several times Mom asked him where we were going and he always insisted that he knew perfectly well where we were and to leave him alone. Suddenly he stopped the car. The headlights seemed to shine off into space. He got out of the car and walked ahead a few feet and stopped. Mom got out and joined him. It seems that the dirt road we were on that wound round the mountain just ended. There was nothing ahead but stars. Dad said, "Well, the last time I was on this road it went somewhere!" He insisted on driving down the mountainside because there was no turnaround and we had to back down the road until we got to the main road and Dad was able to get us pointed in the right direction. For years Dad insisted that somebody had changed the road. I'm not sure they hadn't.

I've seen a fair amount of men that reminded me of Dad but none of them had the same quality of stories that Dad had. He was a rare man and it hurts my heart when I spot some old coot at the gas station filling up his truck's tank, glaring at the credit card reader through his reading glasses. I bet he has some stories to tell if you asked him, but I bet he never hunted tigers in the jungles of India.

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