Father’s Day Tribute
William Walter Wilson was born November 21, 1929, less than a month after Black Tuesday, and the beginning of The Great Depression in America. Although he never really harped on how difficult life was during the depression, I now wish that he had and that I had paid attention. Oh, there were bits and pieces here and there of conversational sidebars during family supper, but nothing to be construed as lecturing.
As if growing up during the depression didn’t come with enough sacrifice and stress, America joined World War II on December 7, 1941, not long after Daddy’s 12th birthday. In spite of hard times, he always looked happy to me in his childhood photos. I guess if you grow up during the depression, you’re none the wiser and have the advantage of not knowing a better time of plenty.
Having a house situated on two lots and a wooden “barn” across the back of the property, I think the “Owsley-Wilson” household fared better than some of their neighbors. The back yard was big enough for a vegetable garden, which I presume was a Victory Garden. There was a cow for milk, a plum tree, and hens laying eggs in the barn. One story I recall Daddy telling us when we were little was about his finding a stray puppy and taking him home. He was allowed to keep the puppy, but he was only allowed to feed it scraps from the table. So, Daddy called him Scrappy, and it was very fitting.
When Daddy was just 13, his father passed away, and he became the man of the house. His first job was selling door-to-door magazine subscriptions at a time when folks barely had two extra pennies to rub together. Like I said, I wish I had listened more closely, because I know he had other odd jobs to help his mother support him and his two siblings, as well as his maternal grandmother, who also lived with them. In spite of his odd jobs, he managed to stay in school and graduated in May of 1945 at the ripe age of 16.
With America’s part in World War II ending in August that same year, and the economy recovering from the war, what young man thinks about going to college after finishing high school? Turns out, a very astute one does just that, because the year before he graduated, the GI Bill was passed, opening the door for millions of veterans to return from war and attend college rather than glut the job market. This was big stuff, because previously, college educations were for the affluent and well-to-do.
Once my father heard that he could get his college education paid for by serving in the armed forces for a couple of years (in a time of non war), there was just no stopping him. He and a cousin decided they would enlist and take advantage of the GI Bill. Only problem was, you had to be 17 to enlist and he wouldn’t turn 17 for several more months. Insisting on joining the marines ASAP, he somehow convinced his godly mother to sign a document saying he was 17 so that he could enlist, and it worked.
Off to the marines he went, barely years after that photo above of a little boy in overalls was taken. Having raised five sons of my own in a very different era, my father’s actions seem exceptional–maybe not exceptional for those times, but certainly exceptional in today’s privileged and entitled society.
After two years in the U.S. Marine Corps and reaching the rank of Corporal, it was time to come back to Louisiana and go to college. He attended LSU-Baton Rouge for a semester, but it was way too big for a small-city boy, so he transferred to Louisiana Polytechnic Institute in Ruston, LA, which suited him much better, and it was closer to home back in Bossier City.
To this day, I don’t really know what happened that prevented Daddy from finishing his bachelor’s degree at Tech, so there’s a gap in the story at this point. I just never thought to ask, but the next thing I recall is that he went to work for an oilfield service company logging wells on land rigs. The job took him to Michigan. At a cafe` he and his co-workers frequented, he met Donna June Hacket, a beautiful Danish woman, whom he later brought south to meet his family. She loved him AND the warm climate, and basically never looked back.
Married February 20, 1954 in the house in which he had grown up, they honeymooned in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I remember Mother talking about how the hem of her skirt was burned by embers from the burning torch of a flambeaux carrier. (Oddly enough, Mardi Gras was never a part of our lives growing up, and only became part of mine after I moved to south Louisiana in 1978.)
I was born the following year, 1955, and it seemed Daddy always worked for Arkla Gas Company, working his way up from draftsman to the Engineering Department by the time he retired around 1985. During those years, while supporting Mother and five kids, he completed his Bachelors Degree in Math at Centenary College, and then went to work on his Masters in Industrial Engineering, which he finally earned in 1973 (my senior year of high school). He earned both degrees by attending night classes.
You know, it’s odd how, now that I see my own mortality setting on the last rays of my life, I find myself reaching deep into my mind, latching onto and eking out even the minutest memories about my family. Because my parents both died in their mid-sixties, I find myself having so many unanswered questions, the truth of which then turns my thoughts to my own children and their memories. Will they have gaps that need filling when I’m gone? Will they have paid close enough attention to really know who I was beyond just being their mother? And even if I took the time to fill in all the (boring) gaps for my children, can they appreciate the possible pearls that I place before them since they are still at the age where they think I will be here forever?
While reaching into the recesses of my memory, I find there’s still an abundance of images from my dad’s old homeplace lurking there. There’s an image of the remnants of rows where the Victory Garden once flourished in their backyard. There’s the memory of discovering the boxes for the laying hens in the old shed out back. I recall finding old garden implements in that same shed–not appreciating how important that garden was in keeping them fed during the depression. I remember eating sour plums from the old, disfigured branches of that same plum tree.
Now when I think about all those family gatherings, meals shared, and holidays celebrated in the house that my great grandfather built many, many years ago–the one in which my father grew up–I realize now what an amazing gift that was. With today’s mobile society and social media that focuses on self, it’s no wonder teens are missing the grounding that comes from connecting with family.
I’m sure all of you thought about your father today, or your grandfather. I never knew any of my grandfathers, so my father is really on my mind. He was a man’s man–a man of honor. He never cheated on his taxes. He tended to the widows at church. He let Mother stay at home and raise us, never once complaining that there wasn’t enough money to go around. He always treated her with utmost respect and disciplined us if we even thought about being disrespectful toward her. He grew roses on the back fence, making sure there was a bush with reds and a bush with whites. You know why? Because on Mother’s Day, we wore a red rose pinned to our dresses or shirt, because our mother was alive; and Daddy wore a white rose pinned to his lapel, because his mother was dead. She, too, died in her mid-sixties.
He made us watch black and white horror shows at the drive in and let us sleep in a tent in the back yard so he could sneak up and scare the heck out of us during the night. He planted a little box garden in the backyard and once grafted a pecan tree, from which my children picked up pecans when they were little. He talked sternly to any boy brave enough to take me on a date, and secretly told me to call him if I found myself in an uncomfortable situation. He took us on long car trips to Michigan and to Six Flags and made us ride the biggest roller coasters and scariest ghost rides. He took us hunting and fishing and fried fish for us and grilled squirrel on the first-ever gas grill. He sang loudly in church and took us every time the doors were open. He told us we were going to college, and there was never any question about that. He never met a stranger and treated everyone with respect, as he expected to be treated.
Now, I’m happy to say, that my children are on their way here to boil crawfish for their daddy. This post isn’t edited or polished as I would like it to be, but I have to get things ready for their arrival and hope that we make a day worth remembering.
As always, I want to hear your fatherly memories that this post prompted!
Happy Father’s Day,
A fine tribute…and great series o’ photos. Our best to the Dads in yer family today…may they live up to their Ancestors and may their children appreciate them – and the Women who were responsible for building & raising their Family!
Well said, mate. We owe so much to our ancestors, yet, we are so wrapped up in today, that yesterday often doesn’t hold much value. That is something I would like to change . . . and I believe I started that after we finished eating. We sat around telling stories for hours, and for the first time in several years, my youngest was actually engaged with us. I’d call that a very good day, indeed.
That young lad should have a closer look at his PawPaw’s photo…the facial resemblance is very strong!
Thank you for writing that beautiful tribute to your father for Father’s Day. I read every word and appreciated the wonderful way you crafted the story. Your children are lucky, indeed, to have a mother who is working to preserve their history. You make me want to do a better job for my son.
You are most welcome, Caroline. I pulled out all these pics of my daddy after we cleared the crawfish mess from the big table. I did it mainly for my 18 year old son who was an infant when Daddy passed away. He needs that grounding of connection to family, so every chance I can get now, I am trying to connect him to his family. He might not appreciate it now, but one day he will–just as his mother is doing now. So, use lots of photos with your son, and stories, lots of stories!!!
Great tribute to your Dad! My parents grew up in the depression era also. I heard mostly stories about eating nothing but beans and rice, and how everyone walking to school with no shoes was the norm.
He did mention that his shoes were too tight when he was a little boy because there just wasn’t any money to buy new ones.
I come from a long long line of worker bee type men. My great grandfather was a a bookkeeper for Sherman. Yes that one not the one adopted by Mr Peabody. My grandfather worked in county government etc as well as surveying for the Feds. My father was deep into school boards , elevator boards, coroner’s juries and the like. We were taught early on to do what needs to be done and not gloat or brag about it. If you needed something done these were guys to see. Hayrope splicing to lumberjacking to teacher disputes and beyond.
While avoiding their footsteps I also try very hard not leave a blemish that will be noticed where they are. Sure I’ll let you hang for a bit but I’ll get you down before I have to bury you.
Ok carry on nothing here to see…..
Here’s an amazement. My dad was an industrial engineer for the Maytag Company. He never went any farther than high school, but he was smart, and diligent, and worked his way up. I appreciate him far more now than when he was alive, partly because he died in 1980, and in some ways I still was too young to really understand his life or decisions.
But, I don’t have any real regrets. I just know that we’d have a fine time if he still was around. For one thing, he loved to hunt, pheasant especially, and fish, and loved being out in the country. I had no time for that back in the day, but now I do.
Let’s not have any of that “last rays of life” talk, though. Good grief, woman. I’m thirteen years older than you are, and if you’re coming to the end, I’d better get on Amazon right now and pick out a casket. (Can you buy a casket from Amazon? Let’s see… YES!!! Here they are! I’m laughing so hard the cat thinks I’ve gone crazy!
Curious… why did my mention of that A-m-a-z-o-n company turn into links every place? I didn’t do that. Are you hooked in with them somehow?
Links every place? I don’t see them???
Oh my goodness, caskets on Amazon. Now, I’ve seen it all. Well, I could say I’m living the last quarter of my life. is that better? LOL!!!! Our dads were both industrial engineers. I bet your dad was handy, because my dad certainly was. He could just about anything that needed doing around the house and a vehicle, too!
I’m having a hard time writing this comment today. Hubby and I picked Daddy up from the nursing home and brought him out for supper. You wouldn’t believe how much fried fish the man can eat! We brought him to Copeland’s and started out with their famous Artichoke and Spinach (that’s how it is on the menu) dip with Fried Bowtie Pasta. He told us he could eat a 5 gal. bucket of it.
Growing up, I was Daddy’s helper. He taught me to fish, carpentry skills, painting, etc. I cherish the memories and the skills he taught me.
Neither of my parents talked much about growing up. I know they both had it hard growing up. Daddy tells us things now, unfortunately we don’t know what’s true and what’s not. He comes up with some wild stories. BTW, he’ll be 93 in Aug., he’s healthy, but suffers with that cruel disease.
My guess was that you were also a daddy’s girl! I failed to mention what a great carpenter my dad was. After retirement, he built a shop, bought the wood-working equipment he dreamed of and started making beautiful things, like a wooden art-form called intarsia. If your dad has a little dementia, it’s usually the old stuff they DO remember, and not the more recent stuff. I know it was hard for you to comment, but it’s so wonderful that your dad is still with you and able to go out to eat and behave himself! i’m glad y’all got to spend Father’s Day together.
Whoa. have we talked intarsia? blu has a nice wildlife collection from guy from my old stomping grounds. Uses a lot of scrap woods from sawmills from Illinois to webster city, florida as I remember. 4.30 am who cares about caps or sentence structure now.
blu is a scooter guy now. honda not hover round yet anyway.
Any Shakespeare Fests in lower La. ????
No, we haven’t talked intarsia. Daddy was most a purest, using one type of wood upon which the renaissance art from was based. he did beautiful work, and i wish I had all his pieces hanging in my house, because he died before i could get enough of his work of my own . . . sad to say . . . but he was so good at it and didn’t pass the art from on to any of us. There is a renaissance festival in independence, lA every year. At least one. is that what you’re asking?
Your dad was a handsome man and I can tell how much you loved him. I enjoy your blog. keep it up.
Thank you, Louise, and right you are. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him in some way.
Ah, Bayou Woman,
I remember Uncle Bill’s gas grill. He cooked dove for us(or was it squirrel?),that he bagged recently. Why was he bragging so much over a BBQ pit? Now I know.
When we were visiting one year I was jealous of the flowers y’all were wearing. Why didn’t we have one, too? Now I know.
You’ve passed along so much of your Mom and Dad’s virtues, morals, and integrity already, as seen every day in all of them.
I,too, wonder what my son is listening to when I relate stories of my family. I don’t think he’s interested. But some little thing permeates his brain and soul. He’s Papa’s grandson after all. So much like him.
Thanks for the pictures of Uncle Bill and loving memories. No need to edit you text. All was perfect.
Funny thing was, he would be quick to tell you it wasn’t a BBQ pit!!! That idea was hard to fathom initially, but he cooked on that thing several times a week for us . . . even bacon and eggs so we could enjoy breakfast outside. Gosh, I miss that man . . . .
Wonderful – thanks for writing & sharing this
Hi Elyce and welcome to the bayou!
What a wonderful tribute to your Dad, BW.
Thanks, Gue`. I guess summer is heating up for you now, right?
Dang I had a beautiful yellow-meated watermelon and decided to make a try at watermelon rind pickles. The pickling syrup was awesome. But I either brined too long or cooked too long. I brined overnight or about 12 hours which I am guessing is about double what they should have been. And the recipe I tried again totally awesome syrup, pare-boiled the rinds, and then cooked ’em again with the syrup till clear before hot canning.
Anyone do watermelon pickles?
With the weather lately so predictable, its easy to plan projects like pickles! The gardens are about to bust open with veggies!!!!
So what was wrong with them?
The actual rinds were yuck! They are supposed to be crunchy, these were too dehydrated I believe.