My Father’s footsteps

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

I remember walking with Dad past Chase Lumber and Hardware store when I was about five years old. We were on important business. I knew it was important because Dad was striding out. I was trying to match him stride for stride, but I kept falling behind, and would have to toss in a couple of gallops every third step or so. Stretch as I might, I couldn’t make the strides he did

About this same age I tried to laugh like Dad laughed because I thought that was cool. Mother told me in private I should use my own laugh. I wanted to take the B29 bomber plane Dad had just made me to show my friends. He talked me out of it. He said they would probably laugh at it. I thought he was kidding. Surely they would envy me and the masterpiece of scrap lumber my Dad had created. He, my brother Gordon and I liked to listen to “The Hit Parade” on the radio and guess which song was top of the charts for that week. We listened to Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Red Skelton comedy shows every week, and we all tried their jokes out on our friends the next day. If I could make Dad laugh with a joke of my own I figured that was a solid piece of material.

Dad wanted to play baseball well, but his faulty vision couldn’t track a fast pitch or gauge a high fly ball or a hot grounder. Tossing the ball up and smacking flyballs and sizzling grounders for Gordon and me was another ball game. He could hit it a country mile with accuracy. My problem then was to get the ball back to him. Gordon had a throwing arm like a 105 Howitzer cannon. My arm was a small bore side arm by comparison. If I snagged one of Dad’s flies out of the stratosphere I would toss it to Gordon to send it back. I would later be reminded of Gordon when I read encouragement Dale Murphy’s father gave his son. Murphy was an all star with the Atlanta Braves. As a catcher part of his job was to pick off runners trying to steal second base. His rifle shot to the second baseman often did this. The only problem was if “Murph” aimed a little high. It blew over the second baseman seemingly headed into orbit. His father told him, “Dale, one thing’s for sure. They’re never going to steal center field on you.” They later moved Murphy to center field where he could pick off runners headed for home.

Dad finally found his groove as an athlete. Only to discover as all the great ones do that fame is fleeting. At a big family reunion the first time he ever rolled a bowling ball, he scattered pins like an All American. All night he stunned the veteran rollers among his cousins and their families. Unfortunately he went back the second night and was king of the gutter.

Dad claimed to have few vocational skills, but he had something better, the will to work, and an ability to make friends. In the midst of the depression he got a job hauling and stacking 100 pound sacks of grain. The family of Mr. Hermanson who owned the mill complained that he should have hired one of his relatives who needed a job. He answered them, “They won’t work like Ferron Hiatt does.”

Dad kept food on our table, and a roof over our heads. And his back was never the same after the grain sacks got through with him.

Many years later he retired from Geneva Steel plant, and then found that the life of ease didn’t suit him. He got a job digging ditches for the city, and outworked men a third his age.

Dad had almost no religious training growing up, but set a different course for us. He and Mom decided we would go to church. He had our family sealed together forever in the temple.  He served in numerous church callings including ward clerk, and counselor to the bishop. By love, patience, example and encouragement, he helped one of our neighbors find his way from daily trips to the booze and pool hall to weekly and more trips to church with his family. Dad stopped by the man’s home every Sunday on his way to church to invite his friend and neighbor to join him. The man always said no for years. Then one day when Dad called by, the neighbor was sitting in his home in a suit and tie, and said, “I’ll go with you. Thanks for the invitation.” The man continued faithful for the rest of his life. Several other men near us made their pilgrimage from inactivity to church service and the temple as Dad lead and encouraged them.

Later in life Dad and Mom served in the temple, and then on a mission to Sylvania Georgia. Their friendships with the folks there lasted for the rest of their lives.

. I couldn’t match Dad’s stride when I was five years old, and after more than that many decades, I haven’t yet made the strides he did. I may have accomplished some things he didn’t, but only because I got the head start he never had. His example still marks the trail for me.

Like most children, the lessons I learned from Dad were most often observed and extracted from watching what he did. Those lessons also return to me at odd times.

The other day I was observing the annual leaking water line ceremony that our roof top swamp cooler puts me through. No matter how carefully I drain the line in the autumn, every summer when I turn the line on, it spits at me from a crack (or several). I think I could roll it up in the fall and take it to bed with me every night to keep it cozy and warm, and as surely as the summer solstice rolls across the mountains east of us, the line will spray the side of the house and me again. And I will be splicing in a repair section, again, tightening the fittings, and muttering to myself, “Surely a nation that could put a man on the moon could….”

Plumbing is my favorite activity next to do-it-yourself root canals. It is in some ways like surgery. You never really know if the operation is successful until the job is sewn up. If the pipe or the patient leaks, it’s back to square one.

This time, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I turned on the water and my repair connection held tight and dry. “But just to make sure,” I thought, “I’ll just give it one more turn for good measure.”  Then my father’s spirit whispered to me from heaven where, among other blessings, the plumbing never leaks, “Remember the basement water line.”

The memory came flooding back (pun intended.) Late Saturday night, winter, cold, basement dark and clammy, all the plumbing supply stores closed, the plumbers asleep in their beds–not that we likely would have laid out precious cash for either parts or labor when there was a snowball’s chance in Hades we could fix it ourselves with left over stuff cannibalized from previous patch jobs.

With few and ancient tools, and a novice knowledge of the dark arts of plumbing, we yanked, jerked, and pried the leaking joint apart.  Dad did the surgery.  I managed the yellow glimmer from the flashlight sucking the last dregs of energy from its batteries. We cobbled together a splint for the house main water line. Dad warily approached the incoming water valve and gently coaxed it open. I aimed the bucket to catch the inevitable.

But no; the gods of plumbing smiled upon us. The connection held. It was not even moist. We were astounded, amazed, and gratified. In his delirium of victory my father said, “Ill just give it one more little….”

Threads stripped, pipes slipped, joint snapped, a new geyser was born in the world. Dad ran for the valve enlarging my vocabulary as he went.  I started my Saturday night shower early.

I learned a lesson that night without realizing it. When plumbing and/or people are under pressure, don’t cinch down. Back off. That truth has helped me in sports, personal and business relations, parenting, church counseling, and many other ways I could think of if I weren’t under the stress of trying to write something profound here.

Observing my work on the swamp cooler, I smothered the urge to tighten the water line. I zipped up my tool bag and tiptoed away. The last time I looked the repair was still holding. Thanks Dad.

What do you think about this part of the book?

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Your next installment is: Traveling Light