I have been up since early morning, as is my custom, as is my parents’ custom. The sun is up, though, and it looks like we are in for a beautiful day. Today is Father’s Day, but I’m not with my dad…He, along with Mom, is camping with my kids! Can anything be more wonderful than that? My children go camping with my parents once a year, always in June. Each year, the date is set, and one of the kids, on a rotating basis, picks the spot and plans the trip. The children start talking about it two or three months in advance. To them–Tim (Maria, their daughter Genevieve), Mica (John, her son Jacob), and Mary (Chad)–my parents are the coolest, most fun people to camp with in the world! I think so, too. As I begin to write, many memories crowd my thoughts, each begging to be told.
As a little girl, my dad was always my hero. All girls should be so lucky to have a father that she adores. Dad was born in, and grew up in Louisiana. His father, Daddy Futch to us, was a small cotton farmer in north Louisiana, and also a part-time barber. Dad started school in a one room school house (albeit, not for long.) According to Momma Futch, he was able to attend early because she, my grandmother, cooked lunches for the students….many grades in one room. According to Momma Futch, (if I recall correctly) the school was within walking distance of the farm house. Dad’s love of reading and learning, fostered by his mother, began at an early age. Momma Futch (Donie Hollis) loved to learn, and left home at one point to go to the southern part of the state, Evangeline Parrish, to teach. She left teaching after she married and then became pregnant with Uncle Jerrold. In that time and place, pregnant women were not allowed to teach in the public school system. What a pity.
I don’t have a lot of stories of Dad during his growing up years. He was a farm boy who worked the farm with his dad, but was not destined to become a farmer himself. Once he graduated from Farmersville High School, Dad went off to college, Louisiana Tech. As much as he loved learning, though, he was not a particularly good student. (I did not know this until I was an adult.) He at one point even considered dropping out of school. But then, along came Patricia Culbertson and everything changed. He did finish college, married Mom, and moved to North Carolina where he attended Duke Divinity School. When finished with school, degree in hand, already with twins and another baby on the way, he and Mom returned to Louisiana where as an ordained minister in the Methodist church, he began his life as a preacher.
Life for us revolved around the church. I grew up seeing my dad teaching, leading, and preaching in every community we lived in. For me, my dad could do no wrong. He was a principled man. We never had a lot of money, but my brothers and I have often commented to each other (in adulthood) that we never felt poor…ever. Dad was a serious minded person. When he was working on his sermons (Saturday night and early Sunday morning) we knew not to disturb him. Other times, though, I remember us kids playing ball with him, or tickling and laughing. He was a gentle man, quiet demeanor, an avid reader and writer. On Sundays he belonged to the church, but even then, when the service was over I would run to the church vestibule to stand beside him as he greeted the people filing out. From the time I was a little girl, I was always proud to stand beside him.
Camping was a big part of our lives. It was the way we could travel and see this country. Neither of my parents grew up camping, so this was something new and different. One thing about my parents, they never shied away from venturing into unchartered territory. From who knows where, they found a three-sided baker tent and we took our first vacation to the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. I was only five years old, but I clearly remember that trip. I also remember the feeling that we had always been campers. The entire family took to it like fish to water, and we have all been campers ever since. The Baker tent, however, was not the tent one would ever want to camp in. I don’t know who thought of it first, where they got the idea, or what possessed them, but after two or three years camping in the Baker, Mom and Dad decided to make a teepee modeled after the Sioux American Indians’ mobile abode. Months were spent making the thing. (Can you believe they actually carried through on this?) They used the book, THE INDIAN TIPI: ITS HISTORY, CONSTRUCTION AND USE by Reginald and Gladys Laubin, as their guide. Mom did the sewing and the Marion High School gymnasium was used when she had to lay the pattern out flat. Dad cut down Louisiana pine trees from his dad’s farm, then stripped them of their bark and stood them to dry. Furthermore, he built a metal frame to attach to our blue Chevy station wagon to transport the teepee poles. We laid them on the top of our car in a specific order, and secured them with rope. Dad also built a tailor-made trailer which attached to our car. Finally, summer came and we took the teepee out for our first trip. From then on, that is the only “tent” we kids ever camped in while we were still living at home. We traveled from one end of this country to another, camping in the high Rockies, the smokey mountains, the western plains—every place we could set up a teepee. Part of the fun was seeing and hearing people’s reaction as they saw us driving down the highway, a “raft” on top of our car and a bulky trailer being pulled behind us. When we weren’t on vacation, Dad would sometimes set the teepee up in our back yard and we would roast marshmallows over a fire built inside the teepee. Dad, along with Mom, would take youth groups on weekend retreats and could sleep fourteen teens at a time in this, our camping home.
On one camping trip to Wyoming, as we drove down the highway, we saw a teepee in the distance at the end of a long drive. It looked similar to the one pictured in the book, THE INDIAN TIPI, Mom and Dad had used as a guide for constructing our teepee. Based on information found in the book, Dad knew that the authors lived in Wyoming. On a whim, Dad decided to check it out. We turned the car around, drove up the long drive, parked, then Dad got out and approached the people who lived there. Sure enough, we were standing face to face with the Laubins. We were privileged to spend some time with them in their teepee, and they personally invited us to a presentation they were doing that evening. Their mission was to dispel a lot of myths about Indians, and to educate the public about Indian culture and dancing. We attended, and even got front row seats. What a learning experience that was in more ways than one. Besides learning a bit about the American Indian (please don’t believe what you see in the movies!) I learned the value of spontaneity and serendipity and being free and brave to take a few side roads when the opportunity arises.
On our family camping trips, Dad would tell us marvelous stories that he would make up on the spot! Big Chief Blue Chevrolet was usually the primary character. We all had names, but his is the only one I can remember. Dad would stand outside the teepee, and using the lantern as a backlight, he would illustrate the stories with shadow play and voice changes. We would sit inside, listen and watch the shadows dance across the canvas, shriek at all the appropriate times, and sometimes fall over holding our sides as we were overtaken with laughter. After such frivolity, we children would crawl into our sleeping bags circled around the outer edges of the teepee and doze off to sleep as we watched the embers of the fire slowly die down. We could hear Mom and Dad quietly whispering to each other as they, too, were winding down from a busy day. There never was a safer, more contented place to be than in those moments with the entire family gathered together in the teepee. Early mornings were usually cold, but we would wake to the sound of Dad outside making coffee (I don’t even have the words to describe Dad’s unique way of making camp coffee…fun.) for Mom who allowed herself the pleasure of sleeping in past daybreak when we camped.
During my high school years, Dad left the ministry, we left Louisiana, and life became a bit more complicated. The move to Kentucky was not so smooth. The entire family was in transition, and for each of us, new challenges shook our world. Dad had to find work. It took some doing, and the days were fraught with tension, but he was able to get a job as editor of a rural magazine. Mom became a substitute teacher while she looked for other work, and ended up going back to school to get her teaching certificate. She taught for years. Dad became a writer. They, together continued to dream and to do the extraordinary.
After we kids graduated from high school, my parents decided that lugging a teepee around was just too much for the two of them. So, they took up backpacking…mind you, they were “middle age” by this time. And, like the teepee, Mom and Dad made their tents, their parkas, their backpacks, their down sleeping bags, etc. etc. etc. I never had the pleasure of backpacking with them, but they have camped every summer. They come back with wonderful stories of their adventures and discoveries.
Each of us kids has had our own challenges, disappointments, and painful moments. We turn to our parents without hesitation, not to bail us out, but to be the support and encouragement we need to continue the journey. While I have not written about their rough spots in this blog, I have alluded to some of the challenges they faced in previous blogs. Dad made tough decisions and he, along with Mom, modeled for us how to survive, and more importantly, how to thrive when one reaches the other side of a life-changing crisis. When I left the church, and became Jewish, my parents stood by me and loved me even though they neither one fully understood my decision. Dad once told me that while he experienced a twinge of sadness over my choice, the important thing was that I was following my heart and strengthening my connection with G-d. As I think about it, I have become the woman that he and Mom raised me to be. The modeling I got from my dad was to be true to myself. He and Mom made decisions that oftentimes looked ridiculous or irresponsible to the outside world, but those decisions made perfect sense to them and this family. As a result, we have lived the richest of lives, have seen this country from border to border, have come to respect the many cultures of people who populate this nation, and have created memories others only dream of.
In adulthood, we each have to come to terms with our parents’ humanness. In time we learn of their foibles, their shortcomings, the fact that they are not omnipotent, but in spite of that, Dad is still my hero, a man to be looked up to and respected, and most of all, deeply loved. And on top of that, he loves camping with my kids and making memories with them. How cool is that?
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.