Monday, December 25, 2017

over half a century of wondering

Daddy and Me

a tragedy I feel every day:
my daddy never found
the inclination and the words
to tell me clearly what made him who he was,

his actions shout to me of who he was:
a devoted husband who would do anything he could
for that half of him who loved him back,
a devoted father who worked his heart to the bone
as a principal of a rowdy junior high,
and who braved the South’s heat, before air-conditioning,
to teach math in summer school,
forty miles away from his beloved “cabin” in the Smokies,
a trip to the Old Swimming Hole every afternoon
after he got back from the valley’s heat and the students’ needs,

I know he loved learning,
the first in his family to go to college
escaping from Low Country, South Carolina
to the edge of the state, Furman, near mountains
and near another Carolina not so poisoned by slavery
as his family’s past, a reality that endured and lived all around him,

I know he used his body as a football player
so he could go to college,
take the ball and gain 
“two to three yards and a pile of dust,” he’d say,
and he also pulled the team together as its captain
defeating Clemson for the Southern Conference Championship in 1926,

yet who drove him and what held him back
opaques itself before my questioning,
Mother said she and Daddy never discussed parenting decisions,
never used words to describe their feelings for each other,

Daddy died around my fourteenth birthday
and I have spent over half a century
working to imagine his inner world, his feelings,

the intrapersonal is an intelligence
that allows us to access what can drive us,
I just don’t know for sure what drove Daddy:
what he ran from, what he ran toward,

the history of the Walker family, that I know about,
is of South Carolina, a state detractors 
can describe as “the pinnacle of conceit,”
and I have held copies of family wills in my hand
which distribute human beings to survivors,
as if those of African descent were but things,
like the furniture also in the wills,
I would love to know how Daddy dealt with that truth
I would love for him to have had time
to evolve away from the nightmare South Carolina can still live,

I would love to talk education with him,
for each of us has lived the world of the classroom,
the world of the early adolescent,
I would love for him to validate who I am,
and for me to know more clearly the battles he fought,
for me to know enough to appreciate better
what he gave the world with the effort of his life

one former student of his described Daddy
as welcoming every student to school with a hug,
that is the Daddy I would like to know better.

by Henry H. Walker

December 18, ’17

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