My parents both grew up dirt poor, the children of West Texas share croppers. My father was a cotton farmer before WWII. He and his family wrested a living out of the dry, red dirt north of Abilene, Texas in Stonewall and Haskell Counties.
After the war my parents moved away from Texas following what they hoped would be a quest for a better life, first in Des Moines, Iowa and then in Spokane, Washington, where I was born. My arrival drove them back home to Texas nearer to family. They settled in Dallas this time, moving out to a sleepy little village at the time, Richardson.
When I was growing up, Richardson was Mayberry. You could ride your bike from one end of town to the other--hitting countryside on both ends! Everyone in town knew you, so there wasn't getting away with much back then!
My dad went to work for the City of Richardson as the City Secretary. His job was demanding and grew more so as the town begin to grow rapidly. As the 1960s got underway, my dad joined a development firm and worked building out the west side of town. He worked hard.
I learned a lot from my dad. But the most important thing I learned from him had to do with how to regard other people, no matter who they were or what they did.
When I was just a little boy, I remember vividly driving through downtown Dallas late one evening on our way home from a visit to my grandparents who lived in Oak Cliff. My grandfather was a night watchman in one of the large office buildings under construction at the time. On this particular evening the rain was pouring down.
Just after dropping Gramps off at his job and as we were making our way up Main Street, a man who was drunk stumbled out into the street and fell down in front of our car. I can remember my dad getting out in the rain to help the fellow. I never forgot that scene for some reason.
I grew up watching my father meet the trash men who collected our garbage at home with cold soft drinks or cold water. To this day the garbage crews who take care of his trash know to expect him waiting for them with something cold to drink. They all know him.
My dad has treated everyone that way all of his life, so far as I can tell.
He never judged others based on status or money or job description. The people who worked for him always loved him because they knew he would be fair, understanding and kind. They knew he was honest and unmixed.
My father joined the church in Richardson when I was about 11-years-old. He has been quietly involved in the same church for the past forty-four years. As a kid, I noticed that my dad didn't like to pray in public. When asked, except on a rare occasion or two that I recall, he always declined that assignment. I think he didn't feel as if he could do as good a job as some others. Or, possibly he felt somehow "unworthy" by church standards to fill this role.
I think he felt bad about it. I remember feeling bad for him, but never about him.
More than once he was asked to consider serving as an elder or deacon in the church. He always declined.
While I don't know all the reasons, I respected him then and I understand even more now.
He is 85-years-old today. My dad's faith remains very strong and simple. His creed runs something like this.
Believe deeply. Love widely. Take care of your own business as you know you should. Care for your family. Treat others just as you would enjoy being treated. And remember, we are all the same and God loves us all.
Not long ago I was at my parents' home. When he heard the trash truck, he excused himself to go and greet his good friends, grabbing a couple of soft drinks on the way out the door.
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