In our many conversations over the years and in those final weeks, Dad made me promise – make sure the kids and their kids know their family…it was very important to him, which makes it important to me. This is only one of the things I will do from now until I breathe my last : to give the kids a sense of what family meant to you and to know where they came from.
For my nieces and nephews and their children, this is what Dad wanted. It may not resonate with you now, as so many of you are young, but please save this and read it over the years to come. Dad loved his family – those long who had left this world before he did and the family he loved during his lifetime.
I won’t begin with all the great – grandparents and beyond, because today is what would have been Daddy’s 84th birthday and I want to talk about the man who shaped our lives and through his life and the way he lived, which he passed on to his kids, as well as the many people who worked with Dad and those who knew and loved him as a friend. Today, this day belongs to Dad. I hope you will celebrate this day, because his life deserves to be celebrated.
It’s not easy to define your Grandpa, but it should be, because Dad grew to be a man who was the sum of his life experiences and he was never a man of pretense. As Dad aged, I was privileged to watch him and how his life changed with each new experience…and, to the end of his life, he was still living each day and still growing as a man, as a very human and humane person.
Dad was born into a world which was suffering, much like it is now. Growing up as he did, as almost everyone did in those days, during The Great Depression, shaped his character and how he would live his life. As a young boy, before he even went off to school, he would wake early and walk the railroad tracks – gathering coal, to help heat his family’s home. In those days, homes were heated with coal and since money was always short, he did whatever he could to help his parents get by. Then, he would go off to school and after school, he walked his paper route. Anything to help his family. He never shied away from responsibility. From a young age, he knew what it was to earn a living, to work at whatever he could – because his sense of family was that strong.
Your grandpa still would find ways to have fun, especially in the Summer – when he and his brothers and other neighbor kids would sneak off to swim in Buck Creek, even if it did mean, ” dodging the turds. ” My Grandma Neely, one of the neighbors told me she would often see Dad and his brothers sneaking off to Buck Creek, his pants dragging the ground – soon to see Dad’s mother, my grandma, go off in search of them, dragging them home, only to watch them sneak off again in a relatively short time.
Dad didn’t grow up in affluence, but he never complained about those days. He looked back at them as simply ” life. ” It’s truthful to say he would talk about those and chuckle. Still, it did affect the young Charles and help define the man he would become. The man never lived a lazy day in his life.
He worked hard – in everything he ever did. He would give 100 % of himself and somehow find a way to do a little more, even when it didn’t seem possible.
His happiness was wrapped up in family, even as a kid. Your grandpa had a special uncle – Uncle Buck. Dad could and would hours telling us about growing up with a man so special that his short life had a place in Dad’s heart and mind to the end of his own life. Uncle Buck was a great influence in Dad’s life…the way he looked after Dad and his brothers. The stories Dad would tell, again and again, always made me smile – because his eyes would shine and he would laugh. I was, am and always will be, grateful those guys had someone who special in his life. To this day, a photo of Uncle Buck hangs in this home and always will. Dad had so many happy memories, you could almost forget that all of them had grown up in a very tough period in American history. Eventually, you will hear those stories, too. Dad wanted his grand-kids and his great-grandchildren to know about Uncle Buck – ” Make sure they know about Buck, Deb. “
Dad was a terrific athlete from his high school days until well into his late 70′s. If you look at his high school photos, especially in the team photos, he looked so small, but he was tough as they come. What he might have missed in height, he more than made up for in ability and tenacity. In his Air Force days, he was proud of being part of the American Air Force football team who played against the Japanese All Star university team. Your grandpa was also a champion Golden Gloves boxer, a talent and skill he kept until his last days.
Speaking of his Air Force days, he was part of the occupying forces in Japan after World War II. Dad had a houseboy, who kept his barracks cubicle tidy. The houseboy soon became part of Dad’s life, in many ways. The youngster was crazy about American western movies – so, your Grandpa sent to the States for boots and a cowboy hat. Dad, for the most part, looked after this boys’ family, helping them out with food and other acts of kindness. Dad told me when he was leaving the base, to return to the States, his last memory of the young boy was of this kid, standing in the road – waving and crying.
While in Japan, your grandpa also saw the devastated cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which had a profound effect on him. He understood why those bombings happened, but seeing those cities tore at his heart. He was able to separate the war from ordinary people. I never heard Dad speak an unkind word about his time in Japan. That was the heart of Dad.
I am not about to paint your grandpa as a saint. He raised alot of Hell, back in the day and he loved it. The various adventures and escapades could fill several books and are, to this day, the stuff of which legends are made. Eventually, Dad did calm down a bit. Just a bit. Becoming a husband and a father will do that to a man. As you know, Dad and Mother divorced, but he was very much involved in our lives. A weekend with Dad was never boring. He would pile us into his car and drive along, singing and say ” King, you singing son of a bitch ” – which we loved. As young kids, Dad was really on his game – we were Firehouse Brats. We knew the men he worked with and we knew the fire station as a place of safety, unless we had done something we shouldn’t have and then Mother would say ” I’m calling the fire station. ” I would often joke I thought his other name was ” fire station. “
In those days, Dad didn’t cook too often, but when he did, it was fried eggs – covered in pepper. For years, I thought fried eggs were black and spicy. To this day, I still use pepper to excess. When Grandma King remarried, it was either fried eggs or B&K root beer and Mexiburgers. It took awhile before Dad experimented and when he did, it was chili – usually made with alot of Durkee’s chili powder. But, we were with Dad and that’s what mattered.
Dad was a hands-on Dad, considering he lived across town. The man seemed to pop up everywhere and at the worst possible times – usually when we were up to something we weren’t supposed to be doing. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it. To his credit, he didn’t have to spank us too often. He used ” The Look. ” It wasn’t fierce, as much as it was pure disappointment. I once told him I could handle a spanking easier than ” The Look. ” To the end, Dad would say ” I’m giving you The Look ” and I’d hide my eyes, while he laughed.
As we got older, we put your grandpa through an obstacle course of patience, tolerance and WTF moments. Frankly, I’m surprised Dad and Mother survived, but like most other kids, we thought we were doing things they had never done and, besides, we just had to be ” smarter ” than them. We were just that stupid. Dad had done it all before and, in all honesty, probably with more finesse. Through it all, we always knew Dad to be a constant. We knew his love was unconditional. We were secure in his heart and he was just as secure in ours. Dad. of course, tried to ” head us off at the pass ” on any number of occasions, but we had just enough Charles King in us to slide through, at least for a few hours.
Dad welcomed being a grandpa and took even more delight in becoming a great grandpa. He might not have seen you as often as he liked, but trust me, he kept track of you and loved you all. His pride in all of you was his greatest happiness – he knew that a part of him lived on in all of you.
Know this…your Grandpa King was more than many people refer to as ” A Legend, ” although in so many ways he was just that – A Legend. To us, he was Dad and we always knew he was extraordinary. We had watched him at work, with the family, with his friends. His many acts of kindness and generosity of spirit and heart, His ingrained sense of right and wrong. In the years to come, you’ll know him, if only through the memories of the family and friends. There is so much to say, but it will come out in a thousand conversations. Celebrate his life and his love for you.
Know this – he loved you, unconditionally and without reservation. You are the legacy of Charles Francis King.
With all my love,