Friday, August 08, 2008

Footnote: a homage to my father

While I try to exclude personal items from this site, I did want to pass on a recommendation as well as a tribute. My father passed away last month and, as part of the preparations for the funeral, the minister presiding over it talked quite a bit with the family. Here is an expanded version of what I told him.

A few years ago I read Ava's Man by Rick Bragg. Here is Wendy Smith’s review at
The same fierce pride and love that animated All Over but the Shoutin' glow in Rick Bragg's new book. In fact, he informs us in the prologue that it was the readers of his bestselling 1997 memoir about his mother's struggle to raise three sons out of dire poverty who told him what he had to write about next. "People asked me where I believed my own momma's heart and backbone came from ... they said I short-shrifted them in the first book." Bragg sets out to make amends in this heartfelt biography of his maternal grandfather, Charlie Bundrum, who with wife Ava nurtured seven children through hard times that never seemed to ease in rural Alabama and Georgia. "He was a tall, bone-thin man who worked with nails in his teeth and a roofing hatchet in a fist as hard as Augusta brick," writes Bragg, "who inspired backwoods legend and the kind of loyalty that still makes old men dip their heads respectfully when they say his name." Charlie's children adored him so much that 40 years after his premature death in 1958 at age 51, Bragg's elderly aunts and mother began to cry when asked about him. Chronicling Charlie's hardscrabble life in the flinty, expressive cadences of working-class Southern speech, Bragg depicts a rugged individual who would find no place in the homogenized New South. The marvelous stories collected from various relatives--Charlie facing down a truckload of mean drunks with a hammer, hatchet, and 12-gauge shotgun, or brewing illegal white whiskey in the woods ("He never sold a sip that he did not test with his own liver")--are not just snapshots of a colorful character. They're also the author's tribute to an oral culture with tenacious roots and powerful significance in the American South.

The book really moved me because I recognized a lot of my dad in Charlie Bundrum. Fortunately the parts about making ‘shine and not fitting in with a “New South” do not fit my father. But the inner drive, the fierceness of spirit, the protective role over the family…all these things done (and without one complaint) strongly resonated with me. His example, his strength of character could not be ignored. And like Charlie, he was far from perfect but the that was part of who he was.

In reading the book, I realized what my father did through his life and his example was to teach me what it means to be a man. That I had to figure this out from reading someone else’s book shows what a poor subject he had to work with. And having my own family now, I’m finding out about the personal cost it takes to do what he did. My parents made sure my circumstances are far better than what they had and I can’t express my gratitude enough. I want for nothing of any importance thanks to my parents…the value of what they gave me is priceless. All I can hope is to provide my family with the same opportunities and examples I was given. Even if I offer a fraction of what my father did, they will be enriched.

I was unable to say much at my father’s bedside other than pass on my love and that from my family. I had trouble saying goodbye as I wanted to either hold out hope or not state the obvious to someone dying. Dad, I love you and I miss you so much. Thanks for all you provided me, and the best tribute I can think of is to attempt to be the type of person you were for me.

1 comment:

Jorge Vargas said...

That is a great testimony to hear.Good pride!