This is a column I wrote for Father's Day several years ago while I was writing for the Clinch County News. My uncle who conducted my daddy's funeral asked me if I had something he could use as part of the service, and I gave him to this use as he saw fit.
It seems appropriate to post it here now with my father's passing. I miss him so much, and most especially today when I went riding in the woods and at Council...so many precious memories from my childhood came to me. This piece sums it up what my childhood was like...I felt lucky and so blessed :
Most pieces that are written for Father's Day are about being thankful for the things our fathers taught us while we were children. I know I’m certainly glad my daddy taught me some of the important things a kid needs to know: how to bait a hook or catch a crawfish without getting pinched, how to swim, and of course, how to drive.
The more I thought about it, I realized there was something else for which I am grateful: my father’s job. Not just because his job enabled him to provide for us, but rather, the uniqueness of it. I understood, around the age of eight or nine, it wasn't like the jobs most other fathers had. The more I watched television I learned my father's job and our life was far removed from any depiction I saw on that little silver screen.
On shows like Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons, the dads all dressed in suits every day and drove to work in fancy sedans. They had offices in the city and secretaries who brought them coffee and took shorthand. The only time I remember seeing Daddy in a suit was on the holidays or for a funeral.
In stark contrast, my daddy dressed every day in blue or tan khakis and drove a pickup truck to work. His office was nearly 30,000 acres of forest that he oversaw for the Langdale Company of Valdosta, GA. He's had the same position for fifty-two years. And as a result of his job, I got to grow up in a remarkable place called Council, a tiny village just north of the Georgia‑Florida line and a few miles south of Fargo.
I never felt deprived, as a child, living out in the "boondocks" as some
called it. As a matter of fact, I felt sorry for the children I saw on T.V., cooped up in crowded cities with only small hedge‑lined back yards to play in. I, on the other hand, had a vast South Georgia pine forest to explore.
While they were stuck in their boring suburban homes, I got to ride on the back of my daddy's pickup for miles along dirt roads where I got to strow corn to help feed the plentiful wildlife. It was common back then to see deer in herds of fifteen to twenty on the edge of clear-cuts in the summer, and four or five wild sows with their litters of piney wood pigs in the spring. I got to swim and fish in creeks with names like Double Run and Cypress Creek where the tadpoles were so thick along the bank you could stir them with a stick. I spent countless hours walking along sandy roads and wading in tea‑colored ditches looking for arrowheads.
Although my daddy and his job didn't fit into the stereotypes depicted on television, I knew that he did more in the course of one week than any of those television fathers would ever do in a lifetime. He had to be the proverbial jack of all trades. In the course of an average day, his job would require him to fulfill a wide variety of duties.
A typical morning could start out with him driving a motor grader to maintain the miles and miles of roads in the woods. Before heading home for lunch, he might stop to mark trees to show a logging crew where to begin selective timber harvesting. After lunch, there was probably a section of barb wire fence that needed mending. He had to make sure the wild cattle that roamed the forest back then didn’t escape onto the highway. Once a month, he and my Uncle Jimmy would saddle their horses and head out to into the woods to catch some of the cows and take them to the livestock market in Valdosta. They roped and wrangled those cattle just like the cowboys on Rawhide.
Daddy also wore the hat of a firefighter and was always on the alert for forest fires. When it was bone dry a fire could start from a lightening strike or the sparks of a passing train. Many times I remember Momma, my brother and I going on vacation or out of town to visit relatives without him because of the threat of fire danger.
Because of where we lived, my brother and I and the many cousins and friends who visited us always had wonderful places to play. Whether it was in the woods around our home, in the haylofts of the two barns, or in my treehouse we used our vivid imaginations to conjure up wild adventures.
My treehouse, which I convinced Daddy I just had to have at the age of 11, is something else I am thankful to my father for. Although we lived as far south as anyone could and still be citizens of the state of Georgia, he understood what I meant when I told him I needed a place to be alone. He built that tree house to give me a place of my a own, a retreat, where I could go to when I needed a quiet place to think or read.
I still remember sitting there on long summer afternoons among the towering limbs of that old oak and hearing the musical sounds of life in Council. Sometimes I’d stop reading or writing just to listen to the noises that floated up to me: the voices of children playing ball or kick the can, the creak of the turpentine wagons loaded with barrels of gum as they bounced along the rutted roads, the lumbering roar of the occasional car or pulp wood truck out on Highway 94, or the low mournful whistle of the train as it rounded the curve at Ewing and headed toward the crossroads at Council.
As I got older, I realized how unique my childhood experiences were. I think of them from time to time, and when I do, I feel like saying thanks to Daddy for giving me the perfect place to grow up. I keep it, and all its sights and sounds with me in my heart, no matter where I go.
This is posted in fond memory and with great love for my Daddy, J.T. Steedley 1931-2012
Rose Steedley Williams