Father’s Day is near, and I remember Daddy! How could I forget? I remember his gentle, kind and patient traits. I have said it many times, my Dad was the most contented person I have ever known. He never had a lot of this world’s wealth, but that didn’t seem to bother him. Dad’s secret for contentment was to keep “self” under control, and never let it want the things it couldn’t have. That really requires self-discipline!
Dad was a poor dirt farmer who ploughed a living out of another man’s land. Folk that did that were called “share-croppers”. It was a hard way to make a living, and there could never be any way to get ahead. In 1922, Dad moved his wife and three young boys to Darlington where he would spend the rest of his days. Dad was contented! He had a job and a house to live in, and credit at the big company store, if needed. To Daddy, nothing could be better. Though the work was hard, the days were long, the pay was little, it was better than what he had left behind. Dad would spend the rest of his days working at the big cotton mill. Mama used to say that Daddy loved the old mill better than he loved her, but she was only kidding!
Daddy’s day at the big mill began at 6:00 a.m. and lasted until 6:00 p.m. that was before the eight-hour workday came into being. The horn at the big mill would sound at 4:30 a.m., awakening the village folk. Mama was first to get up and begin her day by preparing breakfast for Dad. Dad would arise a few minutes afterward and dress for work. I would lie in bed and listen to talk going on in the kitchen of our small three-room house. When I would hear the door close, I knew that Dad was on his way to the big mill. Mama would continue in the kitchen preparing for her next meal.
During the summer months, Mama would go to the garden to do work, and gather the vegetables that were growing there. They would be so good! If I awoke and didn’t find Mama in the kitchen, I would head for the garden. I knew she would be there. I would see her standing between long rows of butter bean vines that covered the frame that was built for them. Mama, with her big bonnet on to keep her hair dry from the morning dew, and her face shaded from the bright morning sun. At times, even now, I envision her standing between the bean rows and her calling to me, “Bill, come quickly, I see a June Bug!” I would hurry to where she was standing and take my make-believe airplane from the vine, tie a string on one of its hind legs and send it flying to make-believe places.
In the evenings when Daddy returned home from the mill, Mama would have supper on the table. Supper being ended, Dad would go to the front porch and sit in the swing. Mama would finish her work in the kitchen and join him there. I liked those times. Dad would talk about his work at the mill, the things that happened, and Mama would sit quietly and listen. Sometimes a neighbor would come over and join in the conversation. There wasn’t much to talk about except the work at the mill, the newest family to arrive on the village, or perhaps the new superintendent at the mill. Folk on the village couldn’t afford a newspaper, radios were very limited, and TV had not been heard of.
Life was simple, but peaceful. What happened outside of our village didn’t bother us; we didn’t know anything about it. My world was complete when I would sit near my Dad and listen to stories he would tell about his years as a boy.
My Dad and my Mama have been gone for a very long time, but I cherish the memories they left behind.
Happy Father’s Day!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. and author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.