Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day Tribute to my Dad, Melvin E. Wall, Sr.

I wrote this piece a few years ago, so I apologize if you've already read it, but for those of you who may have missed it, or didn't follow me then, here's a tribute to my dad. 

My dad was a simple man. He was born Feb.2, 1916 in Anna, Texas. He was the second son, and sixth born of eleven. He had an eighth grade education and an analytical mind. Like many of his generation, he enlisted in the Army during WWII, spending much of his time in North Africa and Italy as a Motor Pool Staff Sergeant with the 88th Division, Blue Devils. When he returned to the States he married his wartime pen-pal on his 30th birthday.

As a newlywed, he moved his new bride from Dallas to “the edge of nowhere”, Plano, where he had a job as a farm equipment mechanic at the Allis Chalmers dealership which occupied the old train depot station in downtown Plano at the time. He bought a slice of property on the new freeway and built a small home and his own shop on the land. In ten years time his family had outgrown the small house he’d built by hand, so he purchased a brand new house on the edge of town - one with three bedrooms and a big yard for his children to play in. He continued to make his living as a farm equipment mechanic, and occasionally he would repair a car or pickup, or bulldozer, or whatever was brought his way.

I learned a lot of things from my dad.

He taught me that intelligence isn’t measured by framed scraps of paper on the wall, or how many consonants you can string together behind your name.

He taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, and for a southern girl, that was news to me.

He taught me how to use my hands, and the difference between a wrench and a pair of pliers. He let me get my hands (and clothes) greasy, and slide underneath a car on a creeper. He let me look over his shoulder while he rebuilt engines and transmissions, while he ground valves, and set the timing on a internal combustion engine. The tools of his trade were recently stolen from the home he bought for his family 52 years ago. I wonder if the person who took them knew they were taking memories too.

He taught me physics by way of pulleys, levers, and inclined planes.

He taught me to drive a tractor, a combine, and a standard transmission auto (pickup truck actually).

He taught me how to swim, not the swim team style; river and military style. Head up, eyes open, so you can see where you’re going. I still swim that way.

He taught me about the bounty of the earth, letting me tag along on service calls to the middle of wheat and cotton fields. He let me dive into trailers filled with grain, and he took me to the cotton gin in Plano and walked me through the catwalks, explaining how the machinery worked as we went along. (While the machinery was running, too! Lordy, no one would let a child do that these days!)

By example, he taught me the color of your skin doesn’t have anything to do with your worth as a human being, nor does the thickness of your wallet.

He taught me that your bank balance is not a way to keep score.

By example, he showed me how to hold my head high, how to honor humble beginnings, and humble living.

He taught me Algebra where my teachers couldn’t, even though he'd only completed eight years of school, and he'd never attended an Algebra class in his life. My teacher’s never understood how I came up with the correct answers, since I wasn’t doing it “by the textbook.”

He taught me that History class was important because we have to understand where we’ve been, in order to see where we’re going.

He let me fix his hair in crazy hair styles while he watched television. From this I learned I have no talent to be a hair stylist.

He taught me that high expectations for children are better discipline than spanking.

He taught me that hard work is its own reward. That providing for your family to the best of your ability is a goal in life.

He taught me to love and respect the out of doors, and to be kind to animals.

He taught me how to shoot a rifle (what self-respecting Texas girl doesn’t need to know that?), and how to build a campfire.

He taught me how to roller skate, and how to skate ‘couples’. He was always my favorite skate partner.

He taught me how to crack pecans, and nap under a plum tree.

He taught me that smoking will kill you.

The only time I ever saw my father in a church was for a funeral or a wedding, but he was good man, a Godly man, if there is such a thing. Did he believe in Heaven and Hell? I don’t know, but he lived a life worthy of Heaven if there is one.

He passed from this life on April 23, 1991.

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