[cb_profit_poster Peace]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, January 22, 2014, 9:41 a.m.
As you know, I often use this blog to warm up for writing fiction. I’ve got a bank robbery to describe in a few minutes, so …
La-la-la-luh-LA-luh-la-la-LA … toon-TOON …
My father, Jimmy Dutton, would have been 77 today, which is unimaginable since he died at 56. His life was an evocative tragedy, worthy of the Greeks, but, over time, the good memories gradually come to supersede and obscure the bad. I think of my old man every day, and most times I chuckle. I probably wouldn’t have become a writer had the Colonel (that’s what auctioneers are titled) not provided so much material early on.
However, the answer to the question “what would Daddy do?” is not often a feasible solution or worthwhile guidance. I suppose father-son relationships have some commonality. Sons are different in some ways and the same in others. On many occasions, like the pretty woman in “South Pacific,” I wanted to “wash that man right out of my hair, and send him on his way,” but I had no more chance than she did.
Memories that are 21 years distant naturally lead to nostalgia. This morning is a cornucopia of images. My father inspired many lyrics in my songs, some of which I actually realized when I wrote them:
My daddy used to say / You gotta be a man / You gotta pull your weight / You gotta work the land / But every time I tried and failed he turned away from me / By the time I was a man / It was too late for him to see.
You’ve had hard times / Most self-imposed / You’ve taken long trips / Down rocky roads / But for every hill you tumbled down / It’s been worth it all having you around.
I just went through all my song lyrics, and I need to revisit a number of unfinished songs when I’m not buried in prose:
My daddy was an auctioneer / Rode the train from Jacksonville to High Point / How to get there wasn’t clear / All in all he had no fear / Couldn’t tell you where he was going / Didn’t know it was a goal / Didn’t have the fear of knowing / When he’d have to pay the toll.
Complicated? My relationship with my old man? It’s complicated now, over 20 years after he died. You should have seen it when I was a teen-ager. It amuses me, thinking of how, when he was of a mind to raise hell, he was going to find a vehicle to do so. I remember lying on the couch on a summer Saturday, reading a book with the baseball “Game of the Week” on TV, and Daddy, steaming into the house, sweaty, red-faced, likely hung over.
“Well, I be goddamned,” he says, “there’s a fence down bordering Howard Watkins’ place, no telling where three cows are, your mama’s sitting in the parking lot of Belk’s with a flat tire, and what are you doing? Laying on your goddamned ass reading a book.”
I look up, knowing nothing of these dire emergencies except that a good bit of them are fabricated.
“What’s up, Pop?”
This, of course, only made him madder, which is why I chuckle now.
It wasn’t all bad. I often think that a dysfunctional boyhood – this was back before all families were dysfunctional – made me tougher, which is, by the way, just where the old man claimed to be aiming. A boyhood full of problems made me fairly adept at fixing them. When Jerry Reed was singing about automobiles, he could’ve been singing about Jimmy Dutton.
If I’m not out of gas in a pouring rain / I’m changing a flat in a hurricane / Lord, Mr. Ford, what have you done?
Oh, yeah. Daddy gave me a love of country music. He took me to see Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, loved Waylon & Willie, and sometimes when he was drunk and depressed, he mournfully sang Kristofferson:
Lord, help me Jesus / I’ve wasted it so / Help me, Jesus / My soul’s in your haaaaaand.
He was never more religious than when drunk on his ass.
By the way, he also took me to Darlington and Greenville-Pickens to see the NASCAR legends race. Somewhere, probably in a shoe box, are photos of my 10-year-old self, wearing a homemade football jersey, made out of a sweat shirt and iron-on numerals cut out of patches that I was so proud of then and so mortified by now, posed next to Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Tiny Lund and Wendell Scott.
I never pleased him much. He wasn’t interested in straight A’s and SAT scores, but a state football championship made him right happy. I think he wanted to give the world a womanizing, liquor-drinking, rodeo cowboy. He wasn’t much impressed by writers, but I think he would have enjoyed hearing me tell outrageous, profane stories from the NASCAR garage, the kind that aren’t told much anymore. He’s in me, like the imaginary devil perched on one shoulder, debating the angel on the other. Everyone has these debates. Mine are more colorful, thanks to the Colonel.
Grudgingly, I miss him. Occasionally.
Some of my father is in every novel I write, whether it’s the pot-smoking folk singer, Riley Mansfield, or the high-school football fan, Tommy Hoskins, or Chance Benford, whom you may eventually meet.