FATHER'S DAY ESSAY FIRST PLACE

The Daily Journal asked readers to write and submit essays about dads, granddads or other father-figurures who’d touched their lives in some way. The top essays have been chosen and are being published today to honor all good dads. Happy Father’s Day.

Sitting in the tan truck, window rolled down, I stuck my 6-year-old elbow out the window. My granddaddy always stuck his elbow out the window, and I wanted to be like him.
As Granddaddy and I headed to the fields to take lunch of red rind bologna, saltines, orange drinks and Moon Pies to the cotton choppers on a warm June day, my grandmother yelled as we pulled out, “Ralph, don’t let that child eat that bologna!”
Of course, as soon as we were out of sight, I was peeling the plastic rind off a piece and chomping away. Granddaddy thought a little raw bologna couldn’t hurt a boy. In addition to weekend visits, I spent time every summer on his farm and learned so much about life there.
Ralph McNabb Spurgeon Sr. was as much a father to me as a grandfather for as long as I can remember since my father
abandoned us. When I was 6 years old, he was 64 and still running a dairy farm. He also had caged layers – my grandmother sold eggs
to town folks and to the grocery stores in Brooksville, Miss. He raised pigs and sold them at the sale barn in Macon and had a vegetable garden others envied.
When my granddaddy was 16, his father sent him from East Tennessee to Noxubee County to manage a large farm he’d bought, and Granddaddy ended up staying there all his life except for a brief time he and my grandmother farmed in Central Florida. I remember him as a tall, white haired man with tanned arms, bright blue eyes, a crooked nose and a broad smile.
When he had a few minutes, he worked crossword puzzles and whittled with a pocket knife he also used to cut plugs of Brown’s Mule chewing tobacco. He went to bed early and got up early all his life. I thought he was wonderful.
Granddaddy was the person I went to with questions I couldn’t ask Mama, and he taught me lessons I carry today: Be as good as your word; hard work comes first and then comes play – and he and I spent some great times fishing; family and character are valuable; and people should never settle for less than their best.
As he aged and retired, except for his garden, and especially after my grandmother died, I spent lots of time with him talking about his life and my work, and sometimes as he listened, tears would well up in his eyes. This sometimes gruff man became very sentimental, but even as a child, I knew that side was there.
The Tuesday before his funeral on Wednesday, I went on to school. My English students were studying “Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard” by Thomas Gray. When I read the opening lines:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
I fought not to cry in front of my students, but they would have understood.
My granddaddy took on two jobs in my life – grandparent and surrogate dad, and rather than feeling slighted that I got half of each, I know I’m lucky to have had double.

Louis Rowles