Father’s Day, Basketball, and Books

Bob Armitage, South Place, 1929

Bob Armitage, South Place, 1929

He didn’t have a jump hook.  Far from it.  And he often sliced the ball when we played golf.  Still this didn’t keep my dad from joyously trying.  At 60, he learned to snow ski just because he wanted to take my friends and I skiing and to the mountains.

“Seen Daddy?” (on the slope) I asked a friend.  “Nope, but I saw something that looked suspiciously like his ski outfit sticking out of a drift up there.”

He put up a basketball goal on the side of our garage, the grass our flooring.  He bought me a pair of clubs and took me golfing even though I was the only 12 year old girl on the course.  Both our tennis balls died in the net, but we played on.

Daddy was game.

Mother bought him a fishing boat one Father’s Day (a small, modest boat–used–with an equally small and modest Evinrude motor on it).  It wasn’t long until it had a ski prop and he was pulling us kids across the lake.  There was hardly enough power to get up behind that boat, but we all learned how to water ski.  Fishing?  I think I saw him at dusk finally trolling up the creek which emptied into Ute Lake.

When I first saw an old photo of my dad lined up with his teammates, the first basketball team at the old brick school house in Vega, Texas (maybe 1926 or 27?), I saw a skinny kid with a goofy grin.  Later I discovered in an account by Hotdog McKendrie, an early day Oldham County cowboy, that, as that same young man, Daddy had leaned  over the highway and flagged down speeding tourists along Route 66.  They were passing by the school house too fast.

Was it goofiness or game or simply trying to get folks to obey the law?

My dad was educated mostly in rural Arkansas schools and when I watched him read, I was shocked to see that he often trailed a finger under the words as if to move them along.  Yet he was a man of books, the kind that had to be balanced daily at the First State Bank.  He began as a janitor/teller and later became the Executive Vice-President of a very successful small town bank.  He was elected president of the Texas State Bankers’ Association.  I remember sleeping in the back seat of the car sometimes while he took banking courses in Amarillo (this was not child abuse), and maybe my first memory is the sensation of his carrying me–still asleep–from the car to the house, those tender hands, that safe broad shoulder.

When I got old enough to be my own book person, my dad came to a talk I gave when I published my first book, given at a local university.  I shifted in my silk suit and looked out over the faces to see him possibly struggling to be interested, to stay awake due to long days at both the bank and the farm–but there he was like he had always been.

When I wrote my latest book, I found a photo of him standing in a field at the farm he began purchasing when he was only 18 years old.  Like the good banker he would become, he understood the wisdom of paying it out over the years at low interest.  And besides, he had no money.  I like this photo because, like everything else, Daddy loved what he was doing and loved this old place–of all things a golf course with sand greens when he first bought it.

Rather than continue to practice his slice, to turned the land back to its natural self–native grass–and spent a lifetime checking on it, taking care of it. I call this photograph his “landscape line” as the horizon line seems to run through his heart.

Daddy, I remember you every Father’s Day by taking a farm walk right by this field where you so gamely posed, in your teller’s clothes, in the early days of your hopes and dreams.  You inspire me still and we’ve all been lofted forward in our lives by your loving shoulders.  I love you dearly and am blessed by you every day.

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