Dickie was a scrappy, free-range kid; a wild boy who grew up fast and Nazarene.
His life began in a small town in Louisiana. Richard Harvey was named for his father and nicknamed Dickie. Little Dickie was raised in tough discipline, true love and a laborer’s poverty.
When he was nine months old, his Daddy was killed on the job. Harvey was a long haul log trucker whose load crushed him to death when the chains gave way. He was 21 years old.
I learned this as a child and that kind of tragedy sticks with you. All my life, I have held my breath passing log trucks and looked sideways at the taunt chains that hold the lengths in place. Who knew I’d one day move to Oregon and pass them a thousand times or more. I always think of Harvey and my Daddy.
My Daddy’s mother, finding herself a widow at 20, enrolled in secretary school and left him with her grandparents, Mama and Poppa Mayerle, mostly Mama Mayerle. Leona always planned to come back and get him. And she tried, but remember he was wild and scrappy and he was not having it. Being with Mama Mayerle was the only home he knew.
My Daddy remembers Leona floating in and out of his life. She came to visit, soon with a new husband and two more children. Once his mother came and snuck him into the movies. Movies were not allowed under his grandmother’s Nazarene roof. The movie was Lassie Come Home and that became his favorite story, about a faithful dog who finds his way home miles across the Scottish moors.
God met my Daddy right where he was, a fatherless boy, but not necessarily as you might expect. Not with an earthly father, but a strong Jesus-loving woman in cat eye glasses.
So Mama Mayerle raised Dickie. Following her Nazarene ways, she never cut her hair or wore it free and loose. And never, never ever did she wear pants. Her given name was Lily Belle and despite that sweet name, you did not dare sass her. She would make you choose your own switch. It was easy to think the pain was in the choosing until the stinging came.
Poppa Mayerle was gone until Daddy was about 12 years old. He was a stern man with a gruff manner. Poppa had been a sharecropper working 7 days a week with only a half day off for Christmas. As kids we just tried not to get in his way. Mama Mayerle was more gentle, but still no pushover. She wore calico dresses and her hair in a snow-white bun, and to church she carried a hard shell handbag, the kind with a metal clasp that closes with a snap!. She was a church lady who dearly loved Jesus, my Daddy and me.
Lily Belle took my Daddy through a fatherless country. She gave him a Father-full life.
As a teenage boy, Dickie smoked cigarettes, rode motorcycles, played football and loved a good fist fight. He says the itch to fight was always there inside. He had a childhood dog named Jeeter. Jeeter was a brindle pit bull mix who rode on every bike, motorcycle and car my Daddy ever owned. She went to school with him everyday since he was six years old and waited for the bell to ring. Jeeter was one reason my Daddy learned to fight. Kids would tease her and poke at her while she waited by his bike and that made him fighting mad. She rode on the gas tank of his motorcycle and learned to lean in the curves to stay on. She always gave him away when he snuck into the movies because she'd be sitting on the gas tank of his motorcycle during the show.
For all of his scrappiness, my Daddy memorized poetry, sang tenor in the church choir and married my mom on Valentine’s Day. Small town folks told my Mama that Dickie would never amount to anything. But she believed in him, so she promptly married him and set out to prove them wrong. It seems after that he put all of his fight into being a family man and never looked back. I think she knew what was truly in him. He has been married to my Mama now for 55 years.
Happy Father's Day to my Daddy. He has loved me since before day one.
Happy Father's Day to my Father God. He has loved me since before the stars.
* This is part one of thoughts on my Daddy. I have been calling him once a week to chat about his childhood for months now in preparation to speak at my church on Father's Day. Our chats have been sweet enough to shorten the miles between Texas and Oregon.