Pops Daddy*

My Daddy used to say, “that was back when you were just a twinkle in my eye”.

He was being mischievous, but that comment let me know how far back I was loved. It was a little glimpse into being in the timeless heart and mind of God.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16

My Daddy has worked all of his life and by that I mean
All. Of. His. Life. He is still working.

At just six years old, little Dickie gathered crickets in the graveyard and sold them at the Western Auto, 100 crickets for one dollar. When he was eight he worked in the school cafeteria just to eat lunch. At ten he was picking peaches and had a paper route in the Quarters. He also sold newspapers on the street for a nickel each. When he was 12, he helped deliver milk. The milkman would pick him up at 2 am and after loading all the milk at the dairy, they would deliver glass bottles to doorsteps until school started at 7am. But then, the whole family was working just to put food on the table. Mama Mayerle drove a laundry truck for $5 a day, a classic red ’48 Ford panel truck. Papa had returned to the family by then and besides working on a farm, he pumped gas at the local gas station.

By the time I was born, my Daddy worked as a serviceman installing equipment on oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico. He was often on call for emergencies and when he left in the middle of the night, my Mama made him eggs and bacon . He wore a hardhat and washed his hands with Lava soap.

He had never finished college so after working on the rigs, he went to night school to study Civil Engineering. Even when we were transferred to Holland, he took his books and studied floating on an oil rig platform out in the North Sea. He couldn't possibly know what he was getting ready for, but God did and whatever it was he'd be good and ready.

He was always made of such sturdy stuff. See Dickie Daddy

In 1991, as Saddam Hussein was withdrawing from Kuwait, he placed explosives in about 700 wells in Burgan Oil Field and detonated them on his way out. Five millions barrels of oil a day went up in smoke filling the skies with darkness and spraying black rain into the sky. The beaches all the way down the coast of Saudi Arabia where slicked with oil and littered with tar balls.

When Pops landed at the Kuwait airport as part of an international fire fighting team, he was escorted straight to the desert. He was issued a visa right there in the sand. It was month one of the clean-up. He missed walking my sister down the aisle on her wedding day to be there.

There were no words for the landscape he saw. He is a man of few words and he called it apocalyptic. Acrid black smoke filled the fleeting skies. In midday when there was no wind, you could not see the sun. He lived in barracks in Kuwait and drove a pick-up on the Highway to Hell everyday to work. He describes it as a junkyard where Iraqi soldiers plundered as they fled.

At the time, I had no idea how dangerous was his work. Before they could even begin putting out fires, disposal teams had to go into the dark and sweep thousands of land mines hidden in the soft sand. Then roads had to be rebuilt to cover oil spills and for heavy equipment to reach the wells. They were working in 110-115 degree temperatures and fighting near 2000 degree scorching oil fires. Each man swaddled his head in rags to keep it cool and his hair from catching on fire. Every man was issued 20 liters of water a day as he could sweat more than one quart an hour on a 12 hour shift. Each well was under almost 4000 pounds of pressure and had its own EMT.

The Iraqi forces had built a pipeline to the ocean to dump as much oil as they could into the Persian Gulf. The firefighting teams reversed the pipeline to bring seawater to the fires. This constant stream of ocean water kept men from collapsing and machines from melting.

My Daddy has at least one image from his months fighting fires in Kuwait that has remained clear in his mind’s eye. After a long day fighting fires, he saw one of the men on his team, a hulk of a man built like a football tight end, sitting at the edge of an oil pond crying. He was stroking a dying bird black as night and smothered in oil.

I keep returning to that image of a heartbroken man holding a bird. It speaks to me of love, of sacrifice, of rescue, of tender loving care from a strong man, of how my God can save me against all odds. Our God is a living God and He can save us and give us new life no matter what we have done or what has been done to us. His love overcomes all the odds.

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 two 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.

Photocopy of an original photo by Sebastiao Salgado.