I didn’t realize at the time how close Dad came to dying that day. It’s been over 30 years now. The thought of almost being fatherless before becoming a teenager still makes me thank God for protecting my dad.
Before the citizens of Rogers County passed the tax that would later pave all the roads in Rogers County, my father delivered the mail over hundreds of miles of gravel roads every week. Dust coated every bit of the car, and Dad, during the hot summer days. Spring rains and winter snows meant he would often utilize chains and a come along winch to pull himself out of a muddy ditch. I’d go with him every chance I got.
In the summer, kids would race to meet the mailman. I thought they were just excited to get the mail. I was wrong. Dad always carried a sack of 2 cent bubble gum with him. The kids stood by the window and waited as Dad got their mail ready, then allowed them to grab a piece (or three) of gum from the sack. I’m not sure who was happier afterwards, the kids or Dad. Santa Dad, the mailman.
During Christmas break, it seemed like every mailbox we stopped at had homemade fudge, cookies and candies for Dad. Even with four sisters at home and my huge appetite for sweets, we never could eat everything that people gave Dad.
It was on those really cold days that I would want to get the mail in the box as soon as possible and roll up my window quickly. I threw the mail in and it slid to the back of the box. Dad made me get out and put the mail in the front. “Don’t make people have to reach all the way to the back of the box to get their mail” he told me. It was a minor thing to me, but that’s how Dad was, always putting others first. Many times he would hand deliver mail to the elderly or sick so they wouldn’t have to get out in the cold or rain. I began to see why there was always an abundance of gifts waiting for Dad. He loved people. They loved him.
In addition to chains and bubble gum, Dad kept an air tank in his car. The roads were brutal on his tires, and he often had to air up a slow leak. He had stopped at the filling station run by Mr. and Mrs. Bible to fill the tank when it exploded. I wasn’t with him that day; I was home when Mom got the call. I didn’t think it was serious when she told me that my dad had an accident and she needed to meet him at the doctor’s office. Nothing ever seemed to rattle Mom. When my aunts came by, I could tell that it was serious. I still don’t know how the doctors saved his hand. When I saw him several days later, his eyes black and swollen, it was the sight of his hand that made me sick. It caught the brunt of the explosion.
My dad and I often played catch. I truly don’t remember a time that I asked him to play he said he was too busy. He always made time. Looking at his hand, I didn’t think I would ever get to play catch with him again.
Not long after coming home from the hospital, eyes still black and swollen, Dad said “Want to play catch?” I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. “Do you want to play catch?”
“How?” I asked. “Let’s just give it a try.”
With his hand in a sling just days away from having pins put in, my dad and I played catch. I was so scared I would hit his hand that I barely threw the ball. Dad laughed at me.
“Throw the ball, Herb. You aren’t going to hurt me.” I believed him.
Always putting others first.