Leaning on Daddy - Fathers DayI just never seem to tire of hearing these Christian  stories Dr. Coleman tells from his younger days. He has an uncanny talent of tying them to Christian values and how we should live.

Thank you Byrns and Happy Father’s Day! – Bob

This is a story about Daddy and me; mostly, it is a memory of Daddy one day long ago. The story begins on Brown Street where Mr. Cooper lived. He was no stranger. His house was next door to one of my best friends from high school, and in sight of the houses where my two grandmothers would later live.

You could almost see his house from where we lived on 4th Avenue.  Mr. Cooper was older than our parents, tall, skinny, with graying hair, and very quiet. He liked fishing and sometimes would let us boys go with him. One fishing trip still sticks in my mind, even after all these years.

About six of us boys, all of us 10 or 11 years old, went that day with Mr. Cooper to Sulphur Fork Creek to fish. The creek was so shallow I doubt if anyone ever caught a fish there. I think it was the idea of going fishing that fascinated us. We had homemade poles, worms, and all, just like we’d read in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

We rode from Mr. Cooper’s house on Brown Street to the bridge that crossed the creek on the hill as you leave Eastland Heights, a neighborhood sprawled along both sides of the highway leading out of Springfield with lots of houses, three grocery stores, one church, two auto repair garages, and two auto junkyards. We parked near the bridge and made our way through the underbrush down the bank to the creek.

Sulphur Fork Creek is shallow at most places and is almost completely shaded by thick-limbed trees on both sides. The sun seldom broke through the trees. The deepest place on this part of the creek was Log Hole, our only swimming place. It was 4 to 5 feet deep and was only about twice the size of a good, big living room.

This was the most popular place on the creek, and those of us who learned how to swim did it there. The first swimming pool in our town was not built until my senior year in high school, and growing up in the middle section of Tennessee oceans and rivers were not even a part of our imaginations.

Back then, our place was Log Hole on the Sulphur Fork Creek.  It was a few miles up stream from the swimming hole that we spent most of this particular day fishing, wading, just having a good time, being for that day relaxed and lazy, like Tom and Huck in Mark Twain’s famous book.

This story focuses on a pair of “brogans” – high top, lace-up shoes, expensive for that day.  I was wearing my brand-spanking new brogans on that trip.  After the day wore on and we had long since given up on catching any fish, I took off my shoes and put them on a rock to keep them dry while we still waded and played in the creek.

It was a great day, but even great days have to come to an end. Mid-afternoon, Mr. Cooper called a halt to the water games and the frolicking. It was time to go home.  When I went back to get my shoes, they were gone. But, one place in the creek looks about like any other place.

Maybe I was not looking at the right place. I panicked. I simply couldn’t go home without my new shoes. I looked and looked and looked. The shoes were gone!

Mr. Cooper, who had been more patient than I deserved, finally decided he couldn’t wait any longer and he and my friends left. I simply refused to go. I stayed, still looking for my shoes.

I don’t remember how long I stayed, but finally I gave up looking. The shoes were gone! I headed through the woods toward the bridge on the Eastland Heights road leading into Springfield.

When I reached the highway, I was still several miles from home on 4th Avenue.  The hot pavement burned my bare feet. I tried to stay on the shoulder of the road the best I could. The rocks hurt my feet.

What a sight I must have been to the few who passed in their cars – a lonely little boy who must have indeed looked like a homeless orphan.

They surely must have wondered who I was and what was I doing out here on this lonely stretch of highway. No one stopped!  Hot pavement and hard rocks! Burning and hurting feet! Spirit dampened and the day ruined because of lost shoes! And, most of all, in my mind, “What am I going to tell Daddy?”

What I remember most is looking up and seeing the car coming, beginning to slow down, and finally pulling over.  There was my Daddy, who did not own a car but had gotten a friend to bring him out the road toward Eastland Heights where he knew we’d gone. He leaned out the window and said, “Son, are you all right?”

I never knew the details. Evidently, when Mr. Cooper and the boys got home and I wasn’t there, Mama called Daddy at work. Daddy left work, hailed a ride, and came looking. If I had still been at the creek in the woods, I guess they would have parked the car and made their way through the underbrush to find me. Daddy knew I was somewhere between the bridge at Eastland Heights and Log Hole.

In later years, I thought about the good shepherd who went looking for the lost sheep and was determined, whatever the cost, to find the sheep that was not in the fold. The sheep was lost, and the shepherd came.

That day, Daddy came! It was an old car, one seated, with “running boards.” (My grandchildren wanted to know, “What is a ‘running board’?”)  I stood on the running board on the passenger’s side with Daddy’s arm around me as we rode the several miles back into town.

Even now, in church when we sing that old church hymn, “Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from every harm; leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms,” I remember that day.  It’s been almost 60 years, and I still can feel Daddy’s arm reaching out and holding on to me as we rode toward home.

Daddy and I never talked about that day. After I got older, I heard him say he knew who got my shoes. Other than that, that day was forever buried in my memory and his. I was worried about losing the new shoes; he was worried about me.  I was trying to figure out what to say to Daddy; he never gave me a chance to say anything.

Remember the story of the prodigal son? The boy had a confession ready, but the father didn’t listen. He was too busy hugging, rejoicing, and getting the fatted calf ready for the welcome home party.

I wasn’t a prodigal in the same sense, but like the boy in that Bible story, I too needed to get home, but I was worried that Daddy would be mad. How would I ever explain about the lost shoes? Like the Daddy in that story, my Daddy never let me get that far either.

He did not fuss about the shoes. He simply said: “Son, are you all right?”

Daddy lived to be 91 and died 17 years ago. His birthday would have been June 3. It was on another June 3rd a few years ago while on a family vacation at Surfside Beach, South Carolina, that this experience came rushing back into my mind.

I guess thinking about Daddy that day psyched me up for it, but as I walked barefoot from the ocean to the house, the hot sand burned my feet, and suddenly in my memory, I was back almost 60 years ago walking along a hot highway in Springfield, Tennessee — Mr. Cooper, Sulphur Fork Creek, my lost shoes, and Daddy coming in the car with running boards.

Most of all, I remembered Daddy’s strong arm reaching around me, holding me tight as we rode back toward town, a feeling of snugness and security, and the good feeling that we were going home.  “Precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul . . .”

So, Daddy, on this Father’s Day, 2010, this tribute is for you and Fathers everywhere, and my prayer is simply this:  “Thank you, God, for my Daddy and memories of him that still bless my life, and thank you for fathers everywhere who love and care for their children and, in so many ways, demonstrate for them the love of God the Father! AMEN.”

June 12, 2010

About the Author

G. Byrns Coleman is Professor of Religion and Chair of Department of Religion & Philosophy, Wingate University, Wingate, NC . He is also a member of Wingate Baptist Church .

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