I loved my father. The first ten years of my life I was afraid of him> H e was 6 6/12’ with back hair, a Widow’s Peak and blue eyes. It would be years before I knew my father was a player and continued to be a player until we moved from our tiny house when I was ten. My father changed then. He became funny and laid back. He still liked a heavy drink every night. “Your father has a heavy hand” my mother said. My father had worked for my grandfather in the most successful dry cleaning business in south and central Vermont. Dry Cleaning was very big and Brown and Sons “We Keep the Spots” had had a fleet of six trucks and four buildings. But in those first ten years when he was driving one of a fleet of trucks throughout Vermont, picking up and delivering cleaning he was doing more.. I would be an adult before I contacted one of the young men who had worked with him. “Tell me about the other woman”. I said. He laughed. “Woman?” He your grandfather and your uncle were all drinkers and had lots of women.” My mother had been miserable in those first ten years. She had been a pretty dimpled girl sheltered by her parents in the small Swedish community near Rutland. She had bagged the most handsome man in Rutland, head turning handsome. I never sat in his lap. He n ever told me he loved me. I was not Daddy’s little girl. I envied the girl who lived down the street who waited for her father to come home from work. He would carry her on his back. She would laugh. He would hug her and her sister. The only time I sat on his lap was the day he told my mother he wanted a divorce. He told me to be a good girl. He had met and fallen in love with another woman. My father returned after a month but I never knew if it was because his father “lit” into him.” Go home to your wife and kids”. If my grandfather had not said that would he have returned?
Of course, after he left the dry cleaning plant and we moved from the tiny house across the street my father was a different man. He and my mother built a motel from an old garage and made it into a successful restaurant and then they built eight motel units. I went from someone who hated school and received barely passing grades to someone who was considered smart and who was inducted into the charter Honor Society for my junior high school. Me? That is how much my home life had affected me. But I still carried the memory of my father waking me in the middle of the night when I was very young and spanking me for wetting the bed. I remember the sound and the feel of the smack across my wet backside.
When my folks retired to Florida and relatives and friends joined them there was a wonderful extended family. My mother and father helped me raise my three sons. My father was not a speaker:; he was a doer. My mother who was happy told me he never told her he loved her once after they were married. He would say “Ditto”. He never hugged me or kissed me when I was an adult. When we said goodbye he would lean down so I could kiss him on the cheek. I tried to break through. When my first marriage was crumbling I worked up the courage to ask him “We are having a tough time Dad. Tell me how you and Mom worked through it,” His answer from the man who was always John Wayne was Jimmy Stewart. “Shucks, you need to talk to your mother about that”. I never tried again. My father was always there for me. When I needed rides throughout my teen years he never failed to drop me off and pick me up. Later when I was a single mother he loved my sons. The sons he never had. He was the one who ‘got on the boys when they wouldn’t pick up the garage for me. “Get off your asses and go help your mother”. My father dictates were always forceful. I lost track of the times he helped me moved or how he drove from Rutland to Boston to pick me up at college because the pain in my neck was unbearable. It would be a semester before I would return. My favorite memories were of the big table in the dining room. There was always someone there, friends, family, chambermaids, and motel guests. My father sat at the head of the table telling jokes wearing his white workman’s shirt. Everybody loved George Brown. My father was handsome and charismatic. He died on a golf course when he was 67. He teed off and died of a massive heart attack. I felt the grief for years, the loss of him in my life. I knew my father loved me. He loved being called Mr. Nelson because of course he was Carole Nelson’s father. The day before he died my guest on my noon TV show was Mitzi Gaynor, his favorite actress. My mother told me later he said. “Who would have ever believed our daughter would do this. Look at how good she is.” I treasure that quote to this day. I spent my adult years looking for my father, dating all the handsome bad boys. Of course, I always saw rejection. It would be years later before I would realize I had many boyfriends. I had never really been rejected. I married my bad boy whom I had met when I was 60. We have been together 13 years. I thought on some revel I was marrying someone like my father. In some ways he is but he is always telling me loves me. He does for me just like my Dad did. Of course, he is also a caretaker and someone like my mother who lectures me if I lose thing or don’t zip my purse. Daddy I love you. I hope you know that. I know you were from an era where men didn’t express emotion and really longed for sons not daughters. You are buried somewhere in Seminole County, your ashes are. I don’t go to your grave. I don’t have to. You live in my heart. Now I can finally realize how very much you loved me. I hope you knew that before you died.