“Memories are what warm you up from the inside. But they're also what tear you apart.”
-- Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
It's been a few months since I have written a post. In my head, the excuse has been: I am too busy-school, work, ball games and practices, and the day-to-day grind that consumes every hour of every day. But the truth is, my heart has not been ready for the post that I wanted and needed to compose, but was not emotionally ready to begin. As the quote above implies, I knew this piece about my father would be a tribute to him, but would also reopen a wound that I foolishly pretend has healed. I allow myself only short segments of time to miss my daddy, to tell quick stories about him to my girls, place flowers on his grave and then depart, and not wallow in the sadness that his absence brings to our family. I don't know what stage of grief this is and sometimes I feel guilty that I limit the amount of time I spend thinking of him to keep the loneliness and floodgates of tears closed. So taking the time to plan exactly what I want to share about him, look for pictures, and choose songs to honor the best father a girl could ever ask for is like therapy. In the end I know I will feel better, hopefully the people who read this will be touched, my father will be remembered, but the process will be painful. Like most little girls, I adored my daddy, thought he was perfect, and admired so many things about him. I could fill pages about the good and special memories I have of him, but I have narrowed it down to the ones that stand out the most.
1. His love for Family: Growing up, daddy showed my sister Beth and me that family was the most important thing in many ways. He did this by taking time to check in with his parents each day, even though it usually led to an argument with his dad, he either visited or called to make sure they were ok. Daddy worked hard to provide for our family and would never take credit when I tried to thank him. He would always smile and quote Conway Twitty and say "That's My Job You See". No matter how small the deed-changing the oil in my car, or enormous-paying my way through college, the response was always the same. He never crowed about these things or ever showed resentment or frustration because of the sacrifices he made for us. He was genuinely proud to be able to help us and never minded putting himself at the bottom of the totem pole. This love was multiplied towards his grandchildren. I do believe my daddy would have gladly gone without food, water, and shelter for his grandchildren. Nothing was more important to him. On Hannah's 2nd birthday, her party was poorly planned to occur in the middle of the UK/IU basketball game. He jokingly said to her, "Little girl, I'd only miss that game for you." But the reality was, he'd miss out on any event to be there when his grand kids blew out their birthday candles.
Daddy with Brandon and Kelsey
Daddy with Hannah and Micah
2. His Love for Fun: Anyone that knew Edward Lee Bryant will tell you that when his laughter could fill a room. Daddy was quick-witted (Papa John would use the word "smart-Alec" or something worse), loved to tell jokes, and the only thing better than his laugh was the twinkle in his blue eyes as he told his stories. I can't tell you the number of times while living at home I would be in another room and start to chuckle because he was cackling at something. Curiosity would get the best of me and I would have to go see what was so funny. He loved to laugh and make others laugh. A year before his death, we had planned a family vacation to Gulf Shores. When people asked him where we were going he would answer, "L.A." Not missing a beat, with a sly grin, he would add "Lower Alabama." Daddy also loved to play jokes. One of his favorite things to do on Saturday mornings was wake up my sister and me. Knowing that we loved to sleep late, he would wait as long as he could and then storm into our room jumping on the bed and shrieking "Wake-up! Wake-up!" We pretended to hate it, but were so glad he was home from a week of being on the road that we really looked forward to it. Another weekend ritual was to crank up the volume during episodes of Hee-Haw. At the time, Beth and I HATED country music, so he would wait until the "twangiest" song came on and turn the volume up as loud as it would go. Daddy was quick with comments and had a way of saying things that was so unique and spot on. For example, later in life my sister and I decided country music wasn't so bad after all and had fallen in love with Vince Gill. As Vince performed on the CMA Awards, daddy stated, "He sings like someone is standing on his toes." I still love Vince, but I laugh and hear daddy's slur about him every time I hear one of his songs, especially when he hits the high notes. What I would give to hear his laugh, listen to one of his long-winded trucking stories, or laugh with him over a witty remark again.
Daddy and Micah in Gulf Shores, Alabama, or LA, Lower Alabama.
3.His Llove of the Land: Daddy loved gardening, would pick, break, and shell beans as he watched NBA games on tv. I loved the time spent with him as we broke beans and talked during the commercials and shared stories from our week. I can see him running the tiller through the huge garden and aggravate mama about her crooked rows, with that sneaky grin that let us know he was really joking. When the first ripe tomato was ready, daddy would take the salt shaker to the garden and eat it right there. Now that he is gone when the first ripe tomato is ready, I always think and sometimes say aloud, "This one's for you Pa." Another special time we spent together in the outdoors was going to cut wood with daddy. I am sure we hindered him, much more than we helped him, but he always seemed grateful to have us tag along. I can remember the sound and smell of the chainsaw and how he'd say, "Let's go see what's for lunch." when he realized our patience was gone and we were bored/cold/tired/had to potty/thirsty/etc. Nanny always had warm soup waiting for us, and we'd eat lunch together. The soup and the comfort of being home with him and thinking of how the wood we had helped pack in for cold winter nights was magical. Daddy also loved the fireplace and I can still see him wearing his old faded Levi's and flannel shirt, back up to the fire to get warm. Daddy always loved flowers, but irises were his favorite. A few years before his death, he started an iris bed, and it grew and grew. He tended to them, weeded, and transplanted them with such care. He, along with mama, took great pride in keeping the yard, flowerbeds and gardens up to par. When I pull a weed or plant a seed the memory of my daddy is always there.
Daddy, known as Pa to the grand kids, and Hannah working on flowerbeds.
4. His Love for Learning: Daddy was one of the smartest people I have ever known. Even though his father, would call the house and jokingly ask Beth or myself if the "dummy" was there, even Papa John knew that his son was a bright and intelligent man. (Despite his claim that daddy's "head wasn't on right" with the same gleam and twinkle of mischief in his eyes.) Daddy loved history and would remember dates, battles, and stayed up-to-date on current events. Much to mama's dismay, he spent hours watching Fox and Friends, History Channel, and countless other news programs. I remember always being so intimidated when he helped me with math homework because he could calculate numbers in his head so quickly and as a child would marvel at how much "stuff" he knew. He always pushed Beth and myself to get an education and find something to do in life that we would enjoy. Despite having an associate's degree, he retired early from the banking/desk job that was not for him, and started his own trucking company. Although it was not a glamorous career, it was what he loved to do and driving a truck made him happy. I wish I had told him how much I admire that decision to go for his dreams and not be afraid to fail or disappoint others. That took more guts and bravery than I will ever have. When I wanted to get a part time job in college he said to me, "Baby girl, you've got the rest of your life to work. Just focus on your studies." Shown below is one of several notes he left for me over the years. I am so glad I kept one.
memories of childhood contain lots of dogs and cats, and how much my daddy loved them. Our dog Boots, and my many, many cats named "Reddy", and how he interacted and cared for them is still with me today. Daddy would bring home strays for us to care for, and then aggravate mama by telling her she had a cat farm. When our beloved dog Boots died, we were heartbroken. Shortly afterwards, daddy had delivered a load of chickens to a farm in Michigan which had German Shepard puppies. Guess what he brought home for us? Yep, our new family pet. I can recall times when he would be working on cars and our twin cats Buffy and Jody would sit on his shoulders as he piddled away, stopping now and again to pet them. After we were neighbors, he even loved our sometimes worrisome Kramer who loved to bark at the mower's tires as daddy tried to mow the grass, and chased his cats up trees and into the lofts of the chicken house. He was always tender, kind, and loving-even to animals, and I can remember his eyes tearing up as Beth and I cried over the pets that we lost throughout the years.
Daddy sharing the couch and a snooze with Chase.
6. His Love for Sports: My love of sports is another gift from my father. Although I was never a "stand-out" player in basketball or softball, I loved playing them and have many fond memories of shooting hoops and tossing a softball around with him. I remember him giving me advice such as "You can't score if you don't shoot!" to encourage me to be more aggressive. Just this weekend as my daughter played in a softball tournament, I found myself echoing his words when I told Hannah "You can't get a hit if you don't swing." I don't want her to be like her mama and be afraid she'll miss. Daddy was a great baseball player as well. In high school and in mixed leagues he was an excellent 3rd baseman. This weekend Hannah was given the chance to play 3rd and I couldn't help but smile, and yet be sad that he wasn't there to see her. He would be bursting with pride and I am sure have some good pointers and words of wisdom for her. Many good times at the Bryant house were had watching sports, especially UK basketball. Another event that is not the same without him, but we carry on in his memory.
Crowning Nanny as Football Homecoming Queen.
7. His Love for Food: Unfortunately, I did not inherit my daddy's metabolism. That man loved his soul food and could put it away by the truck loads and never gain weight. He loved all types of food from cornbread and milk, pintos, and big country breakfasts, to homemade pizza, pimento cheese, peanuts, and celery with mayonnaise. All of these are my favorites as well. No matter what kind of meal had been prepared, even a sandwich, daddy would always take his plate to the counter and say, "Thank you Nanny, that was good." Every time, without fail. Last year during the holidays, I rushed into IGA to grab a few ingredients for a Christmas dinner and stopped cold in my tracks at the Archer cookie display. I saw the Christmas cookies daddy loved so much and embarrassed myself by breaking down and bawling in the middle of the crowded store. Just the sight of those cookies was a painful reminder of another Christmas without my father. And every time I make cornbread, I crumble a piece into a glass of milk and think of him.
8. His Love for People: Always known for his manners and how he treated people with respect, daddy impressed upon my sister and me that how you treat people matters- all people from all classes, races, and walks of life. I can hear him saying, "You're just as good as anybody. But you're not better than anyone." I can recall stories when he was a young adult and traveling with his friend "Sweetnin" who is an African American, but like a brother to daddy. They stopped for lunch and sat down out the counter where he was told he could be served there but his friend could not. Being a kind gentleman, "Sweetnin" said it was fine and stood to walk to the back of the restaurant, but daddy stopped him and said "Cmon, let's go somewhere better." As he told this story, the emphasis was not to bring himself glory, but to teach us a lesson on compassion and respect and I have never forgotten that. I remember feeling proud of my daddy for taking a stand against an injustice and being thankful he was a good friend to "Sweetnin", who insisted on coming to the funeral home when daddy passed away, using his walker to make it to the front. As I looked up at the man I had admired for so many years who, in bad health, came to honor an old friend, I remembered this story. "Sweetnin" is still our neighbor and family friend.
There are many more special things I could share about my daddy, but I feel I have rambled on enough. On this memorial day as we remember and decorate tombstones, it is also mama and daddy's wedding anniversary. They would have been married 46 years today. As I spoke to mama earlier I could hear the pain and lonesomeness in her voice. They shared a special bond that can never be broken and it is so hard for her to go on with life without him. I admire her bravery and how she tries to carry on family traditions with a smile on her face, how she honors my daddy by keeping his memory alive for his grandchildren and his new great-granddaughter Madison.
Nanny and Pa on their wedding day. May 28th, 1966
The saddest thing about death and losing a loved one is that life moves on without them. Daddy would love to spoil and play games with Madison as he did with Brandon, Kelsey, Hannah, and Micah. I struggle with feelings of anger and resentment at times that he is not here for my kids and Beth's family, because they are missing out on knowing a wonderful man. I think that's why the need to write about him has weighed so heavily on my heart-I don't want them to forget him and I want Micah, who was only 2 when he died, and Madison who will be one in June, to know what kind of grandfather, father, husband, and friend Edward Lee Bryant was-the best!
The name he loved to be called: Pa Clay
Pa and Brandon sporting their trucker hats.
Playing "possum" with Kelsey Jo.
Daddy and his girls-Beth in the back looking like Hannah. Me in front-looking like Micah
Family vacation in the Smokies
My wedding day-looking handsome in a tux.
“Sharing tales of those we've lost is how we keep from really losing them.”
-- Mitch Albom, For One More Day
-- Mitch Albom, For One More Day