Life Lessons from My Dad

Well another trip around the sun has been completed and a new one has begun.  Here’s wishing you a happy birthday dad, and I have to say, I’ve been thinking of the lessons you’ve taught me over the years.  The lessons you attempted to teach me, but which I miserably failed to learn, are currently being re-taught to me by my children, wife and my parole officer and he thinks it’s safe to say I’ll be a productive member of society in five to ten years.  Memories are priceless and I’m learning that the older you get the easier it is to relive memories rather than expend valuable energy making new ones.  So reader join me in celebrating my father’s birthday, if not with cash and gift cards which he would no doubt prefer, then by absorbing these life lessons.


Number one- Get up early

Dad’s typical day included teaching high school, driving a school bus before and after classes , farming, leading FFA related activities and/or driving a bus for evening school activities, and oh yes, being a husband and a father.  So it was not unusual for a days work to begin before five in the morning and end past eleven or twelve at night.  I’ve heard my dad say, and I would join him in saying, that there has never been a day he wanted to get out of bed.  To aid in this monumental task dad employed the best technology available at the time, a large clock radio alarm with the face back lit with an orange glow; millions continue to use such a device, and admittedly, to be awakened gently by music is appealing. The device had buttons and knobs and the buttons, if I recall correctly, were in a row on the top, with a knob on the bottom front left which controlled the tuner for the radio receiver and a knob on the bottom front right which controlled the volume for the speaker.  I don’t recall any markings which indicated the range of the volume but the loudest setting should have been marked “detonate”.  For quite a number of years that radio alarm would activate around 4:30 a.m. at a decibel range that would make Seattle’s football stadium seem like a library in comparison.  I believe it was set to KWTO ,which during the decade of the seventies, the format was country music, farming news, fishing reports with Bill Ring, and Paul Harvey news.  However because of the voltage flowing through the three inch diameter speaker, the noise was more like a tractor at full throttle pulling a wagon full of ten gallon milk cans.  From blissful, seven year old, warm in my bed sleep, to screaming banshee from hell, scared wide awake, heart pounding terror.  Not just for ten seconds while you fumble for the off button, but a full fishing report from Bill Ring, a full rundown of the previous days pricing for any animal sold anywhere on earth, and, time for a song, I’m the happiest girl in the whole USA .  This was the original torture method of choice by branches of the clandestine services but they were forced to use waterboarding because it was deemed more humane.  Today, I wake up a few minutes before the alarm, those final few minutes before the alarm are just too stressful.


Number two- Introduce the children to the wonder of animals


Dad had Shetland ponies which roamed the farm.  I may have been been seven or eight years old and it was determined for reasons I can’t remember and probably wouldn’t have understood that the ponies needed to be “rounded up”.  Come to think of it, even now I realize I still don’t understand the reason for these “roundups”.  At any rate, forget whatever Hollywood movie fantasy of a roundup you have in your imagination.  The movies depict cowboys on horseback guiding the herd through open range land, crossing dangerous rivers, directing them into corrals with hardly more than a pointed finger.  The cattle moved smoothly, the scenes lasted mere minutes, the cowboys moved on to the saloon, it was perfect.  We however, employ a different strategy- exhaust and collapse.  A few laps around the 120 acres of rolling farmland on a warm humid day, aided by JoJo, a dog who could outrun a cheetah, usually did the trick. ”Sic em JoJo” was a great stress reliever for Dad.  Finally, the livestock nearing death would seek refuge in the shade of the barn.  Piece of cake.  On this day I don’t recall the temperature or the duration of the chase but I do remember the gate.

Good corrals are a work of art.  They are sturdy and durable, able to withstand the abuse meted out by 800 pound animals with bad attitudes and loose bowels.  Good corrals control the flow of traffic.  They allow the farmhand to take a large group of animals, separate them into smaller groups, and/or work on a single animal at a time, all with the minimum of risk of injury to both the farmhand and the animal.  Our corral however, was more of a suggestion than a law when it came to controlling the livestock.  In our corral, Shetland ponies became gazelle’s and cattle became more destructive than a Fukushima reactor.

Yes, the gate.  On this day, dad and my brother managed to contain a few of the Shetland she-devils in a small pen with the opening blocked by a gate constructed of  steel pipe around its four sides and a wire grid  composing the rest.  It was sturdy and heavy thus meeting our conditions laid out previously.  I’m not sure if it was intentional or just happenstance but I was on the outside of the gate while the ponies on the inside, frightened, began to rotate inside the pen, accelerating like subatomic particles in a supercollider.  The gate, and myself, which had been vertical now became horizontal, leveled by a half ton of horseflesh.  I being watched over by angels, was pushed into the soft ground of the corral, and the gate became the reason I was not known as “the hoof face boy” as the ponies used it like a bridge over troubled children .  All in all, a successful roundup.  My therapist and my parole officer discuss this event often and agree it made me a better person than I probably would have been.


Number three- Take coffee breaks


Until I was an adult I don’t recall dad ever taking a traditional vacation or using a sick day.  To my knowledge dad never missed a day of work due to illness in his thirty plus year teaching career.  In my job I receive personal days, for which I’m grateful, which serve a dual purpose as either a sick day or I can schedule one for a day away from work.  I can’t accumulate these days nor can I accumulate any of my vacation time so it must be used every year which I am very happy to do.  So technically, of the 52 weeks of the year I can be excused for 6 of those. Dad didn’t take days off.  Dad’s record in my opinion far surpasses what Cal Ripken Jr. and Lou Gehrig accomplished, in large part, because they were playing and dad was working.  Some may say, “well school teachers have the entire summer off for a vacation”.  True.  Dad’s time off was spent typically sunup to sundown storing forage for his above mentioned ponies plus other assorted livestock, and of course, myself, so vacations were not likely.  Now, the body, mind, and spirit need a minimum amount of refreshing.  Oft times the need for a summer time break was signaled by a machinery breakdown.  Dad owned equipment for hay making that, unlike our neighbors machinery, needed repairs on a daily, even hourly basis.  Even to this day, dad owns a mowing device that was designed I’m sure as the result of a bar bet.  Launching a supply ship and docking it with the international space station requires no more effort than hooking this machine to a tractor.  But tires go flat, sickles need sharpening, equipment needs fuel so off to Dadeville for solutions to life’s problems and these trips were highlighted by a stop at the local café then known simply as the “drive in”.  Do you remember the coffee ad campaign featuring Juan Valdez who represented the Columbian coffee growers?  Juan had a job picking coffee beans because of Dad’s coffee consumption at the drive in.      The real reason for the drive in visit I believe is because dad used these stops as his mini-vacations. He could take a break from the heat, relax for a few minutes, and there was always someone there he would engage in conversation. Dad has a gift for making the other person know they are being listened to and that they are important.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “esteem others better than yourself”.  Dad has spent a lifetime putting others first.   Thank you dad for being a patient father to me because I surely caused you more than a few grey hairs.  Happy birthday!

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One Comment

  1. Mike McGee
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink


    Regarding your pony incident, I remember that episode well, because I knew you were under the gate, trampled and dead. So, yes, there ARE angels.

    I do not recall if it was the same day you were run over, but… on a roundup event in which ponies were going to be sold and actually bring in a bit of cash to the coffers… our father took it upon himself to reinforce said corral pen. One short pony who could NOT ‘leap tall buildings in a single bound’ went into an adrenalin-filled panic mode not unlike movie scene of residents running from King Kong in NYC. He circled the pen, ever faster each round, until, gaining warp speed, he lowered his head and rammed that famous gate at full speed like a head butt from Steven Segal… instinctively knowing that the luck of the McGee’s would require the gate to fall and assure his escape

    However… the reinforced famous gate (now safe for small children and puppies) did not give so much as a millimeter. Super pony met his kryptonite… he literally cracked his skull so severely that he instantly collapsed from self-induced massive brain trauma and went to pony heaven approximately 2 minutes later. For all you budgeting experts, please immediately reduce expected income projections by one pony.
    To quote my paternal grandfather, Leslie ‘Chess’ McGee (who taught us ALL how to work and could out-work us until the day he died at age 91), “If it was raining soup, my bowl would be upside down”.

    I also give thanks for all those great lessons. Happy Birthday, Dad!

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