|Four years ago on Father's Day Papa Artie Bell fell in the the care center and broke his hip --by week's end he had gone to be with Jesus -- this time of year we remember him tenderly.|
Artie Bell (My Grandpa)
His skin was browned by the Texas sun. His hands were calloused from endless hours of manual labor. Though he was not a particularly tall or muscular man, he possessed a calm strength that came from somewhere deep inside him. He knew he was stronger than others. Even as his body and mind deteriorated his strength was palpable.
Perhaps his strength was the result of being raised in utter poverty, his childhood deformity or being the youngest of nine surviving children. Whatever the reason, it led him out of poverty into a prestigious university and then around the world. It carried him through the depression, the Second World War and the loss of many that he loved.
Routine demonstrations of his strength could be observed at most family gatherings. As a child I remember waking early in the mornings listening to him do his calisthenics. I remember his outrageously painful diets. It was not uncommon to find him with a saw in a tree or working in his garden during the height of summer. In his mid 80’s he decided to spend his vacation with us trimming the trees at our home. He would not accept our help because it would have been unsafe for us. There was nothing he felt he was owed and asked nothing of others.
His strength transformed him into a fighter. He had an innate sense of morality that he defended. He would go up against anyone, whether it was his college roommate, commanding officer or the physician that had taken his driver license, there was no scrap he would stray from or problem that couldn’t easily be solve by a whoopin’. The slightest injustice was never overlooked. As a child growing up in South Caroline my father spent his Sunday mornings at African American services because church segregation was something that would not be tolerated.
He fought for those he loved. After seeing my grandmother one day from the back of a truck he started fighting for her. He relentlessly loved and persued her. When he received word on his air force base that she had been hospitalized from polio he left AWOL to see her. He was there by her side fighting with her through her attacks and eventual paralysis. He fought for his children, grandchildren, friends and the country he loved with the same relentlessness. He even fought for himself. He spent his last days on this earth planning his escape from the hospital. The last words he said were “well Terry recon’ I otta shake loose of this.”
His strength was also the root of his kindness and love. He believed others needed his strength. He was perhaps the greatest caregiver I have ever seen. Whether you were visiting family member, friend or stray animal there was always place to stay and a meal prepared. Even though the occasional sexist remark was common, he modeled the proper treatment of women with kindness and respect. He woke early and stayed up late to tending to his wife’s needs. When she passed, he transformed the entire grounds of her cemetery for her. He taught my father how to treat my mother and my father taught me.
Though he was an avid hunter he had a reverence for nature that would make your average "tree hugger: blush. The mountains gave him peace. He would wake up earlier and hike further to experience untouched nature. As a young child I spent time with him in the mountains. Every day was long and adventurous, we had to go further and explore more. He taught me how to shoot a gun, set up a camp, build a fire and most importantly respect nature.
As I grow into manhood and start a family of my own, I think of him frequently. I remember long rides in his old green truck and the hours of instruction on what in meant to be a man. I wish I could talk to him again, hear his stories and listen to his instruction. He was the epitome of masculinity. He was part of a generation whose values have been replaced by a breakdown of gender roles, entitlement and excess. I wonder what battles that scrapper from south Texas would fight if were alive. Who would he defend and care for? What would he think of all of the fatherless children that have become a staple for our generation?
As father’s day approaches, cheesy gifts will be given and jokes made at fathers’ expenses. These, however, do not do justice in thanking our strong masculine role model. I’m thankful for the lessons he taught my father and my father taught me. From him we learned that there is right and wrong and when in the presence of the latter one should fight and fight like hell. However, he also taught us that a man’s strength is meaningless if not coupled with kindness and love.
Thank you, Papa.