Happy Father’s Day to two fine fathers, my son Jack and my son-in-law Lynn. Also a Father’s Day shout out to my brothers Jim and Bob.
Here’s a tale perhaps appropriate for Father’s Day:
Ernest Fitch was the minister at the Colfax Christian Church where my dad’s only sister, Aunt Ada, played the piano and organ. Aunt Ada was a widow and Reverend Fitch was single, divorced. There were stories—I’m not sure if they were true—that his wife had left him.
Reverend Fitch was always good to me. One reason may have been because he and Aunt Ada, both probably in their 60s, were dating. With his children grown and no longer in Colfax, a number of times Fitch took me as his guest to father and son dinners at the church. I was a cute little bugger at seven and eight years old with very black hair and a pair of previously owned pants. The previous owner being by older brother Jim, who despite life-long denials was mom and dad’s favorite by 30 or 40 miles.
When the church fathers transferred Fitch to Russiaville, Indiana—a town of about the same size, 700 or fewer—folks wondered if the man would pop the question, as they say, and marry Ada.
(He didn’t. He ran off with a 30-year-old. Just joking.)
Aunt Ada and Fitch said “I do” and moved to Russiaville. As teenagers, Jim and I spent a week with them one summer. I remember going one evening to the center of the town where a large white sheet had been put up and a movie was shown. By the way, Russiaville is spelled like “Russia” and “ville, but is pronounced Roo-shuh-ville. Don’t ask me why. When you spend all your young years in used pants, you don’t learn as fast as the other kids.
Ernest Fitch was a man with many interests. He was a bee keeper, and anytime Irene and I visited him we always came away with a jar of good, strong honey. He was a big supporter of the Boy Scouts, and a time or two showed me a large scrap book where he had saved pictures and items about camping with the intention of someday putting together his own outdoor-camping manual.
He didn’t like beets and nearly every meal I had with him there would be a loud declaration, “I’ll eat anything but beets.” He had long growths on his face, a problem that any dermatologist today could probably get rid of in a few months.
He also had a hearing aid and like many people at the time, didn’t always have it turned on. In those days, the 50s, hearing aids tended to be almost the size of a thick smart phone. Frequently, when he did turn it on—after a scolding from Aunt Ada—there would be feedback, a loud screeching sound for a few seconds.
He liked his cigarettes and watching Southern Methodist University play football on TV.
Uncle Ernest—and we called him that because we all liked him—was a preacher but he wasn’t preachy. Once when Irene and I were leaving his house with our first baby, Julie, he told me, “Don’t forget. Everything that’s precious to you is in that car.”
He followed that up with his favorite saying, “Remember: Take short steps and plenty of them and don’t leave one foot too far behind the other.”
After he retired, he and Aunt Ada moved back to Colfax. Usually every time I saw him as a young adult, he would recall the day I and other kids were playing baseball in the yard next to the church in Colfax, and the ball went through a basement window of the parsonage. After some debate on what we should do, I went up to the door, knocked, confessed what had happened and asked if we could have our ball. (He probably didn’t hear the window break because his hearing aid wasn’t on.)
Uncle Ernest liked to portray this as a fine example of strong character and honesty on my part. It really wasn’t. I just wanted our ball back so we could play some more, hoping Jim didn’t fall down and tear my next pair of pants.