Today marks the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death, and I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory than to honor his imparted wisdom he passed on to me.
My old man loved to watch old shows, and he forced his children to follow suite. There was no arguing about changing the channel, back in the day when you would have to get up and do it yourself. He was locked in and you were expected to endure the hours of black and white programming that would play itself out on the television that was fully capable of producing color.
He loved Perry Mason. Not the man, but the show. He probably gave two shits about Raymond Burr the actor who played the defense attorney who never lost a single case in the nine year run of the series, but he loved that show. He loved it so much that at one point in my childhood I actually sent a letter to Harvard Law School asking for an application, only to be disappointed that I had to take something called an LSAT to even apply. I wanted to be a lawyer because my dad loved that show so damn much, and if he loved that show, just think of the praises he would bestow on me if I were to be the lawyer Mr. Mason was. I can see him now, boring the shit out of the guys down at the barber shop, “Mark just drew up a contract,” he might announce “Yep, ain’t a man better at making a contract than that boy of mine”. The Cubs and Perry Mason is what I watched in my youth, and Raw Hide, and Bonanza, oh, and the Virginian and let’s not forget Gunsmoke. Although I technically grew up in the 1980’s, my father made it feel like I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, watching the shows that perhaps he watched in the small little house in High Hill, Oklahoma where he grew up with my grandma Hazel. I was boy that grew up with a man that lived in the television past, and to this day, I can’t imagine a better childhood.
I often wonder what he found so entertaining about those shows? From time to time I will find one on the “in between” channels and sit and watch ole Iron Sides make an argument for his soon to be innocent client. Matt Dillion will save the town while Miss Kitty flashes those big eyes at him. I can still sing the jingle to Rawhide. I see the hero in all the characters, I see the simpleness in the storylines and the way of life that only heroes walked. Perhaps my dad watched them because he was a kid when they first came out, and they reminded him of the simpler times, before he had crazy kids that yelled at him about turning the channel. Whatever the case, I learned a little something about the code of the cowboy, the way of the law, good guys and bad guys. He may not have meant to teach me those lessons, he may have just been watching tv, but I learned them just the same, and I have him to thank for that.
The other thing I learned from my dad was his obsessive nature of mowing a proper lawn. We were not exiled from the home if the yard was not mowed to his standards, but we were damn sure expected to hit the spots we missed. I don’t remember my dad ever yelling at us for missed spots, I don’t suppose he really had to, but I know that the yard was a reflection of us and our ability to do work, and we learned to take pride in it, no matter what it was. You either took pride in it or you didn’t, and if you were going to be out there anyway in the Oklahoma summer heat sweating you rear off, you might as well do it right the first time around.
There is something beautifully satisfying about mowing a yard. I think the most satisfying thing in the world actually. In a matter of a short amount of time, you take something that isn’t pleasing to the eye, like an overgrown yard, and you transform it into something beautiful. I feel the only other thing that would be just as satisfying would be cutting someone’s hair. They walk in one person, and walk out another. People can change their personality with a new haircut, and the same can be said about a newly mowed yard. It’s honest work, and when it’s done, you can sit back and see the rewards of it all. In a world that sometimes gets messy and ugly, the ability to make something look good is powerful. I don’t know if this was the lesson my dad was trying to Mr. Miyagi us (mow on, mow off), but it worked none the less. I love mowing to this day. It brings me pleasure, it brings others pleasure. I often joke that mowing is my love language, and I secretly think it is, or at least I am making it so. My dad wasn’t always the best at communicating his feeling to us, but I knew he loved us, and I knew he loved a good, clean cut yard. That was his love language too I think. That was his way of telling us he loved us, and that is my way of telling others. I often joke that if I won millions of dollars, I would be like Forrest Gump and just mow yards all day. Pop in the ear buds, begin my magical walk with the mower, up and down the yard, cutting the grass and making the world a more beautiful place to live, even if it only lasted a couple weeks. But isn’t that love, the constant battle of keeping the weeds out? I don’t think my old man intended me to put so much thought into what cutting grass was all about, but I have put my own spin on it, and I like what I have come up with. Thanks dad.
Every once in a while I will stop and grab the green bottle, the one that is usually at the bottom of the shelf, due to its lack of popularity. New products adorn the shelf above, better ones, but the one I reach for has a special power. I find the bottle, twist off the lid and take a good wif of the after shave that makes me feel like my dad is standing right next to me. I can inhale Brut and instantly see a man in cowboy boots, denim jeans and a short sleeve, pearl snap button down shirt standing next to me. Brut is not just an old aftershave that has probably seen it’s better days, but, it’s a time machine for me. I don’t do it often, like a good bottle of wine, I save it for special occasions, for times when a man needs to talk to his old man. Wal-mart is the strangest of places for a person to have a reunion with the dead, but it’s just as good as any other spot. The talk won’t take long, I know what he will say, but it is just reassuring that after all this time I am still able to remember the face and the frame. Time has a way of making us forget, but thank God for Brut and it’s ability to help me remember.
Like most children, I thought my parents didn’t teach me anything. They were just old people telling me to do things all the time. But now, that I am that old person yelling at my kid to do things, I have come to realize, I am a much wiser person than I allow myself to believe, and that my parents were smarter than I gave them credit for. My son and I will watch television in the evenings and one day, I hope he will do the same with his children. I will teach him the ways of mowing and that the only work worth doing is hard work, even if it is a simple task. I will expose him to the many simple fashions that is his minimalist dad and hope that one day he understands that there is pleasure in simple clothes and simple smells, and those simple things can create wonderful memories. And that those memories will allow him to talk to me whenever he wants, whether I am here or not.