IN DAD’S SHOES
Dad was in the garage,
Working on a car.
One of his,
Or one of his brothers’,
Or one of my mother’s brothers’.
It didn’t matter
‘Cause Dad liked working on cars.
Dad removed his greasy shoes and grimy socks before coming in the kitchen,
And as always before and again that time,
I noticed his feet –
So much like mine,
And I took the photo of his shoes to remind me,
And hoped I would be more like him in other ways with time.
Linda Lee Greene
December 9, 2007
My father’s given name was Leland Edward Greene, but he preferred the shorter Lee Edward Greene. The brief version won out and was his name for the entirety of his 89 years of life. I am named for Dad. The distinction is mine among the four offspring of my parents due to the order of my birth: I am the firstborn, and because of that accident of chronology, by tradition the name was given to me. As time passed, however, it seemed meant to be, because among my three siblings and me, I resemble my father in appearance most closely. The jury is still out on whether or not I take after him in other, more crucial ways. But I try! I try!
For the past three years, I have been honored with the enormous responsibility of writing eulogies of members of my family whom have died during that time. The assignment began with the passing of my father on March 29, 2014. I haven’t the foggiest recollection of the writer of my mother’s eulogy upon the occasion of her death on June 29, 1992. At the time, nobody, including me, knew me to be a writer…that is a story better left for a future chapter of “My Talking Heart.” Recently, I came across the little funeral flyer produced for my mother, and it presents a woefully inadequate tribute to her. Oh, how I wish I had had the presence of mind then to write a eulogy for her that did her life justice. I intend to make up for that deficit in her legacy in these writings.
To know my parents is to know me. I introduced an aspect of my mother to you in Chapter One of “My Talking Heart.” Chapter Two introduces my father by way of the opening paragraph of the eulogy I wrote for him, as well as an excerpt about him featured in my novel GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS. The quality that comes across most prominently about him in these passages is his grit. I think I might resemble him a little bit in that regard, too. I try! I try!
(Excerpt of eulogy)
“Lee Edward Greene, 89, beloved son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and cherished friend was one of the last of the Greatest Generation, a loving and dedicated family man who was a joyful and steadfast breadwinner. He was a man good with his hands whether the task was to fix a leaky faucet, to make a car purr, or to build a house. But essentially he was a simple man – he held no public office, never attained fame nor amassed a fortune, but within the small circle that comprised his life, he was the center that always held, the rock upon whom everyone depended, the flint against which everyone struck on his/her passage to adulthood. We aren’t likely to see his kind again any time soon…”
(Excerpt of GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS - Lee going to school)
“The one-room, Cedar Fork schoolhouse across the holler from the little log cabin on the near side of Peach Mountain was a tolerable two-mile walk in mild weather. It was an enjoyable walk actually, if one had time to swing from a grapevine on top of a high cliff and drop into Cedar Fork Creek for a lazy dip, or to stop by the Workman’s place for a quick smoke of their cornsilk tobacco. But in snowdrifts as tall as thirteen-year-old Lee Greene, in threadbare clothes, thin hand-me-down coat, and barely covered feet in holey socks flopping in an old pair of secondhand shoes that were several sizes too big for him, the walk that frigid morning was worse than pure misery.
Lee’s chronically aching stomach was hollow and rumbling. His meager breakfast of cornmeal mush and sugar water was quickly wearing thin, but he had more important things than his stomach to worry about that morning. He was stewing about the paucity of milk he had drawn from their cow tethered in the yard just beyond the lean-to kitchen at the back of his family’s tiny log cabin. The two-story structure, built by his father A. E., Lee, and his brother Bill only five months before, comprised a common, or front room on the main level, a primitive lean-to kitchen at the back, and a bedroom where his mother Eva Love and A. E. slept, housing the only closet in the place. A rough-hewn timber ladder gained access to the upper deck, where, in an open-to-the-front loft, all of the many children slept on crude cots, or thin pads on the floor. A large ceiling-to-floor fireplace of indigenous stones in the common room on the first floor was the only source of heat in the place. Felled tree trunks supporting its roof, a porch spanned the width of the front of the log cabin.
The soil where they lived on Cedar Fork, thin, hard, and dry, a crusty layer of sediment topping a bedrock of limestone, dolomite and shale, made for poor farming and gardening, posing a formidable challenge for the growing of adequate food. Squirrels, rabbits, opossums and birds, hunted and brought in by Lee, the insufficient supply of milk from the cow, and scant eggs supplied by their paltry flock of scrawny chickens in the yard, were the only sources of protein for the family. In season, a large vegetable garden and a stand of corn were coddled into fruition in the poor soil, but only if they were favored with enough rain.
His nose and eyes crusty from yet another head cold, gloveless hands thrust into the pockets of his thin coat, and his feet turning to blocks of ice, Lee trudged on to school, his white-blond head under his hat hunkered into his shoulders. Despite the fact that he might not make it through the perpetual hardships of his life, much less that cold, windy, and snowbound morning, his soul was full of dreams, his mind of intention, his body of vigor and endurance, and on the strength of pure power of will alone, and maybe some help from the man upstairs, Lee was determined that if he ever got out of his childhood alive, nothing would ever encumber him again.
The one-room schoolhouse was dark and frigid, Lee, by design, having been the first to arrive. The door was unlocked, as it always was, and Lee, halting for a few minutes to give his blood a chance to circulate again in his frozen limbs and digits, sat down on one of the benches. He would have wept if he had allowed himself to seriously consider his unfortunate circumstances – but not Lee! No, not Lee! Not the boy/man who would one day be my father. He had a chance to earn fifty cents that week, and every week for weeks to come, fifty cents for building a fire in the “Warm Morning” coal-burning, heating-stove each morning before school, and that was exactly what the sam hill he was going to do…”
GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS, (http://goo.gl/imUwKO) is my novel of historical fiction blended with the true story of my maternal and paternal ancestors, including my mother and father’s childhoods, a story that takes place during the early to middle Twentieth Century. It has been compared to Pulitzer Prize winners, “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “Angela’s Ashes,” as well as to Jeannette Walls’ “Half Broke Horses.”