I just sat down here to write after packing Budge off to Deuce’s house for the night. In the morning, the two of them along with Deuce’s mother, Connie, drive to the beach for the yearly convention of the SC Order of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Ware Shoals Chapter. They’ll meet up with about ten other ladies for a week of laying in the sun by day and watching sappy movies by night. This is Deuce’s tenth year or so and Budge’s second.
It was tough watching Budge drive out of our yard tonight. I checked and rechecked the Santa Fe. She knows how to change a tire and she has a cell phone that could call the Moon if necessary. Still, with Mama being in such poor health, I project onto Budge a lot of my anxiety about impending death. It’s a morbid fact, but every time we part from our loved ones, we have no guarantee we’ll ever see each other again. That’s one reason why I’ve never left Mama without making sure she knew how much I loved her.
To try making myself feel better, I let my mind drift and it landed on the first time I ever made a long trip alone. That trip showed me a lot about the girl I went to see, but it showed me even more about how much my daddy loved me, even if he never was great at showing it.
It was the summer after I turned 16. I had my ’79 Mustang I’ve mentioned in other posts and I was off to Winterville, Georgia to see the then-love-of-my-life at her mother’s house where she’d gone to spend the summer. I was going to surprise her, but that got turned around a bit. Anyway, Mama wasn’t crazy about me going, but she reluctantly gave her permission because she knew I was at that god-awful hardheaded stage where I’d just have gone anyway. What surprised me most though, was how Daddy took the news I was going to drive 300 miles alone.
Now in my teenage years, Daddy and I would go months without seeing each other. I was still incredibly bitter about the divorce even after ten years. Also, Daddy and I are basically the same person twenty years apart. Budge thinks it’s almost scary how much we look alike, talk alike, move alike, and think alike. She’s said before that my little brother Nick LOOKS as much like Daddy as I do, but I don’t stop there. I AM Daddy . . . just 20 years younger. Those two issues made mine and Daddy’s relationship pretty rocky for much too long. Two males too full of pride to meet each other halfway. It wasn’t pretty. At times, I wondered if Daddy even loved me, although the roads and phone lines ran two ways and I didn’t use them any more than he did.
Anyway, I stopped by Daddy and Teresa’s the day before I left to tell him I was going. He nodded then helped me look over the car to make sure everything was capable of getting me to Georgia and back. We talked for a while then I got ready to go. Daddy told me to be careful then he handed me a twenty-dollar bill. It’s what he did next that flabbergasted me and has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. He took off his Masonic ring and handed it to me. He said, “Don’t put it on, because you haven’t earned it. Wear it on your chain, but if you run into trouble of any kind, you find a man — black or white — wearing one of those rings and you show him my ring and he’ll help you any way he can.”
That simple act might not sound or seem like much but it spoke into me crystally clear just how much my daddy loved me. Whams are not huggers, we don’t tend to be overly emotional at all, especially the men. For instance, my Papa Wham was the kindest, sweetest and most loving man I ever knew, but he didn’t hug me or kiss me on the cheek more than a handful of times in our life together. It didn’t change the love I felt from and for him. Daddy was the same way, but when I was young and bitter and angry, I didn’t cut him the kind of slack I did other men. To this day, I can count the number of times Daddy and I have hugged on one hand with fingers left over.
Wham men ARE Masons however. Papa passed away with his Masonic ring on his hand and his paid up lodge dues receipt in his wallet. Daddy is a Mason to this day as well, even though he doesn’t attend meeting much. I grew up in awe of the Masons and for the longest time I’d planned to become one . . . I still might before it’s all over. Daddy’s Mason’s ring was part of his hand to me. I’d never seen him take it off and here he was taking it off and handing it to me.
I realized even then this was “a big freaking deal” and as I’ve gotten older, I understand more just how and why it was. Daddy knew he couldn’t go with me. He also knew we weren’t on the best terms. Still, he wanted to take care of me as best he could, even though I’d be on my own and miles away. If you don’t know anything about Masons, you might not understand the gravity of him giving me his ring. If you DO know about the Masonic Order, then I don’t have to explain it to you.
From that day to this one, I’ve fought with Daddy. We’ve stood toe to toe and screamed at each other. Once or twice I was sure we were going to come to blows, but thank God that’s never happened. But no matter how much we’ve fought or disagreed, from the moment Daddy handed me that ring to this present one, I’ve never doubted Daddy loved me and cared about me.
I gave him the ring back as soon as I got back into town. The trip didn’t go as planned. Turns out I was the one surprised, but that’s another story for another time. What was important is the fact my Daddy showed me he’d do whatever I’d allow him to do to keep me safe and that’s stuck with me all these years.