Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dreams of a Savannah Boy

His nickname “Lord Ballew”
Suited his style and gentlemanly air
Selling turbines and generators
Things we kids could not figure
He was more Shakespeare than engineer

My father, tall and handsome
Hand in one pocket, joke well chosen
The whole table would laugh
His bucked teeth the only flaw
That made him just the boy next door

He was a man who loved Tchaikovsky
Segovia, Bellafonte, Dillard,
Gilbert & Sullivan, and Makeba
Who sang the lead in Pajama Game
Kismet and Damn Yankees

He taught me how to harmonize
How to jump in and catch the melody
Like a rope vine swing
And figure it out as I went along
Until standing in church we two

I used to watch him playing tennis
From my perch on the Silver's garage roof
With his white shirt untucked, sockless
Tennis shoes so big on his long, long legs
I rooted for him to win and then felt guilty when he did

Nobody had a chance playing against my Dad
The only time I beat him at chess,
He knew he had won
My Mom told him to let us win just once
But my seven card stud became ferocious

And the college boys paid my expenses that semester
Playing five-card draw in the student union
Putting on a bored, fatalistic face
It was my Daddy that made me realize
You could hold your breath with a flush

Listening to Rachmaninoff or Chopin
Or seeing a movie through his eyes
Side-glancing to see if he agreed with
Bogie, Grant or Stewart
It might be a word or a movement

Following my Daddy’s mind was
Easy riding with your arm on the sill
Feeling the breeze and reaching out
To brush the honeysuckle
On the side road to town

At the ball in my long gown
Appliquéd with velvet leaves
He did the two-step with me
Just to give me a rest
From the sweaty men with their bouquets

Driving down to Tennessee
Showing us the Burma Shave signs
And the log cabins where the share croppers
Used to dwell
It was another world

My Daddy had seen everything
He never talked about the Philippines
Except to say he’d seen an elephant
And sometimes hint at mishaps
Other guys had had with local girls

He always had a ready story
About his Maryland lass
Who waited with impatience
For his return from the war
And then stuck by his side ever after

Daddy held my hand when I was sick
And danced through hell to fight my demons
Took me out to dinner
And met my eyes
With insight, seeing everything

I didn’t know until much later
Those piercing eyes were but a shield
For the tender heart beneath
A man can carry such love only so long
Until the force erupts in church or at an old movie

Nobody gave a hug like Dad
A hug that said, “I’ll love you forever
My sweet baby
You don’t have to worry
About a single thing.”

(First written April 26, 2009, edited 10/17/2014.
Dedicated to my father who passed away 9/17/2014.)


Nathan Schauer said...

Lovely tribute Sterling.

Stirling Davenport said...

Thanks so much, Nathan.

Laura Tattoo said...

powerful and beautiful memories, stirling. you were awesomely blessed. xoxoxoxoox

Stirling Davenport said...

Oh, divine Laura, thanks for your wonderful comment. Yes, I do feel blessed by these cherished memories.