Thursday, February 2, 2012

What's in a Birthday?

A month ago was my birthday.  I've had people ask me what it feels like to be reaching the end of my 40's.  My daughter even said, "Ooo, just one more year before you're a half century old."  With comments like that, one would think it would make for a distressing time.  Actually, birthdays haven't bothered me much over the years.  All except for one.

The only birthday that gave me pause was three years ago.  That was the year that I "outlived" my Dad.  It was the year I reached the age where I was older than he was when he died.

I don't have a lot of memories of my dad.  One thing I remember is he taught me to tie my shoes. That was when he was he was a milkman, driving a truck for Plains milk. It was also before I started school. I rode with him a few times, driving what seemed was ALL over western Oklahoma, even up into the Panhandle. For all I know, it was probably only a 30 mile radius.  I even once got to take the wind out of someone's sails when they accused me of being fathered by the milkman.  I just said soberly, "Yeah, I was. So what?"

He was a stern disciplinarian, but I only remember being paddled by him once.  And I deserved it.  I definitely deserved it.  I threw a rock through a pane glass window of an abandoned building on the town square. 

There was another time I was playing hide-and-seek with the family, only they didn't know it.  I was hid really well.  Then I got sleepy and dozed off.  I think they were a little panicked when they discovered I was missing.  I thought it was a fun game.  No one else, especially Dad, saw the humor.  He was upset, but he didn't spank me. I don't know if I would've been so lenient in his shoes.

I don't have a lot of memories of him because his life was cut short by an unfortunate accident in the service station he owned after giving up the milk route.  That was back when you went to the gas station and never got out of your car if you didn't want to.  In case you don't remember, there was a time when you'd just sit in your car while one or two attendants took care of the gas, washed the windshield, checked the oil, tire pressure, and usually did it with a smile.  Carmax parodied it excellently in this commercial:

It was also back when gas prices were only specified by numbers to the right of the decimal.  It was also when we weren't wimps, and only gas with lead was sold. 

Kinda like this, but there was Regular and Unleaded, not Premium.
Also, it was all about half these prices.

Some of my fondest memories of my Dad were at that gas station.  I knew where the magical key to the Coke machine was kept.  This magical key opened an outer door, inside of which was a little lever that when toggled twice, would allow a bottle of Coke to be extracted from the machine, no money required.

After getting a Coke -- original Coca Cola, with sugar, not High Fructose Corn Syrup -- I would go behind the counter and get a bag of peanuts to pour into the bottle.  Mmmm, peanuts in Coke.  I tried it once with HFCS Coke.  It's not the same.

Another way I kept myself entertained was to jump on the hose that laid across the driveway and make the bell ding -- until I got in trouble...

When I was in the third grade, I remember playing outside our house when people came by and got Mom, and she rushed to the hospital.  I didn't know what was going on.  Later that day, my grandparents took me to the hospital. That was when I found out there was a horrible accident as Dad and a coworker were fixing a flat on a front tractor tire.  It was a split rim tire, and because of a flaw, it exploded as they were inflating it (that's my understanding of what happened).  Dad was leaning over it when it blew.  The rim went straight up in the air with so much force it put a 3-foot hole in the ceiling.  His coworker was holding onto it and lost some (two? three?) fingers.  Dad didn't make it through the night.

I think this is a split rim tire.

I don't remember the day like I would later remember days like when the Challenger shuttle exploded, or the Murrah building was bombed, or the World Trade Center fell.  I know because of documentation that it was May.  I remember it was warm.  I was in the back yard doing "something."  I think as a child, one would probably block most details as protection from the trauma.

Cyrus Leo Plymesser, Jr.
1927 - 1972
This is the only picture I have of him.  He wasn't one for having his picture taken.  It was shot next to the gas station, so I know it's one of the last pictures of him.

I've never really unpacked this memory before now. Maybe it's because it was 40 years ago this year. Maybe it really is the season of life of which I'm in denial. I will say that this has been somewhat cathartic to type it out.


  1. Nice memoir. I had always wondered about your dad. And he took you clear to the panhandle?? Amazing!

  2. Wayne Alan this is so sweet. I love the Carmax video. Being my Uncle Leo, I remember all of that too. I remember Bonnie and I going on that milk run with him one summer. It was still dark when we were at a customer's house in Shattuck, he pulled into their driveway, then entered their house through the kitchen door that they had left unlocked for him. He would go in and put a new bottle of milk in their icebox and come out with the empty bottles to be turned back in for refills. On Sunday mornings, I remember him sitting in the living room on the couch with the newspaper spread out all around him reading it. He would give us a causally glance at we would walk through. Their always seemed to be a Sunday morning football game playing on the TV. God love his soul.

  3. What a sweet post. As a girl who grew up in the Panhandle, I never realized it was "all the way out there" until I was in my 20s!!