Happy 100th Birthday, Daddy. And Thank You!

February 5th, 2011

Today, February 5, would have been my father’s 100th birthday. Chuck Williams. I know this seems an odd place to celebrate his centennial event, but for me, over the years I’ve come to honor him because who I am, what I do, how I think and make a living have all been so heavily and positively influenced by this unusual man, it seems the perfect place to do so.

Now, this realization didn’t come easily to me. In fact, it has taken me most my life to understand our dynamics. You see from my teen years on, he and I did not always get along (and yet, we always laughed a lot). Mother said we were just alike. He had flaws. At the time I thought that was what she saw in me. Though I am sure much of her view of me may have been some of those likenesses, I’ve come now to know it was his quick mind and his way of thinking that she also saw in me.

He was entrepreneurial, independent, competitive, opinionated and oh, so funny. His take on everyday life, word choice and people was unique. His was the most oddly and delightfully skewed view of the world I have ever encountered.

Now this is not to say that that is all me. Yet, I was greatly influenced by him. And today, his birthday, I just want to thank him and to do so here on line. He would have relished the internet, the instant access to such information and opinion. And opinionated, he certainly was. We lived in Orlando, Nashville, Dothan and Atlanta. All the local newspapers published his opinions. Blogging would have been heaven to him.

So, to celebrate with a bit more specificity, following is a note my sister, Meredith, authored about our experiences with him some years ago and sent to our older sister, Carol. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did when I resurrected it this morning.

He had an 8th grade education and yet read constantly. In 1956, he ordered The Encyclopaedia Brittanica, which was way over the heads of the rest of us. It was the one with the tiny little type, unlike the familiar youth-friendly World Book at the time. For the balance of his life, he had at least one of those volumes laid out on the kitchen table. I am sure he read them all many times over. They were well worn.

He loved to pull out the chess moves from the great championship games from those encyclopedias and Robin or I would have to take one side and we would go through each and every move of the big game, as he explained the logic of each move. He became very good at chess and in later years hand-made all of us veneered chess boards. Still, Mother could beat him on occasion. He accused her of cheating, of course.

He never would sit down and play Jeopardy or any games with us. Instead, he would shout the answers from the other room, spoiling our games. No one wanted to play Scrabble with him either because he made up words……funny ones.

Once our next door neighbor came over to introduce herself to us and Mother remarked, “Chuck, doesn’t she look just like (cousin) Kathryn!”  To which the neighbor replied, “Who is Kathryn?” Daddy: “Oh, she was an axe murderer we once knew.” Mother was always chagrined.

On other occasions, he would “lovingly” pinch her behind on the street in front of strangers, especially in front of restaurant windows where folks were sitting, eating. He also did that to us, his daughters, which was markedly designed to discompose, and it did. Mother was always mad, and we were always laughing. This made life miserable for Mother sometimes.

When Mother was working in a fancy-shmancy NY dress shop in downtown Atlanta and Daddy was between jobs, he would drive downtown to pick her up in the VW (in the mid 1960′s this was an unusual car to see, in and of  itself) . More than once, he was wearing a Halloween fright wig as he pulled up, infuriating her in front of her co-workers, and capturing stares on the freeway, home.

Once there was a tremendously loud explosion in our neighborhood, which absolutely rattled windows. Daddy didn’t miss a beat. He turned and called our neighbor and stated in a disguised voice that the chemical factory in Brookhaven (suburb of Atlanta nearby) had exploded and volunteers were needed immediately. He then watched out the window as men ran from the house, shirttails flying, barefoot and zipping pants to jump in the car and squeal off down the street. He laughed and we laughed with him. All of us telling him how “terrible” he was!!!!!

I won’t forget when he walked up behind me at the dinner table one night (I was being the tempermental teenager) and blew a large, loud, snorting kind of sneeze while tossing a bit of warm water on the back of my neck.

I had a date with a new guy one night my senior year. When the fellow arrived, Daddy stomped and ran loudly throughout the house like we were hiding something. Another night, he was lying on the living room floor on his back doing an excellent rendition of Winston Churchill’s (memorized of course) famous speech in perfect Churchill voice imitation:

“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, What is our policy? I will say; “It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.” You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory – victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”

He did not stop this recital as the introductions were being made and we all said good night. The boy came in and left and we all acted like this was normal behavior. I guess it was, yet I did apologize to the guy later.

With two last impressions I’ll close. First, my own favorite story to tell about him, because it exemplifies his quick mind and his skewed outlook so well.

He was a traveling salesman most of my life. Driving was a breeze for him. Monday through Friday he was gone and when he was home, he drove us around town like no one else was in the car or made nervous by his antics. “Daddy, why do you drive so fast,” I asked one day as we barreled along a 2 lane street. And in a split second, he replied, as if it were just on the tip of his tongue to explain to me anyway.

“Robin, I’ll tell you. I believe an accident happens at a specific place and at a specific time. I just want to get there before it happens.” (Some years later, he liked to describe an accident he had had from falling asleep at the wheel as ” you know, it was awful! I hit the left side of a “Keep Right” sign!”) I drive “nearly” just like him.

And lastly, he taught me perhaps one of life’s biggest lessons as I struggled to master (Ha!) game of chess. I’d take a long time between moves trying to figure out my next one. So this particular time, I moved my Knight to take his pawn. Then, because my Knight’s former position had opened up his opportunity, he immediately moved his Queen to put me in “Check”.  I quickly retreated back to where I had been to block that Queen. He then, rather off-handely, counseled me with, “You know, Robin, when you think long and hard planning your decisions and they don’t work out, here in this game or in life,  don’t retreat. Instead, when making your plans originally, be prepared in such a way that if the move you are about to take doesn’t work out, no matter, plan it so that your next move will still be “Forward.”

Thank you, Daddy…..for everything.