Saturday, September 7, 2013

No. 121 "Stories my Daddy told me"

"Yet in my lineaments they trace, Some features of my father's face, ... Lord Byron (George Gordon) "Parisina" 1816

My father lived to be almost ninety-three years old. Almost every conversation he had during his last few years was repeatedly punctuated with the same observation. "It seems," he would say, "I've lived in two or three different worlds!" As he would weave his stories (he was a master story teller even to the end) about people and places and events of his life, one would have to confess that he had, in fact, lived in more than one world.

His life spanned almost the entire 20th century (1909 to 2002). He was born into a world in which the "sun never sat" upon the British Empire of Queen Victoria and her Royal Navy. The United States Army still advanced into battle mounted on horses, and led by commanders who wielded swords and sabers. The Wright Brothers had flown just six years previous, but no one in his family had ever seen an airplane. He would later tell of seeing the very first automobile that came to the Island on a ferry from the Straits. He ran along the shore to Academy field to rub the sides of the first airplane that landed on the shore.
My father, Charlie Hancock, on the stern of his fishing
boat, "The Ralph," in the late 1940s.


With his father, he had gone by sailskiff to Beaufort and stood outside the Courthouse in 1918 and listened to a speech by William Jennings Bryan, considered the greatest political orator of the "19th Century"!

He sat and listened at the stories of men who had fought at the Battle of the Somme River in France, and on Flanders Field in Belgium in the World War I, The Great War, the "War to End all Wars". He courted in the Roaring 20's, dated girls who dressed as flappers, and married just a few months before Black Tuesday, and the Stock market crash of 1929. He hid his money in closets during the Great Depression, having lost a faith in banks that he would never regain. He worked to support his growing family on the WPA, and came to worship at the alter of a secular hero, Franklin Roosevelt.  For most of his life, the New Deal was more a theology than a political slogan.

He came home from fishing one day to find his wife waiting at the shore and crying about something that had happened in some place neither had never heard of; a place named Pearl Harbor. He hung blankets over his windows to avoid giving directions to German U Boats, and won a Naval commendation for picking up two downed airman whose plane had crashed just a few yards from where he was fishing in Core Sound.

Sitting on his back porch with his grandson,
my so, Joel Jr. in 1987
Hitler and Mussolini, and then Stalin and Kruschev, were dictators to be feared and hated, not just names to be remembered. He learned to say place names like Anzio & Normandy, Iwo Jima & Okinawa, and then Hiroshima & Nagasaki, as freely as he had once spoken of  “Bells Island” or “Whale Creek Bay.”

By mid-century he could watch on television as President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, or President Kennedy sent them to Oxford, Mississippi. He saw the funeral of a President that was younger than he was, and in his own living room watched a man land a space ship on the Moon.

He saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and watched Nixon resign. He counted the days that Americans were held hostage in Iran, shed tears of sadness while watching the Challenger Disaster, and tears of joy as he saw the Berlin Wall fall to the ground. In his final years he would ask me what was meant by terms like "Y2K", "Dot Com", and "9-11".

In one lifetime of ninety-three years, his generation witnessed more changes, and felt their effects more, than perhaps any other generation has ever known. But some things had remained the same; for him and for countless others of his generation. Not the least of these was the use of stories, yarns, and tales of what they had seen or heard, to teach life lessons, and to give order and meaning to some of the countless changes that they had witnessed.

For the most part the stories in this blog have been  my attempt to retell some of those stories, and to give them some relevance that might extend even to those that are far removed from the little Island that spawned and nurtured the characters involved. And because I heard most of them from my Daddy’s lips, or while in his arms or on his lap, and while in his yard or on his boat, or while living the life that he had worked out for me and my siblings, it would not be inaccurate to call this narrative, “stories my daddy told me.”

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