Our fathers before us

Image: David and Melinda South — Melinda has great memories of growing up with her father.

David and Melinda South — Melinda has great memories of growing up with her father. (submitted)

I was very lucky to have the Dad that I had. I knew that he would always be there for me, even if no one else was. He passed away several years ago and I miss him very much.

So in the spirit of honoring our fathers for Father’s Day, I decided to ask several residents of Italy about their Dads and this is what they said.

Cynthia Teer said this about her father Jim Steel, "I have always thought people with a dry sense of humor were the funniest people. My father has a very dry sense of humor. When he says something funny he doesn’t even crack a smile, unlike myself who laughs hysterically at my own jokes. One interesting trait of his is he has nicknames for just about everything and everybody. He calls a hospital a horse pistol and Walmart, Walmartha. He calls income tax outgo tax, which actually makes a lot of sense. He has a million of them.

When my brother and I were little we would listen for my dad to come home from work while my mother would be in the kitchen cooking supper. As soon as we heard him come through the back door we would run down the hall yelling daddy’s home. We would jump on the bed while he changed out of his work suit. After he was comfortable we would go in the dining room and sit in down for dinner. The TV had to be off and he would ask us what we did in school that day. After we told about our day we would play the same game every day at the dinner table. We would play twenty questions by guessing what my dad had for lunch that day. Every day we would go down our list of questions…Was it beef? Was it fish? Was it foul? and everyday he would say “It sure was foul” and we would laugh the same everyday. Those were the good ol’ days.

My Dad always gives me advice. I sometimes feel like he is trying to tell me what to do and run my life, but in actuality he is trying to help me. I have not always taken his advice because I am hard headed. There have been several tines that I realized if I had taken his advice I would have been a lot better off. I have learned the hard way to listen to him and use what he says to make better decisions.

He just recently had heart stint surgery. He later found out he had what they call a widow maker. Thank goodness he was paying attention to his heart. So my advice to you is pay attention to your heart this Father’s Day and listen to your Dad’s funny stories and advice."

Brett Kirton told me this about his father Lyle Kirton, "My parents did not plan to have any more children so they were surprised when they found out my mother was pregnant. Although I was unplanned, I have never felt unloved or unwanted by either parent. Dad is involved in my activities both at school and at church. He is semi-retired and we spend a lot of time together during the summer. He doesn’t cut me a lot of slack but tells me that I will appreciate that discipline someday. I hope “someday” comes soon!"

Karen Mathiowetz had this to say about her dad, Mike Maida, "Father’s Day is bitter sweet for me. I laugh a lot remembering how my dad lived and cry a lot remembering he is gone. Yep, memories of Mike Maida are bitter sweet. I must tell the whole truth. There were many times we did not get along, but that did not mean we did not love each other. We were so much alike it made it hard to be around each other some times.

My dad was a dancer. I have always loved to dance and am pretty good at it, but that is because I was taught by a very good dancer. One of my first memories of my dad was me standing on his feet, holding on to his knees and him two-stepping or jitterbugging with me around the room to 40s and 50s tunes. He was an amazing dancer.

My dad was a true hero. I remember as a small child listening to his ‘war stories’ and as I got older I thought most of them were untrue or exaggerated. He always told my sisters and me that he was a hero. One day when I was 14, one of his war buddies, “Smitty”, came to visit. Smitty told us some of the things that my dad did as a Marine that made me realize what a hero he really was. As I grew older, I learned more about him and his sacrifice to our country. I am so glad I was able to tell him how proud of him I was before he died. I will never forget the tears in his eyes or the smile on his face. He was a hero.

My dad was a giving man. Several people have told me how he bought them groceries when they had no food. He also bought school supplies for several local children. He even helped one person pay their rent when they lost their job. He never told me these things. I learned all this from the people he helped. I remember one year when I was 10 he had just gotten a winter coat for Christmas. It was a very cold and rainy day in December when a man with no coat was hitch hiking on Hwy 77 in front of our house. Without hesitation my dad gave him the new coat knowing that we did not have the money to buy him another one. I learned the meaning of ‘giving someone the shirt off your back’ that day. He was a very giving man.

My dad appreciated the little things that some of us take for granted and it did not take much to make him happy. When my mother died my dad lived in a nursing home in Ennis. We had gathered at my sister’s house and brought Daddy there so he could be with all the family. Many people had brought in food and we were sitting down to eat when Brenda Wainscott arrived with Murrie’s homemade vegetable beef soup. My dad took his first bite of the soup and exclaimed with excitement, ‘Oh my gosh, real potatoes.’ We all laughed so hard we cried. He appreciated the little things like real veggies in soup that we take for granted.

Yep, my dad was a great dancer, a war hero, a giving man and someone that appreciated everything you did for him. He was not perfect, but he was MY dad and I miss him very much. If I close my eyes and sit quietly, I can hear him say, ‘You know I love you girl.’ I just hope he can hear my answer, ‘I know and I love you too.’"

Melinda South told me this about her Dad, David South, " What I remember most about Dad from my childhood are the projects he would get us involved in. We’d plant a garden, put up a huge swing, plant grass, put up a new fence for the horses, get a cow, remodel the living room, harvest the garden, build a dome home.

Like his Dad, my Dad liked for us to work. And working for and with Dad has given me a wide range of learning experiences. So far, I have learned that:

I can paint when it is below freezing outside, it takes me nine hours to sweep two thirds of an acre, for washing 2,000 tons of steel some dishwashing liquids really do cut grease better, I can back a trailer fifty times a day, I really can’t make a template for a $1,000,000 project, inspecting welds does not require a lot of education, if Dad thinks I can do it, I usually can. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to live without a father, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to get to know Dad now that I am older and to enjoy his friendship and counsel."

Anne Sutherland said these words about her Dad, Leon Dollens, "Honor, love, Aggies, Red Irish Setters, organization and respect. Those are the words that jump into my mind when you ask me about my father. My father, a graduate of Texas A&M and a veteran from WWII, a Navy man, was raised on honor and trust-the very backbone he instilled into his children. I have four brothers and we all were raised the same way. The ways of saying ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am’ to our elders and helping before we were asked. Dad is a loving man and has a wonderful laugh and loves to play pinochle. Dad loves to talk to his children about the good ol’ days, of which I cannot get enough. This our heritage, our history and I want to know what Dad knows.

I remember growing up in Waco and running into the 7-11 with my dad or walking down the shopping mall sidewalk. Dad knew just about everyone he passed. Sometimes he would stop and visit for 5 or 10 minutes and then we were off again. I was always amazed how many friends Dad would run into. For 36 years, he worked for a fabulous place where he met lots of people, the Heart ’O Texas Coliseum located in Waco. This is the perfect place for a child to grow up as well. There were horse shows, fairs, rodeos, circuses, wrestling events, concerts and Baylor basketball-boys and girls. Dad would allow us to watch from the bandstand and see everything that was going on. We met celebrities and not so famous people. It provided a level of learning for us that one would never get at any institution of higher learning. Dad showed us how to respect others and work with people-no matter who they were. We were taught how to answer the phone at home so that there would always be a level of professionalism to anyone that would call. We all learned very quickly how to take accurate messages.

Dad also ‘allowed’ us kids to work at the Coliseum after some venues were over-such as horse shows. My brothers and I would make .65 cents an hour and cleaned horse stalls, that means raking hay and manure. We were happy to be apart of the ‘system’ that was the fair. Dad instilled in us work ethics. If we wanted money, then we would work-there was no such thing as an allowance at our house. (My brothers and I also learned that we probably did not want to clean stalls for a living).

When I became a teenager, Dad wanted me to volunteer at the local hospital as a candy striper. I worked hard several times a week for a couple of summers in different areas of the hospital-helping with physical therapy, administration, giving magazines to different patients and surgery clean up. Dad’s ultimate goal for me was to be an RN. He said if I became an RN, I could work anywhere I lived and make a good living. Unfortunately, I could not find any place I didn’t see blood. I am not a big fan of that. So, no nursing for me. But the thing I love about my dad in this instance, besides looking at my future, was when he retired, Dad made a beeline for the local hospital and volunteered his time in the heart wing, visiting with people and helping them understand what got them in the situation they were in. My dad has had heart problems since he was 45.

I smile thinking about Dad. He is my friend and my father. He still wants to know that I am doing the right thing, always interested in what’s happening in my life-the job is never done, right? Gotta love that man!"

Barry Byers related these memories about his Dad, Ervin Byers, "When I think of my father, Ervin Byers…A.K.A. ‘Mr. Wonderful’, and what he means to me, I almost always flash back to my childhood. I remember laughing all the time, singing in the car during those long rides to Waxahachie (that’s back when the speed limit was 55 mph) and the times we would play catch together.

I loved watching him play tennis and always enjoyed tapping a few back to him after his matches. I also have fond memories of him coaching youth sports on occasion. He was a fair coach, never argued with umpires or referees and let all the kids play. Mostly, he kept the crowd entertained. He would draw circles in the sand so his T-Ball players would know where to stand and one game a fan yelled out, ‘Your second baseman is building sand castles!’ My father replied, ‘Leave him alone, he knows what he is doing!’

In the 1970s, Dad owned the dental office where I would draw after school, as well as a washateria and the domino hall. I spent many days climbing on his washing machines and pinball machines that were in storage. And after hours, would sometimes watch the old-timers play dominoes. At Christmas after he did maintenance in the buildings, Dad would hoist me up on his shoulders to pull the lever down that turned out all the christmas lights downtown. Whenever I was on my Dad’s shoulders I just knew I was the tallest person on the planet.

Also, Dad was supportive of my being an artist and often let me draw on items around the house and downtown at his dental office. We eventually started a comic strip together for the town paper and had even more laughs, I recall being six years old when I walked in and pitched the Idea to Mildred Gentry of the Italy News Herald. We agreed to a $1.25 per cartoon and ‘Bee & Bop’ hit the presses.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, thanks, Dad. For teaching me how to have fun, be positive, care about others and to dream big. Like when I couldn’t wait to tell you I could finally touch the bottom of the nets in the old gym and you replied, ‘Think rim.’ You could have started your dental practice anywhere but I’m so glad you chose Italy. I love this town, I love my life and I love you. Happy Father’s day, ‘Mr. Wonderful.’"

Happy Father’s Day!

Comment from Joe Mack Hugghins, June 18, 2010, 10:55am

My name is Joe Mack Hugghins and I am an Italy native. I moved to Red Oak two years ago, but I still call Italy my home. I lost my father, Bobby Mack Hugghins in November 2008 and it was a very tough time for me and my brother and sisters. Reading these stories about other people’s fathers and the fond memories they carry of them really hit home. I miss talking baseball with Daddy and how he loved all of his grandchildren so dearly. Like Karen stated in the story, Father’s Day is bittersweet to me. I’m blessed enough to have two beautiful daughters of my own, Beaux 3 and Piper 1, but I think of my father on that day, not the fact that I am a father myself. I certainly miss my Daddy and think of him daily.

It was also nice to see Karen speak of her father Mike Maida. I was very close to her and her son Carson and remain that way to this day. Mike was a jokester to say the least. Mike and Karen were the masters of surprise when Carson would come to visit from Georgia for summers. I would hear somebody blowing a car horn like a madman in front of my house, go outside and there would be Mike dropping Carson off to stay with me a couple of days to catch up and begin hunting mischief in the neighborhood!! Those are very fond memories that I will always hold dear.

Two of the other fathers mentioned in the story are guys that were always good to me growing up as well. Dr. Byers and Lyle Kirton both lived in the west end of town where I grew up. Dr. Byers’ children grew up with my sisters, but always treated me and my brother Jordan like little brothers. A lot of the memories I have growing up involved Barry Byers, who is still a dear friend of mine and somebody I really admire for his honesty and creativity.

Thanks to the Neotrib for keeping me posted on the current events in my hometown and for providing a great story on some of the great men of our community. It was a treat to read and it reminded me of my Daddy and some of the great times I had growing up. Thanks again.

Joe Mack Hugghins

Comment by Jane Byers-Angle, June 18, 2010, 7:53pm

Good job, Cindy, giving credit where it is due to the fathers. I enjoyed Karen’s memories of Mike because he was a jolly man. I was pretty little but I did not know he was a dancer. My Dad taught me to dance too before I could walk. He held me up on the bed and taught me “Put Your Little Foot”. As the story goes, I was able to do the steps. Dad taught me to Jitterbug too. No one Jitterbug’s as well as my Dad. I will never forget Dad’s drive to educate me academically. He went to school my sophomore year and checked out his own copy of my geometry book so he could tutor me. When I left for college, Dad would hand-write letters and send to me. I still have his letters he wrote.

I really appreciate Joe Mack’s letter about his Dad, Bob Mack. He was a great Dad and I had a lot of fun growing up and playing at their house. I think on the flowers I sent for his funeral, Mona wrote on the card for me, “To the best neighborhood Dad I have ever known.” And I meant it too. He was always into the kids, his kids, the neighborhood kids, the school friends. Every person in their family was so much fun and we went through hard times together sometimes and I am glad they were there in my neighborhood. I think we all carry a little Bob Mack with us. I remember your grandfather too, Vincent, and he was a man of honor and strength. Vincent was a family man too.

When I reflect on growing up in Italy, I feel like a had a lot of fathers in a way. There are a lot of really good family oriented men in my hometown. I can think of many fathers that belonged to my classmates who did some really cool stuff like build this unbelievable racoon cage, and another who was so sweet and worked so hard at a gas station no longer in Italy; he loved his girls so much. One of my classmate’s Dad cooked sweet rolls for me nearly every morning at Edna’s cafe and I remember those moments. All the fathers who tried to teach me to catch the dreaded “fly ball” at baseball workouts – thanks for trying! And another father taught me to couples’ skate somewhere along the journey. The list goes on and on…Fathers in Italy have built a true loving legacy.

Jane Byers-Angle

Comment by Donna Cate, June 18, 2010, 8:43pm

My name is Donna Yarbrough Cate, and my daddy was Olen Yarbrough. Daddy was a young man when his dad passed away, so he quit school, got a job to support his sister, brothers, and mama. He decided to join the Marines, left and sent his money back home to his mother. After coming home, him and Mike Madia got to talking, and daddy was right in the same spot that Mike got wounded. They could tell you the exact same stories. MT Meharg told me stories about my dad that I never knew and Mike Hyles told me some too. If you new my daddy you knew he liked his beer. I was scared of my daddy because he was mean when drinking, but God woke him up. He had to have open heart surgery, and it changed him the last 25 years he had with us. He was the best ever, and loved his grandchildren, and us so. I thank God for my sweet daddy everyday, and know that if you let beer take over, your life will be filled with grief, and pain. I am so thankful for the change my daddy made. He got a chance to love us, and say I am sorry for the bad years I put you through. Daddy we love and miss you so, and Happy Fathers Day. Love Ya,

Donna Cate