I’ve written often about my mom on this blog, not so much about my dad. But in honor of Father’s Day Sunday, I wanted to share my thoughts today about The Quiet Man, who died about 20 years ago.
His given name was Frank Merritt Murray, but his family – I’ve mentioned before, I think, that they never called anyone their given name – always referred to him as Man. We called him Deddy.
He was good-natured – I’m not sure I ever saw him really upset, even after I wrecked his car – but really quiet. Friendly but really guarded (which sort of described me, too, up until I started writing this blog and revealing a few of my experiences and thoughts).
He grew up in rural Southside Virginia, just across the border from North Carolina. In fact, he went to school in Roxboro. He wasn’t much of a student – he repeated first grade. That was mainly because he was needed on the family farm, where he was one of I never even counted how many siblings. Once he finished with school, he went into the Army during World War II. I think I mentioned once that he wouldn’t talk much about his experience, unless he was around another World War II vet. I guess that was pretty common among those who served then.
Here’s what I do know. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, drove a tank, served under Patton and loved him. And grieved the loss of his brother (the one I’m named after) in the Pacific, I think at Peleliu. Brought home a pistol, which was stolen during a break-in at our house. And that’s just about it.
He and two army buddies opened a garage, and that’s where he worked for most of his life. He painted cars, and he was damned good at it.
Eventually, the business fell apart. He got a construction job at the Hyco Dam. Retired briefly, then went to work driving a delivery truck for an auto-parts store. I don’t think the store needed him, they just liked having him around.
Most everybody did. He was easy with a laugh, loyal to his friends and quick to help anyone who needed it.
I never saw him take a drink, but I knew he had one or two every month or two. Even if you couldn’t smell it on him, he got more garrulous then (while my mother got quieter – in truth, she seethed during these occasions).
He loved to tease my brother and sister and me. But he made sure we had everything we needed. All three of us went to college. And I know that he always made sure I had a little money in my pocket, even when I didn’t ask.
It was on his birthday that the swelling started in his jaw. I was working in Jacksonville by then and didn’t make it home all that often.
He went to the dentist first, who sent him to the doctor. It wasn’t good. Cancer. Of the tongue. From smoking? Probably. He’d been a heavy smoker. I’m sure the paint fumes didn’t do him any good either.
They operated at Duke but weren’t sure they got it all. They needed to do radiation. But not until they pulled his teeth. All of them.
At first things were going OK. Then one day he fell in his room at the house. He couldn’t get up.
It meant another trip to Duke. The news was devastating. The cancer had spread to his spine. He was paralyzed below the waist.
He spent his last months in a hospital bed at the house, watching game shows (which he loved), smoking (why not?) and playing scratch-off lottery tickets. And taking morphine when he absolutely had to. And not complaining.
One Friday night, I drove from Jacksonville to South Boston for a long weekend. He’d been getting a lot weaker. The cancer had spread into his brain, and he wasn’t lucid very much. I got there that night and he greeted me. It was the last word he would speak. He got weaker by the minute. I was going back to Jacksonville Monday morning, but when I got up, his breath was very shallow. I decided to stick around. A few minutes later, he was gone.
His death was quiet. As his life was. He never got to tease Karen, or Lauren or Nicki, or Austin or Garrett. He would have loved them all. And they would have loved him.
As I did. And do.