Sunday, June 21, 2009

Joel Ray Baugh aka DADDY

When I think of my Dad, I remember his laugh. He had a great belly laugh, something I don't believe I appreciated until after he was gone. I loved my Dad. I wish I had known him better.

It's interesting, as I look back and remember whispered warnings and comments about my Dad's temper (usually from my Mom) - and I know that my Dad had a temper, I saw it and experienced it a few times in my life - I never think of him that way at all.

I think of him laughing.

And I think of him making Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and whipped cream in his San Diego apartment, long before Belgian waffles were the waffle of choice.

And I remember how proud he was of his grandkids, and how he was even more proud of his two daughters. I specifically remember attending Uncle Leo's (Dad's brother) 80th birthday party with Melanie and Dad. One of my favorite pictures is of the three of us at that party - he had Melanie on one arm and me on the other and we were dressed up, all three of us. He looked like one proud man. And I was a proud daughter, cuz he was a handsome, well-dressed dude. In cowboy boots, to boot! I love that memory.

Dad was a journalist. Media writing was his vocation. He loved to write and he passed that love for words along to his children. He was a newspaper editor by profession and I can remember the very thorough and complimentary-but-mandatory red-line editing I received on every book report, essay, creative writing project, poem and term paper I wrote between 1st grade and high school. He also helped with college papers when I asked. I appreciated it then, without any understanding of how it would help me throughout my life, and I am grateful now.

Dad was nominated for the Pulitzer in the late-60's, for a "Help!" column he created at the Press-Telegram, one of the first columns of its kind. It was quite an honor to be nominated, even if he didn't receive the Pulitzer. My favorite column that appeared under his byline over the years was "Baugh Humbug". Dad was very good at what he did, he loved words, he loved details, and he was a trivia buff (before TRIVIA games came along) simply from all the editing he did.

Dad loved to work with plants and to create beautiful landscapes; our yards were always unique, with a touch of southwestern flora (no wonder I love New Mexico's landscape, Dad was born here and never lost the southwestern influence). He was very creative. At the holidays our Christmas tree was a thing of beauty and the house was decorated fully - not with silly, cheap, typical decorations, but almost 'designer-quality' decorations created by Dad from odds and ends. One year we had an ice cream cone tree - he used real ice cream cones, soft pink satin bulbs and then sprayed them with flocking and glitter.
My favorite centerpiece (one that I still have) was made from toilet tank floats, each one covered with sequins and pearls and jewels that were individually attached with a straight pin into the porous material of the float. He spent hours on that project. One year, he sold rock faces for a local fundraiser and then gave them for Christmas gifts later, finding an 'expression' in the natural rock shape and hand-painting features onto the stones himself. We went rock hunting to find special rocks on several occasions that year. I sprained my wrist on one of those trips.

Dad was strict, but he also wanted to spoil Mel and I, which on a journalist's salary wasn't really possible. That said, I think he managed to do just fine. We never felt as if we didn't have everything we wanted - at least I didn't. We were always taken shopping (and to lunch) for beautiful new dresses and shoes at Easter and Christmas. We always did back-to-school clothes shopping in August or early September, and then again - but not to the same level - in late February, sometime around Washington's birthday. And Christmas was always a time of giving and receiving, I don't remember ever feeling that I didn't get what I wanted at Christmas - although Dad gave Santa the credit.

One weekend Dad took Melanie and I shopping. I honestly don't remember the occasion, but he was going to buy us new clothes because of some extra money that had come in. As we walked out the door of our house, I remember Mom pulling me aside and whispering, "Be careful while you are shopping, Jeannie, your Dad will want to buy you and Melanie everything, it's very hard for him to say no to the two of you....but we really don't have that much money." So off we went, two little girls and their Dad, and we did shop, and I remember to this day the outfit that he bought for me. It was one of my favorites for a long time. It wasn't cheap, but it wasn't designer brand either (did they even have designer brands in the late 60's?). I was careful, Mom was happy and Dad was glowing.

My Dad loved my younger brother Jamie. As Jamie grew into his teens we called him Jim, but to all of our immediate family he was always Jamie, and he was loved by all who met him. Jim died at 23 from AIDS, one of the early cases and long before any hope of survival had been found, and Dad took care of him during the last month's of Jim's life - feeding, bathing, clothing, medicating, moving and caring for him morning and night.

I know a piece of my Dad, and my Mom, and of me and Mel too, died when Jim passed. He had been a shining light since the day he was born. I remember how proud my Dad was when he finally had a son; he would now have someone to 'carry on the family name'. He had been concerned that the Joel Ray Baugh line would die out with Mel and me. Life simply doesn't work the way we think it will sometimes.

Jamie was the only boy in our family, he was born 8 years after me and 6 years after Melanie. Totally unexpected and unplanned, I believe, but wanted and adored from the moment we knew he was coming. We didn't know he was a boy, of course, this was pre-designer clothes, pre-trivia games and prior to this generation's need-to-know in utero gender testing. But we hoped. We all wanted a boy.

When Jim was born, in the wee hours of the morning, Dad dragged his proud but exhausted body home from the hospital and painted with a wide brush on a 4 X 8 piece of plywood in huge letters of blue paint, "IT'S A BOY!" In the middle of the night, when Mom went into labor, Melanie and I had been whisked to our dear neighbors - Dick and Verna Pehl and their four kids - who lived across the street, and of course we all woke up early the following morning wanting to know if our new baby had been born (the Pehl family woke up at 5 AM every morning anyway - even when not anticipating a birth across the street - and did some family bonding by diving into their (unheated) backyard pool. Nude. All of them. This was 1962 mind you. Mel and I had been instructed to not participate AND to not look!). We raced out of the house, careful to NOT look at the pool and with every intention of barging through the sun porch, through the front door and up the stairs of our white clapboard two-story home across the street to ask Dad if we had a baby! The adrenaline was pumping and we were on a mission, one of us a sassy redhead with braids flying in the wind behind her and the other a sassy blonde in a short boy cut (she hated that) but most likely with skinny little arms and legs flying all over the place as she ran.


The sign was HUGE. It stopped us in our tracks, took the sass right out of us. We had a little brother! Elation! We now had no reason to race home and wake up Dad! Disappointment! (I didn't even stop to think about how my Dad managed to get that 4X8 piece of plywood UP onto the shed roof over the first story of our house until years later - I still don't know how he did it.)

We took our sassy tanned and freckled little bodies back into the Pehl's house, praying quietly to ourselves that they were out of the pool and clothed so that we could open our eyes again (and yet also hoping maybe we would get a glimpse of this wild and primal activity) and shared the news. We had a brother! We were so excited! And Dad was elated. He had a son.

My favorite family vacation was a two week road trip in our brand new white (with black vinyl top) Chevrolet Caprice. We started south and headed north, touring all the California Missions. It was so much fun. Melanie and I have silver charms from every mission along the way and I still have my charm bracelet. We had a car accident on that trip, and both Mom and Dad ended up in neck braces. I was too young to know how that all panned out, who was at fault, etc., but thankfully nothing was too serious. Another family vacation was when we camped south to north at State Parks, I loved that trip too.

On a different occasion, I remember walking out of the front door of our home in Rialto, California - on Home Street, no less - and seeing my Dad on the driveway, the door of his Volvo still open with him laying beneath it. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I remember him telling me to go get Mom. Then he told Mom to call an ambulance. His back was out. My Dad's back gave him problems his entire life - he wore braces and supports, he spent weeks in traction, he took pain medication, he took muscle relaxants, he probably had every treatment and med they knew of at the time, and each of them is a treatment they would NEVER recommend now. It wasn't until he was in his 60's that his back actually improved - he was exercising. Imagine that. And think of the difference that knowledge and action might have made in his younger days. He was 4-F, an enlisted man but not one who could be called to active frontline duty - not because of his back, but because he had flat feet, but it was during an exercise in basic training that his lifetime of back trouble really began.

Dad was a redhead, that's where I got my hair. Wait, no that's not right. Let me restate.

I thought Dad was a redhead, and that I got my hair from him....until I was in my thirties.... not until I was three, or thirteen, but not until I was in my THIRTIES did I learn the truth! I heard someone make a comment about him dying his hair right before a certain photograph had been taken in his late twenties (the photograph I had looked at my whole life with a nonchalant possessiveness). I was stunned. Who WAS this man? Who was I? Suddenly my entire self-perception changed. I didn't look like my Dad, I looked like HIS Dad. Grandpa Baugh was the redhead, not Dad. Let me just say that this was not a welcome piece of knowledge and to this day I am not certain why he dyed his hair red in his twenties, but apparently he did.

Manners were important to Dad. We enjoyed family dinners filled with laughter and conversation, around the antique table and chairs that he had found in a second hand shop and refinished himself, and beneath the mustard colored chandelier that he had painted. And we were taught manners; if we didn't remember our manners at the table, we were asked to leave the table, our food was removed, or we were told we might as well go outside and eat with the dogs. He was serious about manners.

Dad had a few absolutes (these kind of crack me up today, but at the time I took them VERY seriously). Melanie and I were not allowed to consider waitressing as a job, let alone a career. We were told that early on. His sisters had worked as waitresses and he knew that it was low-paying, hard work. We were not allowed to ride in VW bugs. They were too small for safety. We were to plan on junior college before a university. We could not take overnight trips with our boyfriends, unless there were responsible adults tagging along too. We were to drop the fifty cents (two quarters) he gave us every Sunday into the collection plate at First Lutheran, and NOT stop at the drug store (conveniently in our path as we walked to and from church).

I can honestly say that I never rode in a VW. I was never a waitress. I attended junior college before a university and I didn't go on an overnight trip with any boyfriend without adults being present - not necessarily sober or paying attention, but they were present.

However.......I have to admit that the drug store on the way to church was a huge temptation and Melanie and I succumbed a few times, quickly eating the candy bar of choice before arriving at church and carefully dropping just ONE quarter into the collection plate in a way that Dad wouldn't be able to see that we were a quarter short. I still can't believe that they didn't smell our chocolate or peanut butter or sweet-tart breath. Maybe they did, but what can you do when sitting properly on a pew in a perfect row of Sunday best near the front and just beneath the lectern of the 1st Lutheran Church? What would Mom think looking down from the organ bench where she was playing beautiful hymns with those skilled fingers and in stocking feet? What would Pastor Karl Johnson think if we made a scene? (Actually, he would probably have laughed, he was rather jovial and informal himself) The last time I saw Pastor Johnson was at my Dad's memorial service. I suppose that is a kind tribute of sorts with threads to those good times on Home Street, in Rialto, CA.

Life with Dad wasn't always easy. He had terrible mood swings and fought depression his entire life, not always winning. He knew how to use a belt, and did a few times, but Mom usually just threatened us with "the belt". I remember him once telling me "You aren't going to pull the wool over my eyes, Jeannie, don't even try." (I don't know if I pulled the wool over his eyes or not, I didn't even know what that phrase meant when he said it!)

Dad drank too much at times, he wandered off at times, he did have a temper and had very little patience with some things, but there was one thing we never doubted: he loved us. He had been raised by a Texas rancher and was tough when he needed to be (I still don't really get that, I can't find any traces of Grandpa JW Baugh being in Texas for very long, but he WAS big like Texas ranchers tend to be). Dad wasn't perfect, but he loved his kids. We - Jamie, Melanie and I - knew that he loved us and that he thought we were the best thing that ever happened to him. He was Papa to his grandkids, but he was Daddy to me.

I miss my Dad. I think of him often. I wish he was here. I wish he could have lived to see my kids as they have grown into adults and parents themselves. I wish he could have lived to see his grandsons become Dads. I wish he could have lived to see his great-grandchildren.

I wish I could hear that belly laugh once more. I wish I could hear him call me Jeannie again. I wish I could wish him a Happy Father's Day.

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there, especially my sons and son-in-law who are all GREAT Dads.

I have some special things in my house that were Dad's. Some of them have a history that I am aware of, some I just love because I remember them always being part of Dad's world.

Joel Ray Baugh. He was my Dad. There's not much more to say. I love him, I miss him, but I still feel him around - after all I have a lifetime of memories and I have his belly laugh...and of course, I also have his red hair.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Dad's Fav - The Yellow Rose of Texas

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