Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Roscoe Athens Berry, May 9, 1920-May 5, 1979

I wrote this last year.  Since Daddy would have turned 90 this May 9th, I wanted to honor him again.  Anything italicized has been added this time around.
Last week marked the thirtieth anniversary of my dad's death. He had a heart attack at work one Friday morning, and he died a week later on Saturday. He was 58. I was 22 and married for about six months.

Growing up I wanted to be just like my dad. He and my Uncle Johnny were the two best men I had ever known. Quick-witted, compassionate, hard-working, Christian men. I wanted to be like them.

My daddy worked on cars since before I was born. He came back from World War II with that training, and the memories of faraway places like Hawaii, the Philippines, Guadalcanal, and New Zealand. He never talked about the war unless I asked him, and when I did and heard some of his stories I never wanted to ask again.
I recently found out that Daddy mustered out of the service in early 1946 as a Master Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne.

He and Mama moved to Barnesville after they were married and he initially worked for the Chrysler dealer in our town until he had enough of the owner talking bad about everyone's trade-in. He told me later, "Don't ever run down a man's car. It's his and it's all he's got."

My earliest memory of Daddy and cars was at the J.R. Smith Motor Company. Mr. Smith sold Fords and this was the late fifties and early sixties. It's easy to understand how I fell in love when you consider the Galaxie 500, the Fairlane, and the Mustang of that era. He worked at "the Ford place" for almost 30 years, first as a mechanic, then service manager, then parts manager. His last salary was one hundred dollars a week. In 1972. Apparently he didn't just work for the money.

I'd go "help" Daddy on Saturdays, the highlight of my week. We'd walk from our house to work so we could leave Mama the car. I remember the cool mornings as we'd walk together, me trying to keep step with him. I was no more than five years old.

My job was to put the parts order where it went, whether in a bin for small parts or upstairs for mufflers and tailpipes. I thought I was something big. I still remember KDAZ-13-FL13. It was an oil filter.

I learned respect from watching Daddy in operation. He respected old and young, black and white, boss and employee. He taught me that it was okay to speak to black people and call them "sir" if they were older than me. That was in the Deep South in 1962. Think about it. He was way ahead of his time.

I went to Carter's Drug Store one morning to get Mr. Smith some cigars. I didn't need money. Everyone knew J. R. Smith. All I had to tell Mr. Carter was what I needed and he gave it to me, writing down the amount on a running bill for Mr. Smith. While there I was approached by some cadets from Gordon Military College and one of the asked me who my old man was. I told him I didn't have an old man, but my daddy was Roscoe Berry.

When we finished work (they closed at one o'clock on Saturday--those were the days) we'd start home. I wanted to march like Daddy did in the Army, so off we'd go, marching home. I realize now what a sight we must have been, a grown man and a five-year-old marching in time through town.

That should have been embarrassing, but Daddy didn't act like it was. I only gave Daddy and Mama boyhood things to be ashamed of me about when I was young. I wish I could say the same thing since I "grew up".

Daddy got a service station when I was fourteen, and I worked for him until I went off to Mercer in 1976. From that time he ran it by himself. I'd talk to him and Mama once a week and try to come home every chance I got. They were fun to be around, and all my friends loved being around them. They'd come over and hang out even when I wasn't there. Those were the days.

I got married in September 1978. Daddy was my best man, and boy did he look good in a tux. He cried during the ceremony, and so did I. We moved to coastal Georgia not long after that and I began pastoring a church there.

I was at a church in Hinesville when the call came one Friday morning in May. Daddy had some chest pains at work and had been taken to the hospital. Jennie and I prayed all the way there that he would live until we got there.

I wish I'd prayed harder.

He was in ICU and in those days there were no pacemakers, open heart surgery, or any thing to help the situation. We visited him for ten minutes every hour. At night I'd just walk in and watch while he slept. Every time we talked that week Daddy kept saying how good God had been to him.

He got out of ICU on Friday, and that evening we watched "Dukes of Hazzard". He laughed, we laughed. He'd be out of the hospital Monday.

Saturday Jennie, a friend and I were working at the station. That afternoon I got a call from the hospital. Daddy had taken a turn for the worse.

We flew the thirteen miles to the hospital, rushed to the elevators, the doors opened on the second floor, and there was Uncle Robert, Mama's brother. He was waiting for us.

"He's gone."

I fell back against the wall in disbelief. I had just spoken to him that morning and he sounded fine. Apparently my Aunt Gwen had told Daddy a joke and he laughed, put his hand over his heart, turned to the window, and died. Dr. Holloway said if he'd been standing right there he couldn't have done a thing.

I remember Grandma Berry standing at the end of his casket saying a mama shouldn't have to bury her children. Within the year I'd be at her funeral as well.

Preacher Bill used Psalm 37.23 as the text for Daddy's funeral: "A good man's steps are ordered by the Lord." I thought about marching through town with Daddy.

Everybody seemed to love him. People I didn't know told me of things he'd done for them without anyone knowing. It made me love him more.

I had a dream during my recovery from cancer surgery. I saw Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Johnny, and Daddy standing on a riverbank across from me. I reached out to go to them and they backed up and walked away. I guess it wasn't time.

I think about you every day, Daddy. You'd be so proud of your grandchildren. They all have some of your traits. It's scary. I wish I could talk to you sometime, not only for advice, but just to hear your voice. I miss you. Knowing I'll see you someday is comforting, but it doesn't help those times when I wonder what you'd say or do.

The last thing my Daddy said to me in that Saturday morning phone call was "I love you, son." I still remember the sound of that.

He died laughing that afternoon.

I'm still crying.


Carder said...

I love you, Daddy...

emily said...

I can't wait to meet him someday. I love you.

Michael Ruffin said...

Roscoe was a good man.

Debra, Daddy and I went together to Roscoe's funeral. Daddy seemed down or distracted or bothered; I couldn't figure out why.

As you know, just a few days later we lost him, too, after he had a heart attack at work on a Thursday and died on Sunday, May 27.

I don't much believe in premonitions, but one never knows, does one?

Bless you, brother.