Whittle: Daddy we hardly knew ya
Tuesday, June 20, 2017 11:01 am
By DAN WHITTLE
Oct. 24, 1950, was a cold, blustery winter night.
But that's not what sent chills through older brother Van, who bolted in hysterics from a neighbor's farm house after another neighbor shared that Hubert Alexander Whittle, our father, had been in car wreck in another county.
"Mrs. Whittle, I suggest you get to the hospital as soon as possible, it looks bad," confirmed neighbor Norvel Harrison.
Those words sent brother screaming into the night - "My Daddy ain't dead! Daddy ain't dead!" - as he bolted down the railroad tracks toward our own farm house.
It took A.J. Neel in his new red Dodge truck to catch up with and shake brother back into the present.
Daddy Whittle perished on the operating table the next morning at 5:32 a.m.
Brother suffered with running and screaming nightmares the rest of his living days.
Blood family was not the only sufferers from Daddy's death, for our farm dog named "Hitler" began howling mournfully that night. The loyal canine had never howled before.
Daddy was recognized as a hard-working successful farmer, as evidenced when all the merchants in our farm town closed for his funeral at Canalou, MO, Baptist Church.
A scene from Daddy's funeral was burned lovingly, but firmly into my psyche as I witnessed cotton gin workers with lint-covered caps over their hearts lined up along Main Street out of respect for this man of the soil.
I recall Preacher A.C. Sullivant's remarks at the grave: "It's sad, but It's right that this man of the soil is resting in the bosom of Mother Earth."
Daddy Whittle was a stern disciplinarian, requiring his children to say "yes sir" and "no mam" to adults of our farm community ... a habit that eventually helped land my first professional writing job during an interview at the local newspaper.
As Father's Day 2017 came and went, I realized Daddy's creed of life is still impacting me from his grave.
His creed - "To have a good neighbor, be a good a neighbor" remains etched in my soul today.
How good of a neighbor was he?
I recall Daddy laying the reins down after plowing all day with mules "Bert" and "Ike" to drive his large grain-hauling truck 70 miles, one way, to move Momma Whittle's mother from Arkansas up to near our farm in the Missouri Bootheel.
I recall Daddy had instructed older sister June to feed the mules and secure them in the barn stall as he left the farm in a cloud of dust on our unpaved farm road.
Although it took all night to load and transport Granny Grunt's furniture, Daddy got out of his truck, without sleep and breakfast, to harness the mules and resume plowing the corn field.
That is one of my most treasured "Daddy memories" to this day.
But what happened later that fateful day still burns in my soul.
As Daddy had resumed working the mules, I was playing in the dirt with my new John Deere toy tractor, mouthing the tractor's two-piston motor's sound of "pow pow pow."
Being that Mother's garden was near our outdoor two-holer, that's where I over-heard Granny Grunt slurring my father to a slouch to Mother after he had toiled without rest or sleep, to move her fat ass (torso) and furniture up from Burdette, AR.
I still refer to her as "my brother's grandmother."
Daddy was not perfect. During non-farming months, he gambled on the fancy riverboats on the Mississippi River out of Cairo, ILL.
He sometimes used me, a toddler, as an excuse to get away from the farm to go gamble.
On those days, he'd instruct "Little Danny" to not "say a word" as I sat on his knee while he played poker. And I never spilled my guts to Momma that Daddy had been "gambling."
How robust was Father's personality?
I remember hearing his loud "laugh" two farms away from our fields.
In 1994, as Pat and I stopped our car to let puppy Precious do her business, I witnessed three elderly men chewing hefty loads of tobacco while whittling beside the Mississippi River at Cairo.
"Gents, my name is Whittle, and I can't whittle a lick," I used my unusual last name to strike up a conversation.
To which, one whittling man, between the slow strokes on his cedar stick, remarked: "Knew a Whittle once ... a farmer over in the Bootheel ... but I can't remember his first name."
"Was his name Hubert?" I asked.
"That's it - Hubert Whittle. He was a good gambling man, except when he drank too much whiskey," the gentleman shared.
I thought it remarkable the man clearly recalled my father, his gambling prowess and excessive drinking 44 long years after Daddy perished in a grinding car crash.
I recall the last place I saw father alive.
At age 6, I vividly remember Mother and cotton gin man Mr. McCann begging Daddy to come home since the law had run him out of town for being loud and rowdy after a night and day of gambling and drinking.
Instead, Father chose to get in his new Hudson Hornet that would run with the wind. It was a fatal decision. Two hours later, our farm neighbor came to tell us of Daddy's car wreck.
He would not attend church, but loved listening to the Chuck Wagon Gang on the radio.
He often filled the preacher's tank since gasoline was not rationed to farmers during World War II. I also recall his butchering one of our hogs to help a needy family get through the winter months.
Despite Daddy's flaws, our family's loyalty to his memory was evidenced in 1971 when older brother ran for a county commissioner's seat against a prominent farmer incumbent.
We didn't take the political race too serious, until another farm neighbor reported the incumbent was going around describing my candidate brother as "the son of a drunkard" after Daddy had been in his grave since 1950.
How serious did we take that description of our father?
I quit my job as a feature writer for the Nashville Banner to go help my brother in his election campaign, a race he eventually won by a margin of "one vote" to oust the incumbent who had slurred my father's name. I never let brother forget that due to my moving back to Missouri, I was the "one vote" he needed to win the race.
I think Daddy is proud his two sons were loyal to his memory. This man of the soil believed in loyalty and being a good neighbor!
Rest in peace Father! Amen.