Father’s Day was Sunday and I spent much of the day traveling home from Morganton, North Carolina where two friends were married over the weekend. Reunions took place and numerous introductions marked the occasion of their wedding. We managed to stretch the merriment out over several days, by spending some time in Asheville walking around, shopping and seeing the sights.
One of the many shops we visited was Paul Taylor Custom Sandals and Belts, where they’ve been crafting beautiful sandals, belts and other leather goods by hand since 1965. They sell their goods to the many tourists who frequent the Haywood Street area of Downtown Asheville. I was reminded of my father as soon as I approached the shop window. Paul Taylor’s also features the largest collection of vintage sterling silver and solid brass belt buckles in the country. I’ve always associated these belt buckles with the many timeless old men I’ve encountered throughout my life who never quite grew up to be cowboys. My father was one of those old men. He was born and raised on a tobacco farm in Kentucky. He moved to Omaha to work as a draftsman for a cabinet maker, but eventually ended up employed in various jobs over the years at auto parts stores in the area. He did this for the rest of his working life until retirement.
There were many things about my father that never changed; like the flat top buzz cut he sported long after his days as an enlisted man in the Marines. I remember him as somewhat tall and alarmingly thin, slightly hunched and always smoking. He usually wore jeans and a button down shirt tucked in and cinched tight with an old leather belt featuring one of his prized belt buckles.
I have no clear memory of my father as a young man. He was 43 when I was born. By the time I was able to comprehend the complexities of age, he was approaching 50. Even in his early 50s, years of heavy smoking and under eating gave him the appearance of an elderly man. As children, my sisters and I were accustomed to correcting friends who assumed he was our grandfather.
Throughout his life, my father was a man of few words. Chain-smoking was his only apparent vice. He spent long weekends reading cheap science fiction. This is where he seemed to find the most happiness. He worked hard at his job. At home he relaxed in front of the television set. His heroes were, Clint Eastwood, Ronald Reagan and God.
After his death, there were small squabbles among the sisters over his possessions. Nothing had any real value beyond whatever importance we may have assigned, each in our own way, to the objects as tokens of love from our father. As the only sister living away from Omaha, I settled on three small items that were easy to pack and take on an airplane. Each object I chose came from one of his numerous collections. Each of his collections was made up of small treasures that, at one time or another had tickled his quiet heart in some way. A pearl handled pocket knife from his knife collection was my first choice. Next I selected a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western from his assortment of DVDs. And finally, as if he were there to see, I grabbed one of his many belt buckles, this particular one fashioned in the shape of a locomotive. I wanted to remember the love of trains I shared with my father when I was very small.
Walking into Paul Taylor’s around Father’s day was fortuitous for me. I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot lately.