When I started this particular blog entry, I was going to write about all the different woodworkers that have influence me and how I approach the craft. Especially since I’m still learning. I’ll cover my woodworking influences in a later entry. But this one now, belongs to my Dad, Leonard Franklin Thomas.
Mom and Dad had a great deal of influence of who I have become. I just didn’t realize it for several years. From my Dad, I got my work ethic. You’re paid to do a job, make damn sure you get it done and done right. I guess that’s why I will stay later, at the office, to make sure everything on my desk is to a stopping point before leaving for the day.
Coming home exhausted was a common thing for my Dad. You see he was a truck driver. And not just any kind of truck driver. He hauled gasoline to the stations where you buy your gas. Dangerous work. My Mom used to worry herself sick about him. Especially if she heard on the news about a tanker truck in an accident. Many a night he would come home drenched in gasoline, because someone ordered more than they needed, and it would over fill before he could get it shut off. Now days the smell of gas makes me think of my Dad.
Most of the time, he worked nights and sometimes two jobs. So, time with us kids, my sister and me, was limited. But when the time was there, we were given a good sense of right and wrong. And, since he was always working, Mom was the disciplinarian. So, you knew you were in trouble if he got involved.
In later years, I got to spend some time with my Dad in a more adult setting. We would drive together to my Grandparent’s farm, near the Lake of the Ozarks. Even though no one lived there, we kept the place up in livable shape. We would usually mow the acre and a half yard and then relax a bit. Occasionally, when time permitted, we would go fishing. There was nothing better than quiet time spent fishing with Dad. Nothing had to be said to enjoy his company. Just me, him, and the croaking frogs in the pond.
My three kids remember him more as a grumpy old man. Several mini-strokes had taken away the job he loved of driving a truck. He loved driving a truck. He had driven since the early 1950’s. At one time, as an over-the-road driver, he had been in every state in the lower 48, 6 Provinces in Canada, and as far south as Mexico City. He never went without his camera. Some of the pictures he brought back were stunning. My sister, Joyce, now has possession of all the slides that depict his travels, and our family.
Was my Dad a perfect man? No, who is? But he was my Dad and that’s that. From a young age, we were taught of family. My Dad was an only child, so family was important. Regular trips to my grandparents’ home, in the country, on a Friday night, after he got home from work. Then two days of time spent with family, sometimes Church, on Sunday morning, then a big Sunday supper prepared by my Grandmother. I didn’t realize how important that time was until I got much older. If only I’d known then what I know now.
Those trips to my grandparents’ farm also involved some hard work from time to time. Anywhere from stacking bales of hay in the barn, to carrying in buckets of water, from the well, because they didn’t always have indoor plumbing. Let me tell you, that was a hard lesson to learn for a young boy. The outhouse was a cold place to be in December and I never understood why the Sears-Roebucks catalog was in there. Oh, the things you learn in unexpected places.
The last lesson my Dad ever taught me was how to face Death. My Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in April of 1994 when a spot showed up on his lung, in his annual physical. You see besides all those years coming home drenched in gasoline, my Dad was a smoker. He had tried several times to quit, but they didn’t have the aids that they have now, so he was unsuccessful.
Anyway, the doctors did what doctors do. They biopsied, they removed part of his lung, they gave him radiation and chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was horrible for him. They gave it to him as an inpatient, in the hospital. I remember seeing the bottle hanging on the IV stand and the word “Platinum” in big letters on it. About that time, he would get nauseous and start throwing up. The man that had always been a pillar for me, was in agony. That same day, the oncologist came in and told us that he had maybe 6 months to live. From that day, Dad told them no more chemo, he wanted to go home. While he was in the hospital, Dad was befriended by one of the chaplains that served that hospital. They would talk for long stretches any I think that he made his peace during those long talks. Of this, I am grateful.
So, Dad went home and he finished on his terms. He ate what he wanted, he smoked what he wanted, and he spent time with my mother. They had been married almost 46 years. While it hadn’t always been easy, it was a good marriage. Then on September 9th, 1994, 5 months after his diagnosis, my Dad passed on to meet his maker. And I cried.
I felt I had to give my Dad his due before I went on, in other entries, about woodworking this or woodworking that. After all, he very subtly taught me, family is important and it always will be.