Ferris Robinson: Remembering My Father

Friday, June 13, 2014 - by Ferris Robinson

This Father’s Day is the first year I won’t have my Daddy.

This was the first year my sister, mother and I had Valentine's Day without an orchid from him, without his handwritten note and his little drawing of a raccoon under his name.

This year, when I woke up on my birthday, I had to go through the entire day without my parents' traditional rendition of 'Happy Birthday' sung on the telephone.

My mother's subscription to the New Yorker will finally run out. Her father had given it to year for decades, and the year my grandfather died, Daddy renewed her subscription, trying to fill a void for her somehow.

My father, Paul DeWitt Kelly Jr., had many gifts. He was smart as a whip, loved a good joke, and loved people. All people. He couldn't leave a gas station or an emergency room or a poker game without finding a connection with almost every person there. Either they had relatives from Marion County somewhere in their ancestry, had offspring who went to elementary school with one of his children, or served in the same battillion with one of his ancestors. He took the time to find out, and along the way, found out about the trials and tribulations, accomplishments and honors, of that particular person.

He was a prankster and loved nothing more than pulling off a joke. His first cousin and law partner, Zach Kelly, is terrified of snakes; his horror over the very idea of a snake is practically a medical condition. So years ago, when Daddy came upon an enormous dead rattlesnake, he coiled it up in Zach's middle desk drawer. I imagine they lost most of their employees, if not the majority of their client base, that day.

Daddy carried a black comb with him at all times, but rarely used it to comb his hair. He crept up stealthily behind people and ran his thumbnail over the teeth, making a whirring, electrical sound. His crowning moment was the time Philip Strang had just finished running in the rain and still had his headset on.  Philip thought he was being shocked when he heard the sudden sharp noise right in his ear and threw the headset and jumped around hollering during a handball tournament at the Sports Barn.

His last good joke got the best of all of us. He was curled up in front of the fire my husband built (his favorite spot in our house), and asked if we'd read about the ocean-borne bacteria that was closing the eastern seaboard.  My middle son was counting the days until his trip to Charleston to see his new girlfriend, and his face blanched when Daddy said Charleston was completely quarantined. Suddenly I saw that familiar twinkle in Daddy's eye, and knew we'd been had.

He played this joke when he was in the last stages of Alzheimers.

He gave my sister, brother and me many gifts, but the greatest gift was how much he loved our mother. My brother called their marriage an epic love story, and it is so. From the first time he drove her over the Tennessee River toward Jasper, Tenn. and she saw the mountains and rock cliffs and water and gasped, saying to him, "You never told me it was so beautiful!" until their last anniversary when his words were so hard for him to find. He took my sister outside and struggled to say, "October 1." He didn't need to say anything more. My sister knew that day was their 53rd wedding anniversary and that Daddy wanted her to buy something nice for his bride.

His last gift to me was on his last afternoon. We were sitting in his garden in the sun, and I could tell something was terribly wrong. I was on the phone with the doctor and she asked if my father recognized me, and insisted I be certain.

"Mr. Kelly, do you know who that is?" his caregiver asked, nudging him and coaxing him to look up at me.

Daddy looked right at me and his face lit up. His eyes shone as he said, "It's Ferris!"

We celebrated Christmas without him this past year. My husband stoked the fire and fanned the flames and it crackled and flared and did all the things a good fire is supposed to do.

But it did not seem as bright and as magical without Daddy perched on the hearth, telling his stories.

ferrisrobinson@gmail.com

 


Night At The Museum Center At 5ive Points Set For Friday

Night at the Museum Center at 5ive Points will be held Friday beginning at 6 p.m.  It will continue until Saturday at 7:30 a.m.  The evening is for children ages 6-13.  Museum education staff will lead a "night of fun and adventure" in the museum after dark. Guests will spend the night in the museum playing games and other activities throughout the night.  ... (click for more)

Art + Issues: Ending The Clash By Bringing Backgrounds Together Is Thursday

Entrepreneur James Chapman, owner of Change n Go, and program director at Causeway, will explore the meaning of diversity in Chattanooga through the work of Gajin Fujita at Art + Issues:  Ending the Clash By Bringing Backgrounds Together.   The group discussion about diversity and the Causeway Challenge will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Hunter Museum.    ... (click for more)

Mayor Berke To Give State Of The City Address Monday Night

Citizens across the community are invited to attend Mayor Andy Berke’s second annual State of the City address, which will be held Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the ballroom of the Chattanoogan Hotel. The event is free and open to the public. “The State of the City is an important time to celebrate our accomplishments, discuss our challenges and chart a new course together,” said Mayor ... (click for more)

Anonymous Facebook Posters Pose Possibility Of Signal Schools Separating From Hamilton County School System

"Should Signal Mountain Schools separate from the Hamilton County School System?"   That’s the question posted on a Facebook page titled, simply, Signal Mountain Independent School District.   The creators of the page do not identify themselves. “(W)e certainly don’t want our kids dragged into the issue or targeted for special treatment by any ... (click for more)

The Heart Of A Teacher Makes A Difference - And Response (2)

In less than four weeks, I expect to be one of 216 graduating seniors from East Hamilton School. One could say all possible variables help a student rise to the highest levels in school; but a student is more than his environment or genetic code. He is a mixture of his own propensity and dedication to academics, coupled with a systemic team of mentors who give their all as a student’s ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The P.S. To A Sad Story

Back in the days when we were determined that the Chattanooga News-Free Press would have the best sports section in the country, I was traveling a whole lot. For example, back then I would be leaving today or tomorrow for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, this after hardly recovering from a week spent at The Masters. And, as it happens with those who are constantly in search for tomorrow’s ... (click for more)