Jun. 19, 2021

MY FATHER---MY GREATEST LOVE.

He looked different from other men.  He was definitely handsome with  a classic elegance and style and he carried himself--straight as an arrow-- with perfect posture. There was a certain presence about him that caused people to give him a "second look" and then-- stare at him.  He appeared regal…almost like royalty but there wasn't a lazy bone in his body; no one could compete with his work-ethic at any age.

My Father began working as a ninth grader, shortly-after the Depression hit. Soon, he had no choice but quit school to help his father full-time. It would take both of them--- working as hard as possible--to provide for their family. And...my father never quit working... until the day he died.

I remember the framed picture of a steam engine that hung on a prominent wall in my parents’ house.  It featured an embroidered message: “Old Engineers Never Die, They Just Lose Their Steam".

The phrase-- “lose their steam” didn’t apply to my father.  A Locomotive Engineer, my father had a perfect record with the Cotton Belt Railroad. No one was more professional or more committed to a job than my father.  My father began every day with a determined “Full Steam Ahead”.

My father had a successful life but--- he never adjusted to retirement. He liked to work.  In fact, working hard every day, was his world. And then, our family heard the tragic news that my father had Dementia. It was heartbreaking to watch his questioning look; to see him confused so- much of the time.  My wonderful Daddy didn’t recognize many of those around him, including my mother, but….he always remembered me and never-failed to call me by name.  Every time I left him, it broke my heart.

The last time my father and I were together was Christmas, 1987.  All day, I had a nagging premonition.   When it was time to leave for the airport and return to my job in Erie, Pennsylvania, I gave Daddy one last hug. Holding him close, I told him again how much I loved him and promised to call as soon as my plane landed.

 Quietly, he cried-- his tears marking my coat collar as he held on to me like a lifeline. Whispering, afraid my mother might hear, my wonderful father begged me not to leave him.  It was as if he, too, sensed this would be our last time together. As the taxi backed out of the family driveway I lowered the window to say “I love you, Daddy”.   Watching his unsteadiness as he struggled to return my wave, I feared this would be our last shared moment.

Today, approaching a railroad crossing, bells began clacking….red lights started flashing…. and safety barriers dropped.  Sitting in my car, I stared down the track at the approaching train. Decked out with flags, streamers, and banners, a restored train locomotive came steaming, parading down the track--clickety-clack-clickety clack--moving toward some unnamed celebration.   Out of respect for the historic engine, I opened the car door to stand at attention.   The massive steam engine roared past, its train wheels clicking out its familiar sound...... its steady, staccato rhythm.  My heart pounded with childhood excitement as the antiquated train whistle blew a loud, continuous refrain.

 All my life I’ve loved trains, but this train was no ordinary train; this train was special. Watching the steam engine, hearing the whistle, I remembered my father. For the first time since losing him, I felt a deep-down peace. I straightened my shoulders and stood tall, proud to remember my father’s life rather than his death.  Smiling, I pictured the embroidered message “old engineers lose their steam.”  Those words could never apply to my daddy--- the world’s greatest locomotive engineer and greatest father.

Listening to the final strains of the steam engine’s whistle fade into the distance, I noted the remarkable similarities between this steam locomotive and my father, Roy (R.B.) Miller.  Both were classic and Both would be forever-remembered as “powerful, on-track, and full of steam.” 

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY, DADDY.  I LOVE YOU.

SALLY