Tribute to My Father (1920-2003)
By Jeff Salter
So many things to say about my father, but probably the framework for everything is that his own dad died about two months before he was born … and his mom never re-married. So my dad never had a father figure growing up. Instead of using that as an excuse, however, my dad viewed it as incentive to BE everything (in a father) that he’d never had ANY of.
So many aspects of Dad’s life give me great pride. including: his Army service during World War Two, his work as a Protestant minister, and his second career as an employment counselor. [The youngest of seven surviving siblings, my dad was the only one to graduate from high school. He went on to college and grad school and used education to pull himself out of the grinding poverty in which he was born and raised.]
Here are two of his accomplishments which stood out in his own mind … and still capture my amazement.
Hitch-hiked to Scout Jamboree
The first Boy Scouts of America national jamboree was held in Washington, D.C., in 1937. The only way my Dad, an Eagle Scout (not yet 17 years old), could attend was to hitch-hike from Biloxi MS to D.C. … and back. On today’s interstate highways, it’s about 1050 miles each way. But on the roads of 1937 – with America still in the Great Depression – it was a lot longer. He went much of the way on foot … and often slept under the stars.
Placed two ‘Displaced Persons’
Among the millions of casualties of WW2 were those uncountable civilians in Europe who had lost their possessions, their homes, or even their cities. A few years after my dad returned home from occupation duty in Europe, there were still some 850,000 ‘Displaced Persons’ who had no place to go and no means to get there.
On the urging of my dad, the members of a Baptist Student Union on the campus of Mississippi State University agreed to try to raise enough money to ‘place’ ONE of these unfortunate European D.P.s. In 1949 $800 was a lot of money and that only covered transportation of one D.P. to America. But with my dad’s organization and encouragement, that BSU group actually raised enough funds to bring over TWO D.P.s … AND to find them lodging and jobs on or near campus.
Without my dad’s efforts, those two displaced Estonians may likely have perished in the dismal conditions of D.P. camps somewhere in Europe.
Encouraged all my creative efforts
No matter what medium I used or how childish the quality, all my creative efforts were encouraged by both my parents. But especially my writing … and especially my dad. From my earliest ‘poetic’ efforts at age nine, all the way through my moderate success in two non-fiction monographs (with a royalty publisher).
My dad wrote family history, sermons, poetry, skits, plays, short stories, and novels. Very little was ever published — but that never dimmed his enthusiasm for, and encouragement of, my writing.
I wrote the following poem – in a much longer version – for my dad’s 51st birthday in 1971. This overhauled version won 2nd Honorable Mention in the 1982 National Writer’s Club Poetry Contest.
By Jeffrey L. Salter
I can recall a squat on cold haunches
as close to the fire as we could,
cooking the food and warming our hands
as smoke curled grey from the wood.
We skewered spuds and chunks of meat
on the blade of a hunting knife
not needing to state that what tasted best
were the simple things in life.
With an old pup tent and homemade bags
we set up our camp for the dark.
A camper pulled onto a concrete slab
(announced by a sissy dog’s bark).
They parked, leveled, connected the rig,
put lawn chairs under the awning;
their empty chatter and dreary TV
soon had all of them yawning.
Every convenience was hauled in that camper,
they “roughed it” for all they were worth;
they brought to woods a portable house
and hardly touched actual earth.
Their whole life seemed plastic and metal:
every gadget with tangled wire.
We had good food and some level ground
and warmth from our crackling fire.
We were resourceful and eager to live,
you less a father than brother,
joined by our pleasure for simple things
and our simple love for each other.
If your dad is still living, I hope you are able to celebrate a great Father’s Day with him. If he’s already deceased, I hope you have many of the types of fond memories which I have.