Ballard: Daddy gave everything his all

June 15, 2014 

My daddy operated his life in a very precise and regimented way. Punctuality was not only expected by him; it was required.

He was always on time and prepared and thought everyone else should be as well. Whatever he put his mind to -- whether it was his job or a project he opted to do -- he gave it his all. He expected a lot from us, but nothing more than he demanded of himself.

He lived his life following the old saying; “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” He was very strict about his bedtime. He tried to pass this along to me but was unsuccessful.

Ten o’clock was normally the latest he stayed up unless there was some specific reason to do otherwise -- and those times were few and very far between.

Many times, he would fall asleep in his recliner in front of the television set about 8:30 p.m. It always frustrated the rest of our family because we couldn’t understand how he could fall asleep in the middle of one of the shows we were watching without seeing how it ended. The ending never seemed that important to him.

Sometimes we would grab his foot or loudly clear our throats to wake him, but it was always a temporary fix. Before the next commercial, he would quickly drift away again. We didn’t even have to look to see if his eyes were closed because the sounds of his snoring always gave it away.

When we asked him if he was asleep, he would always reply, “Of course not! I’m just resting my eyes!” One night when 11 p.m. came, Mother, my sister and I left him asleep in the recliner and went to bed.

The next morning he asked us why we didn’t wake him up. We laughingly replied in unison, “We thought you were just resting your eyes!”

If Mother had a gathering of her friends at our house, she knew better than to let it go on too late into the night. They would be in the living room laughing and having a good time and, at a few minutes before 10 p.m., Daddy would poke his head into the room and firmly, yet politely say, “5:30 comes mighty early in the morning! Y’all are welcome to stay as long as you like, but I’m going to bed.”

He may as well have just told them it was time to leave because all the ladies immediately started scurrying around to find their purses. The living room was cleared out in a matter of minutes.

One thing Daddy never learned how to do was relax. Looking back, he could never enjoy the present moment because he was always planning ahead for the next one. He took providing for his family very seriously and wanted to make sure we had enough. If that meant opting to work the weeks of his vacation for extra money, then so be it.

I got to spend much more time with Daddy after he retired. Although still regimented with his schedule, he seemed to loosen up a bit. After Mother died, instead of working at a job, he created small jobs to fill his days and nights.

He planted a garden, built various things, did a lot of things around his church and loved to fish. Clad in coveralls and sporting a straw hat, he spent most of his last days helping others.

He would do anything for someone in need, including my family and me. If he knew of a way to help you, he would with no questions asked.

Of all the things I remember about Daddy, the one memory that always comes to mind is his pear preserves. Like jars filled with golden sunshine, he was known for them and shared them with people far and wide. There is simply no way to calculate all the jars he filled with delicious pears during the last years of his life.

In my mind, I can still see him under his carport, precisely peeling pears, many times keeping the skin in one long, curly piece. With a sharp knife, he cut bushels of pears into perfect slices and then slowly cooked them down with mounds of sugar in a huge stainless steel pot that sat on a burner fueled by propane gas.

Like a laboratory, his kitchen counters would be lined with dozens of sterilized glass jars just waiting to be filled with the syrupy, sweet pears. As soon as they cooled, he began to distribute them to neighbors, friends and anyone else who wanted some.

I was worried we would not know how to cook the pears the way Daddy did because he never wrote anything down on paper. One summer he reluctantly agreed to be filmed, from start to finish, cooking his famous pear preserves.

On his birthday that fall, on the same porch where he cooked his pears, cleaned his freshly caught fish and rocked away hours in his rocking chair, Daddy, just like with the television shows, didn’t wait around for his ending. Battling depression, he cut his life short with one pull of a trigger.

In the blink of an eye, everything changed. Although almost 12 years have passed, I’ve never been able to watch the video or eat any pear preserves.

Daddy was one of the most honest, loyal, unselfish and hardworking men I’ve ever known. He had a heart of pure gold and I was truly blessed to have him as a father. I learned so much from him and have tried to pass his wisdom along to my son.

But one thing I wanted to do differently was to spend as much time as possible with my family. Such memories are the vessels that magically escort us back to our past while helping us prepare for the future.

If you are blessed to still have your father, cherish each and every minute. Always end your visits with “I love you” and a big hug. As we all know too well, none of us are promised tomorrow.

More with Mark

-- Check out Mark’s website at www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff and Mark’s tees, prints, cards and his collectible porcelain plates!

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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