Dad’s birthday, September 7th, often coincided with the Labor Day Weekend holiday and made for an annual gathering at Beech Mountain, NC. It was the perfect crossing of celebrating Dad and the start of Fall which, of course, starts a few weeks earlier at 5,000 feet. Mom and Dad have owned a stake in the cottage for about five decades.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 people have come in from West Palm Beach, Providence, Atlanta, New York City, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Knoxville, the many places their kids and their kids’ kids live nowadays. Some years are lean, other years so well attended that we must rent another house for the weekend. This year, mostly due to COVID, is the leanest on record. Only Mom, my baby brother, Page, sister-in-law, Maggie, and their daughter, Peyton, made the journey. Maggie “broke” Mom out of her retirement home in Durham and gave her the much needed break from the isolation she has endured during the pandemic.
I can’t tell you how unnatural it was not to be there and shows the degree of seriousness we all hold each other’s personal safety. It has been a year like no other for sure. And, this year, Dad’s birthday fell on Labor Day.
Page and Maggie honored the tradition of cooking Dad’s favorite shrimp and grits and finished it off with homemade peppermint ice cream. The peppermint ice cream has been a Riley tradition since we were kids. It’s an egg, milk, sugar, flour and peppermint candy custard concoction that is lovingly and carefully brought to a boil just enough to coat a wooden spoon while not curdling,..a true test of your patience and attention span.
Then, it’s churned into ice cream, packed and frozen, fresh for the night.
Usually the cream is accompanied by couple of chocolate chip cookies or brownies by Julie (except this year) all to which Dad would usually say, more than once during the evening, “Oooh Lord, that’ll make a bulldog break its chain!”
So, in honor of Dad’s 98th birthday on Monday, and in the spirit of families everywhere, I thought that I would share a few of Dad’s stories, some of which would often break out over the said peppermint ice cream consumption.
But first, I’ll lead off with the words I wrote for Dad’s 70th Birthday card way back in 1992, which we celebrated in force, of course, at Beech Mountain.
The code for your birth,
The combination for you locker.
How many times we twirled that dial
To open up
More than the door to our golf shoes,
It was the door to our hearts.
9-7-22 until 9-7-92
And with every year that passes
We get to know you better.
First, as a father and a husband.
Then, a road builder and grandfather.
Always a golfer,
And now a retiree.
Doing things you’ve never done before,
Showing an interest in life and living
That inspires us all.
You continue to teach us new lessons
In how we can live our lives,
And reach for the happiness that resides within
Each of us.
It’s a combination we love always
4/21/2005 when Mom and Dad visited us in Atlanta
Mom started this story about Dad.
“Your dad was spoiled by a lot of people,” said Mom, and that announcement around the table got our attention.
“His teachers all took a shine to him and his cute smile and they felt a little compassion for him knowing that he ran a morning paper route. They forgave him for nodding off in class. One teacher, who your dad really liked, told him, ‘Homer, you go ahead and rest your head. I’ll wake you up when it’s your turn to answer a question.’ You see, she knew that he left home without breakfast.”
“What she didn’t know,’ Dad interjected, “was that when I picked up my bundle of papers every morning, the mailman had already taken his paper and left me a half pint of milk. The fruit and vegetable man had left me some fruit in exchange for his paper, and when I hit the bakery they’d let me have my choice of yesterday’s donuts. I’d rake me an arm full and treat your mother and her sisters.
“On Saturday mornings I would ride my bike by their home and call them out. Sha, (he called my mother ‘Sha,’) Virginia and Betsy would all come out of their second floor bedroom window onto the tin porch roof and I’d toss ‘em each a donut.”
“I reckon he was spoiled enough, but so were we,” said Mom. “Those donuts were so good who would ever know they were day-old,” Mom said, looking at her Homer as if they were still kids in love.
10/3/2002 Homer and Martha telling stories about the early days of Dad’s career with Nello L. Teer Company
Teer Company was a local family-owned construction outfit started in 1916 with mules that became an international construction company and known the world over. Dad was the first professional engineer in the company and he worked for Teer his entire career. He rose to the rank of President and CEO before he retired in 1987.
Back when Dad was fairly new to the company, Nello Teer Sr., the owner, told Dad that he was sending him to Waynesville, NC, to run the office and engineer the job for Mr. John Caricoff. Mr. Teer Sr. said, “Son, I hear that Mr. John has taken to drinking likker. I want you to keep an eye out and let me now if he’s having problem.”
“No sir, I can’t do that,” young Homer replied to a startled Mr. Teer. “I can’t serve two masters.”
Mr. Teer stormed out of Homer’s office not being used to anyone say “no” to him. Later, Nello Jr. came to a worried Homer and said, “Well, you almost did it. Daddy was so mad. He said he didn’t know whether to fire you or give you a raise.”
Homer later went to Waynesville. At a well-chosen moment, he asked Mr. Caricoff what he did on his daily walks into the woods along the line of the road plans. “Well Homer, I have to stay ahead of the job, plan where to attack the area and get it all ordered in my head.”
Dad asked if he could walk along next time, to learn on the job. Next morning, Mr. John invited Dad along. They walked a ways beyond the progress of the clearing work and into the woods until they came upon a stream that meandered across the job path. Mr. John bent down next to a branch, felt around until he found a string and pulled it in. Tied to the string was a pint of Four Roses whiskey. Mr. John took a sip, screwed the cap back on and put it back into that cool water. They crossed that stream four more times and Mr. John had a sip waiting at each crossing.
Homer never told anyone and they built a beautiful road.
9/3/2004, Beech Mountain Labor Day and Homer’s 82nd birthday
Dad telling tales from his teenage days.
Dad and a friend were riding in the trunk of a big 2-door Hudson because there were already three guys in the front seat. He and his buddy held the truck lid open with a stick. Driving down the highway the car blew a tire and rolled over, dumping Dad and his friend out of the trunk. Dad said that they hit the ground running and miraculously, no one was hurt. The car ended up upside down, all four wheels at the sky. They checked on their friends and all were okay. They helped the three guys out of the car and took stock of everything and everybody. All were shook up, but amazingly, no injuries.
When a car stopped, the driver asked if he could help. Homer and his pal hitched a ride and that was that. When they got to town Mom picked glass out of his hair.
Marines Boot Camp Stories
A Dry Shave
Homer was the squad leader. One morning when the men fell in for line up the DI noticed that Dad’s friend had not shaved for the day. He rubbed his hand against the young soldier’s face. “Son, you did not report for duty clean shaven. Why?”
“Sir, not enough time, sir!” the marine called out in answer.
“Not enough time? All these other marines found the time!” Barked the DI. “Riley, you report to my quarters at 1700 with this soldier. Bring your razor.”
“Yes sir!” answered Riley.
At the appointed time, Dad and his buddy rapped on the DI’s door.
“Corporal Riley reporting as ordered, sir.”
The DI let them in, instructed Dad to dry shave his friend. Dad took out his Schick single balde razor and gingerly started shaving while the young soldier flinched.
“Stop moving,” Dad urged, at which point the DI said, “Riley, I don’t see any blood. If I don’t see any blood, you’ll be dry shaving for a week!”
Dad loved at his friend, mouthed, “Hold on,” and pulled that razor across his face, blood popping up in its wake.
“That’s more like it,” said the DI, looking up from his newspaper.
Dad finished. The DI released them, and both men made sure they always found time to shave…for the rest of their lives.
All for one
The Drill Instructor said that he was very proud of this unit. So much so that he wanted to treat them all to a movie, marching them right by the General’s quarters. That’s how proud he was of them. He ordered them to dress out and be back in formation in front of the barracks at 1500.
The full unit minus one formed out when the DI blew his whistle. That last remaining Marine made it into formation 30 seconds too late. 30 seconds.
The DI read ‘em the riot act and instructed them to go change into work clothes, take every thing out of the barracks; beds, footlockers, everything, and report back with their work pails. He sent them all off to a construction site to haul sand back in the buckets.
“Pour the sand on the floors and then go back and fetch two bricks apiece,” he ordered. When they returned with the bricks he made them rub the sand and scour the hardwood floors white.
They hosed out the sand, put everything back and waited at attention for inspection.
The old salty DI swaggered through the room, looked in disgust and ordered them to do it over again, putting Dad in charge of the unit.
“Riley, come and get me when you’re sure that the floor’s as white as it can be!”
Two hours later Dad knocked on the DI’s door.
“Sir, Corporal Riley reporting as ordered, Sir! The unit has completed its assignment, SIR!”
“Are the floor’s scrubbed white?”
“Yes, sir! Ready for inspection, Sir!
“You don’t need to inspect the barracks, sir?” Dad asked.
Dad saluted, about faced and marched his way back to the barracks. The men cheered knowing that they were done and the lesson learned by all.
“All for one and one for all.” If anyone lets the unit down, there’s hell to pay for every one. Lives would depend on it one day.
That’s it for now. It certainly is my privilege to write about my dad and you honor him by reading. For that I’m most appreciative.
Have a great week. Stay safe.