Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Hep Now, Dude!"

For almost 90 years he kept a good attitude
Biscuits & Gravy was always a favorite food
A builder of things, a fan of baseball
He experienced a lot, and survived it all
Looking back, he was one cool “Dude”

March 21st 2009 would have been my dad’s 91st birthday and I’m down in Medford for the weekend to acknowledge the occasion with family. Sean rode down with me from Eugene and since we needed to gas up before we reached Medford, we stopped at Canyonville and ate at Seven Feathers Casino and bought a group of Keno tickets with my dad’s favorite 3 number combination 38-39-41 and ate one of his favorite meals, chicken-fried steak. We left before all his tickets played, but we had about as much luck as he usually did. At least I got a 3 cent discount on gas and the Prius cruised along at 43mpg.

Thursday night, Dianna & I went to Portland Center Stage and saw their production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, a witty send-up of Victorian manners aided by multiple cases of mistaken & deceptive identity worthy of some of Shakespeare’s comedies. It reminded me of my dad’s phases of identity during his 9o years of life…

He was born in SW Missouri n the spring of 1918, just missing St. Patrick’s Day but close enough for his Irish mother and was christened Thomas Julian Ponder. School records identified him as Julian, but from an early age everyone called him “Dude”. The entire family seemed to have a thing for nicknames as his brothers were Diskin (Dick), Herschel (Brandy), and David (Pete). When I asked him why, he said he didn’t know but his father George was always called Steve! Anybody who knew my dad before WWII knew him as Dude, so it was always easy to determine length of acquaintance. My mom never called him anything but Tommy or Tom, so it was sometimes confusing when relatives would visit. During college, one of our favorite phrases was “Hep now, Dude!” to register enthusiasm, so when I received a letter addressed to “Hep now, Dude” Ponder, we had to decide who got to open the letter first. I took my dad back to his 60th high school reunion in 1997 and when we stopped in the local gas station on the site of my dad’s first job pumping gas, my dad told the story of his uncle building the first station in the county on that spot. A guy in the back room heard us and came out and said “Is that “Dude” Ponder, and my dad remet a classmate he hadn’t seen since the day he headed off to join the CCC’s during the summer after graduation. He got assigned to Oregon and initially was the camp cook near Grants Pass, just about 20 minutes West of where I’m typing right now. His fond memories of his experiences in Oregon are what led him and my mom to relocate to Medford in the spring of 1958 with their 5-year old. (The photos above are 50 years apart at the apartment I left in LA-when we went down to a family reunion, he gave detailed directions from the LA airport right to the apartment – try that even if you’re not blind!) During the next 16 months, we lived in a 16 foot trailer with convenient bathroom facilities just steps away until we moved into the house as I started first grade. I special have a special appreciation for indoor plumbing…

It was a poignant drive down our street tonight, a drive I’ve made 100’s of times. In the later years, my folks would be anticipating a return from college or a visit from Portland, and would be checking their clocks to see if I met my projected arrival. Pati is now living in the house which is a good feeling, but I know it doesn’t have the buzz it once did with kids running around on the ballfield during all seasons or in and out of the house at all hours. The Fowler house is like most of us as we hit our 50’s, still recognizable, but some things sag and others are the worse for wear. Things have faded except if you’ve allowed an 87 year old blind guy to make the color choice. If you ever fly over Medford at the right angle, it will be easy to spot the day-glo yellow house on the left.

Tomorrow we’ll all reconnect as Cody and his girlfriend Amy will be down from Corvallis where Cody just became an OSU grad and we’ll get to catch up with Vanessa & Kaden, and Sandi & Steve. Dad was always big on getting family together and if the topic of getting together with folks came up, he’d have his “lid” on and be out the door before you finished the sentence.. For tomorrow the sentence might begin with “Hep, now,Dude…

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