After he died, I disappointed him. I didn’t attend high school until later in my adult life. And college took me a long time. A long, long time.

When I drive in the rain, I usually have to pull over. This is because my truck tires are almost bald, they slip in heavy rain.

You might not care about this, but I bought these tires just before a road trip to Savannah, Georgia. And at the time, they were all I could afford.

I was about to take a job, writing for a small magazine, right after I graduated college—I was a thirty-year-old man when I graduated.

It was a big deal for me. A big, big deal. I could hardly afford the trip, but I wanted to be a writer, so:

“Look out, Savannah.”

I paid two hundred bucks for tires that were supposed to get me there. They were missing most of their treads, but the price was right. I bought them at a secondhand tire shop. The owner was Russian.

He said: “These be very okay tires, but you no drive in rain or you die.”

Die. Right.

So on the way to Savannah, I pulled over at a Citgo station when it started raining.

A man stood beneath the awning, smoking a cigarette. He had wrinkled skin, he wore denim and boots. He was a carbon copy of the people I come from. Steelworking men who dangle from iron beams with little more in their hearts than family and cuss words.

There was a little girl with him, nine or ten, maybe. She was watching the rain. The girl was his granddaughter.

She was out of school for a doctor’s appointment. Her parents couldn’t get off work, so he drove three hours from Nashville to take her.

Three hours.

“When this rain lets up,” he said. “I’m dropping her off and heading back to Nashville for work. I’m working overtime tonight.”

Age sixty-seven. Still working overtime. Driving six hours, roundtrip,
in one day.

His story wasn’t unlike the tales of my people. He grew up poor. He skipped high school, he worked on cars with his brother beneath oak trees.

Then, he got an opportunity to apprentice in ironwork—which might not sound like a big opportunity to you, but to our kind, it’s like winning an Oscar. He became a welder.

“Even done me some underwater welding,” he went on. “Money was real good, but it’s hard on my back.”

He’d been saving paychecks ever since his first job. He saved them for his children and grandchildren. I know men like this. Their family is their religion.

“When this here girl gets older,” he said, “I want her to go to college.”

College.

I have a sudden memory: I was sitting in the garage with my father—a stick welder who never went to college. I remember grease on his face. I remember watching the rain through an open garage door.

Daddy leaned backward in a chair and said: “I want you to go to college, son. I want you to make something of yourself, and do me proud.”

After he died, I disappointed him. I didn’t attend high school until later in my adult life. And college took me a long time. A long, long time.

The rain let up.

The old man lit one more cigarette. Then, he loaded his granddaughter into the truck. Oxygen tanks were mounted on his bumper. Hoses swinging. And the welder was gone.

I looked at a gray sky and talked to it. “I’m a writer now,” I told the sky. “I write stuff I think you would like.”

Savannah, Georgia, awaited. And as fate would have it, the measley job wouldn’t amount to anything more than a blip in my unimpressive career. But none of that mattered. Not really. Because maybe, just maybe, I was doing a dead man proud.

Maybe I still am.

It’s funny. I still drive on those tires.

They’ve lasted longer than I thought they would.

22 comments

  1. Susan - April 13, 2018 8:40 am

    I never did one single thing to make my daddy proud except learn to bass fish like a pro. That’s not much in the grand scheme of things but my daddy loved me more than I deserved. I can’t imagine how disappointed he was when I was accepted to The University of Alabama and I decided to marry a drug addict instead. I paid for that one though. Daddy I’m sorry I never made you proud. I love you and miss you every day.

    Reply
    • Jon Dragonfly - April 13, 2018 8:59 pm

      A Daddy always loves his little girl. He’s proud of you.

      Reply
      • Jon Dragonfly - April 13, 2018 9:03 pm

        Except for choosing ‘Bama.

        Reply
    • wgarysmith - April 13, 2018 9:15 pm

      Susan, he loved you! A dad loved his kids but many times because of our past it is hard to say! We love you and I especially love you b/c I am also a “Bamer”!
      Gary

      Reply
    • Gary - June 19, 2018 11:50 am

      Susan, he was proud of you and loved you unconditionally. Take it from the dad of a grown daughter.

      Reply
  2. Patricia Schmaltz - April 13, 2018 11:36 am

    It does seem like some things find a way of making things happen. As my mom always said, it all works out in the end. My dad was a doctor in the VA hospital system. Yet for some odd reason, because he was very pragmatic and cheap, he always insisted I had retread tires on my car. I had more blowouts on those tires than I can count. Consequently, I know how to handle a car when it has a tire blowout! Mom’s favorite sayings: everything works out for the best, and it all works out in the end. Oh, and everything looks better with a tan. Please keep writing. You are the highlight of my day. I just love reading your thoughts and memories.

    Reply
  3. Greg Mayfield - April 13, 2018 11:58 am

    Sean there is no doubt you would of made “your Daddy proud.” You make all of us Southerners proud who get to claim you as our own. It’s rare when a writer touches your soul with his words day after day but your words do. Thank you for making us all proud to be Southern, Alabamians and most of all human.

    Reply
  4. Carol ann ROTHWELL - April 13, 2018 12:48 pm

    You do everybody proud!!
    Thank you!!
    Love ya.👼!

    Reply
  5. Susan in Wausau - April 13, 2018 12:54 pm

    He’s proud. Mine is, too. But since they know what’s most important now, they’re proud of you for the nature of your heart. Caring about the people around you, and seeing that every single person has value comes from somewhere else. College is a great accomplishment. I didn’t ever finish, but my daddy’s proud of me because I’ve found my calling. Caring about even the most messed up people is part of it. I’m one of those, too.
    Your heart is full of love for the whole human family, and a few cuss words, too.

    Reply
  6. Charlotte in Fort Worth - April 13, 2018 2:36 pm

    My classmate’s father died when we were in the second grade. No one told me that father’s could die. It was hard to comprehend.
    I had breakfast with this classmate yesterday. He said that he didn’t even know that his father was sick. His father died from Leukemia at 31 leaving 6 children behind.

    Reply
  7. Nix LaVerdi - April 13, 2018 2:54 pm

    Your stories. Your words. Simply beautiful, every time. If you are proud of yourself, every person who knows you and loves you is, too. You can feel it in the core of your heart. I know my mama is proud of me. She tells me, to my heart, everyday. Please don’t ever stop telling stories. They are Golden. –Nix

    Reply
  8. Jack Quanstrum - April 13, 2018 2:59 pm

    That ending gave me a good laugh!

    Reply
  9. Beki Denison - April 13, 2018 3:11 pm

    Good one Sean. I’m a single mom driving on those same kind of tire right now and everyday praying they last one more day. Don’t you love when God gives us those little messages!

    Reply
  10. muthahun - April 13, 2018 4:29 pm

    First let me tell you that watching the rain through the garage door brought back powerful memories for me. Ours was a big ol’ barn tho, and my daddy loved to watch the lightening flash. Second, let me tell you that up here in the northern tier, we’ve got a lot of Yankee stinginess brought over with our Scots ancestors – “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”, and so forth – but tires that haven’t enough tread to drive in the rain or “you die”? Honey, it’s time for another investment in your future. Take good care, eh, and if we need to start a GoFundMe for new treads, just let us know.

    Reply
  11. Jack Darnell - April 13, 2018 4:32 pm

    Okay, now it is time for new ‘tars’ on ‘at truck! Just sayin;.

    Reply
  12. Linda Hurt - April 13, 2018 4:34 pm

    As a mother of a big old red headed boy that I love wth all my heart I say to you, buy some new tires. It will make your Dad and I proud.

    Reply
  13. Edna B. - April 13, 2018 4:34 pm

    It takes some of us a little longer to get things done, but eventually we get them done. I was almost forty by the time I got my Masters degrees. I had a family to raise first. When my time came to go to college, I enjoyed every bit of the adventure. You know your Dad is very proud of you. You are making a difference in people’s lives. That’s awesome! You have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  14. wgarysmith - April 13, 2018 8:26 pm

    Another Jewel (as are you)! God Bless You my friend’

    Reply
  15. Michael Hawke - April 14, 2018 2:19 am

    You are blessed. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. Cassie - April 16, 2018 3:58 pm

    You make this pensacola girls spirits rise with each of your posts.

    Reply
  17. Jana - June 19, 2018 9:12 am

    I say OH YES to a GoFundMePage to keep this “Treasure” safe forever!!

    Reply
  18. G. Mitchell - June 19, 2018 1:49 pm

    Please get new tires Sean. Your Daddy doesn’t want to see you quite yet and Thelma Lou needs her dad to drive safely in the rain

    Reply

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