I love National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the movie starring Chevy Chase as the father. He earned the nickname “Sparky” after incorrectly wiring the house’s 25,000 twinkle lights.
I’m reminded of another use of the term Sparky. Roald Dahl, in his book “Danny the Champion of the World” includes a note at the back. “When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: A stodgy parent is not fun at all! What a child wants – and DESERVES – is a parent who is SPARKY!”
My father was a hard working man of few words. His sparkiness came out while riding down the steepest toboggan slide or in the car on a quiet stretch of road. With the prompt “Wiggle, wiggle, Daddy,” he would zigzag crazily making us kids squeal and ask for more.
His sparkiness also came out when he was hunting or fishing. Since I wanted to spend as much time as possible with him, I learned how to bait a hook, set the line, and take off fish. I have great memories of trout fishing in Wisconsin streams, salmon fishing on the Root River, and ice fishing which sometimes turned to ice skating if the fish weren’t biting.
When people speak of living the moment, I think of those times when I stealthily walked through fields or snow, my pulse racing, every sense alert for any movement or sound. One wintry day, Dad took my brother and I rabbit hunting on my uncle’s farm. This was my chance to make him proud of me. I spotted a brilliant red fox against the snow, and as a rabbit streaked out from under an evergreen, I aimed like Dad had taught me, and squeezed the trigger.
After the blast, Dad nudged my uncle and said, “She rolled ‘er.”
The following autumn he and I pheasant hunted at Honey Creek Game Reserve. A picture perfect October day, the air smelled like ripened fall apples and the leaves crunched under my worn tennis shoes. We had our English pointer dog Pal along, and when he froze, paw raised and tail pointed toward movement in the cornfield, my heart raced. The pheasant flushed and lucky for me, it foolishly perched in a tree. I raised my gun, took the safety off, aimed, and fired. When the pheasant fell, my dad gave me a pat on the back and a conspiratorial grin. “You dropped ‘er.”
That same afternoon he took me to a bar for the best onion rings I’ve ever had or will ever have.
My dad wasn’t the type of man to display emotions, and he never said he loved me. He only had an 8th grade education, but through hard work, he was able to earn a decent living at American Motors. He wanted his children to be successful, too.
I aspired to go to college, but tuition fees would be a challenge. I found numerous jobs, lived at home, got some financial aid and help from my parents, and managed to save expenses by finishing in three years.
The day I graduated, my parents presented me with a beautiful “Ben Franklin” style desk which I still have. Yet it was my father’s pat on the back that I most treasure. That, and three simple yet precious words.
“You nailed ‘er.”
Amy Laundrie is a retired Lake Delton Elementary teacher and the author of eight books. Her latest, “Laugh, Cry, Reflect: Stories From a Joyful Heart” features earlier columns about pets, nature, teaching, and family. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.laundrie.com.