September 30, 2008

My Dad

Okay, a giant post, sorry... but there's a fun video at the end! Ho boy!

First let's start with ME! Because that's when I met my dad, when I was first me. That's me below, li'l melon-head Tommy only a month or two after I was born. I've got a serious diaper problem happening.

Yo! Can I get some powda' here?! I'M CHAFING!

Okay, enough about me. Back to my Dad, and let's get through the depressing stuff first, Dad's no longer around, I'd say that we lost him back in 2004, but that sounds like he went missing under the sofa cushions and he's bound to turn up next time we clean. No, he passed away four years ago this past September 28th, after many years of struggling with a failing heart. But Dad was a fighter and hung on for years and managed to get around pretty much on his own up until his final year - during which time my Mother shouldered the huge responsibility of caring for him. Then in 2004 Dad disappeared into the sofa cushions with all the pocket change that I'll never see again.

Recently I got to thinking about him and missing him. I don't have any drama to write about with my father, no lurking unresolved issues, nothing like that. In fact I even got to say good-bye to him just a few of days before he died. I loved my father and felt like we got along great, other than my normal teen-angst years when everyone has issues with their parents. Otherwise there was nothing bad or damaging about my relationship with him. And as I grew into an adult, our relationship only got better... although that time shared with him was far too brief.

My Dad, Lyle Hart, was born on August 2nd, 1932 in Alliance Nebraska. His father was a farmer and had a fair bit of land where they grew corn and beans. My Dad's first house when he was a child was a sod house. Yep, a house constructed out of blocks of grass and earth out on the prairie. That's it in the picture below. Dad's about 3 yrs. old there, and showing his early propensity for wearing silly hats.

When I get older, I'm gonna getta' mow the house!

As cliched as it is to say, Dad came from humble beginnings growing up in the heartland.

Lyle at 17, jacking cars in rural Nebraska.

I don't know what Dad was like when he was growing up, but from what I can tell he was well-liked. I'm betting he was a regular guy from farm country. Dad was very bright and creative and did not want to get stuck working a farm for his entire life - a source of friction between he and his father from what I understand. So consequently, he left the farm to make his way in the world.

Dad served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He worked as a cryptographer, encoding and typing military messages. He was stationed in Germany during his years in the military, and from his stories seemed to love his time overseas.

Dad at 19, in the Air Force during the Korean War.

In the above picture, that he'd sent home to his parents, Dad is copying his father's military photo from WWI (below). He'd written on the back, "Okay, so it isn't as sharp as Papa's" And no, it certainly wasn't.

My grandfather (Clarence Hart) circa 1917 WWI
Dig them crazy pants!

Yeah... I'm trying to figure out the math too on how my Grandfather served in the First World War since that would seem more like something my GREAT Grandfather would have done. Grandpa Hart died when I was around 7. He may have married late and had Dad when he was a little older, I'm not sure. Both sides of my family have longevity in their genes. The most plausible explanation is that Clarence constructed a time-machine out of a tractor and went back to fight the Kaiser.

Yankee-doodle this! I'll see you bastards in Versailles!

Dad went to college but he never completed his degree and was only a few hours short of getting his BA. Something that I think annoyed him the rest of his life, but did not seem to hinder his success.

Dad was always interested in art, theatre, photography, and filmmaking. He worked his adult life making industrial and educational films. While he was working in Denver Colorado as a cameraman he met my mom (LeJean) who was working as a teacher.

LeJean & Lyle

Actually, Dad was given mom's number by a guy in a bar, he called the number and that's how they met. Seriously. And then a year or so later I arrived.

You drop me old man and I'm calling child services!

Mom and Dad then moved to Lawrence Kansas, where Dad worked for Centron Films. Centron Studios was a complete film studio right in the middle of the country that made industrial and educational films, and one cult feature film: Carnival of Souls. Herk Harvey, the director was one of my dad's close friends.

Me and Mom at our family's first house in Lawrence Kansas... this was BS (before siblings).

Me getting ready for my fourth birthday!

It's birthday time beoches!
Dad's not happy about the gang-signs I'm flashin'.

I have vivid memories of the time when we lived in Lawrence. As I said, Centron was a motion picture studio, complete with a large sound stage. Their industrial clients were national and international corporations and very often would include big-name (or biggish) name talent for their productions like: Rowan & Martin, George Goebel, Jessie White, Eddie Albert, Don Johnson, and so on. Dad would often bring me along on shoots. When I was very little, I remember getting to meet Ed Ames who offered me a bite of an apple he was eating.

Me and Dad on a blacksmith's set at Centron.

To me this was Hollywood-- and in a way, it wasn't too far off. I even got a chance to do some acting. I was featured in several educational films, even one where it looks like I get run over by a car because I didn't observe the walk signals.

My brother Scott, Lyle, LeJean and me at my Mom's parent's house in Parkridge Ill.
This was right after Dad lost his father.

Dad later accepted a job with Deere & Company in the Quad Cities making industrial films, so the rest of my growing up was in a tiny town in the middle of farm country in Illinois. Dad had not wanted to be a farmer, but his profession had kept him close to farming.

As I said, there was no drama or issues between me n' Dad. He could be strict, but never unfairly so. He had a great sense of humor. While he was conservative in his views he was socially very liberal and fair. Except for that time he tried to murder a Canadian family that homesteaded in our garage, but they were asking for it and I have to court papers to prove it.

Dad with a pillow my sister made for him at Christmas.

Dad had a silly sense of humor, and didn't mind looking silly himself. Below is a picture of him wearing a wig my mother had purchased when she was going through chemo for cancer (she has since recovered).

Does the price tag make me look cheap?

Oh, and the silliness didn't stop at wigs. Nope. Dad had tons of HATS. Whenever I'd see him I never knew if he'd be wearing a cowboy hat, farmer's seed cap, straw hat, pork-pie hat, you name it.

Dad looking dapper in his Russian sailor's cap.

When I became an adult, my father's taste in clothing and hats was endearing and amusing to me. Back when I was a teen though, I was horrified. One of my most embarrassing moments happened the summer of my junior year in High School. I'd gotten a job at a local car dealer painting their sale banners on their showroom windows. This was a bonus, since the daughter of the dealership was a fellow classmate and a hottie whom I was hoping to ask out. Well, my first day working, late in the afternoon, the dealer's daughter comes out to bring me a drink, and she's actually talking to me! We were just starting to hit it off when I heard the familiar sound of a small gas engine putt-putt putting off in the distance... it was Dad. He had a little Honda 90 trail bike that he'd zip around town on in good weather. He thought he'd pay me a visit at work. DAMN! Well... a visit from your parents when you're a teen trying to act cool in front of a chick is bad enough, but add to this how my dad was dressed:

He was wearing these awful tie-died/bleached cut-offs, a bright yellow tank-top that was covered in CB phrases from the 70's with things like "Ten-four good buddy" and "Put the pedal to the metal" and "We gotta' convoy!" And to top it all off, Dad was sportin' a big ol' cowboy hat and cowboy boots (remember, he's wearing shorts). Ugh... Oh the humanity of it all!

I wanted to choke myself on a paintbrush and die right there. Now that I think about it, his visit was probably very brief, but to me it seemed an eternity. Eventually Dad went on his way to finish his errands. As he left, the dealer's daughter looked to me, shook her head and said, "Sometimes dads are such dorks".

Yes. Yes they are. But now, it's moments like that one that I recall fondly and wouldn't change. Well, except I would have liked to have gotten a date with the dealer's daughter, but that didn't happen.

TRIVIA TIME: Dad had told me the reason I was named "Tom" was because his mother would always call him Tom when he was growing up. He didn't know why she did this, his name was Lyle after all. But she always called him Tom, so the name got passed on to me. However, I did find out from my Grandmother the reason, it was because growing up on a farm they had lots of cats around. And she said Dad was like a tomcat, always running around. So it was Tom for "tomcat". I was happy that I was able to share this bit of info with Dad.

Dad at the Alamo... looking to rent a car.
(Ha! No one's ever said that before I bet.)

The last five years or so of Dad's life, when his health started failing, I made sure to visit him and Mom for the Holidays. I'm very glad that I did because we had some nice quiet Thanksgivings and Christmases together. I also got to have some good talks with Dad during this time.

Dad and Jenny (my sister) at Christmas 2003
Fighting over gifts, as usual.

Mom and Dad would split their time between Nebraska (where he was from) and Arkansas (where she was from). They would spend the winter months in Arkansas, then the summer in Nebraska. When Dad got very ill in Arkansas he really wanted to return to the little town in Nebraska where he'd grown up, Riverdale. He said he wanted to go home and sit on his porch. Which he did, and I'm glad he was able to.

Below is a short video I shot in 2001 while visiting Mom and Dad in Arkansas for Christmas. I was demonstrating to Dad my new camera and how quickly video could be edited on my Mac laptop. It's a cute slice of my parents together.

I got married this past year in Hawaii and really wish Dad could have been at the wedding.

Me and Emily after the ceremony.

Dad never got a chance to meet Emily I'm sure he would have loved her.
The Harts in Hawaii
Jenny, LeJean, Scott, Tom

However, perhaps it's fortunate that Emily never saw him dressed in his shorts, tank-top, cowboy hat, and boots - I dunno, add a lei and he would have been dressed for Hawaii. Dad would have had a great time.


mamabecker said...

Such a wonderful, loving tribute to your father. ! enjoyed reading every line and the sweet video was the icing on the cake.!

Tom said...

Glad you enjoyed it! I really enjoyed writing this up. I could have written a lot more.

My Pal Al said...

Great blog Tom. Now I know where you get your great hairline. Loved the video. Talk to you soon. Alan.

Anonymous said...

What a cool post! Nice tribute, and the video is very sweet. You should be a writer or something.

Tom said...

Yeah, I've got the curse of the Hart family hairline. Somehow my brother dodged that bullet, the bastard.

I'm still working on that "writer" thing.

Jenny Hart said...

Except for Grandma who rode a little red tricycle.

Either that or a ham sandwich.

Merlin Nelson said...

Thanks Tom I really enjoyed this. I was just surprised there was no Wilford Bremley reference.

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