My first memory of my father, Charles W. Wright, Sr., was having him lift me high upon his shoulders so I could get a better view of the world around me.
It was summer, and he'd walk slowly, pointing out the trees and flowers that grew in our neighbors' yards. I held on tight, my hands resting on top of his head. He was so tall, slim and strong. If I wobbled, I trusted him to adjust my posture with his gentle hands.
I still think about my father ever since 2010, the year he died in a nursing home. In the beginning of his stay there, he chatted freely with the other residents and staff. He seemed cheerful and willing to accept the fact that he might live there for a long time.
But as time passed, he grew more depressed. I and my family visited him often and did what we could to help raise his spirits. The nursing home was terribly understaffed, but the nurses and aids did their best to comfort and take care of him.
My dad was a generous man. As a pharmacist (he owned for 32 years what had been the Clinic Pharmacy on Wheat Road, in Winfield), he took time to answer any questions from customers. No question or discussion was too embarrassing or ridiculous.
His knowledge of medicine was extensive. After I graduated from high school, I was frequently asked by nurses that knew him: "Why don't you be like your dad and go into pharmacy?"
"Never,” I thought to myself.
I had enough trouble and agony mastering all those geometry and algebra problems in high school.
I recall many late school nights, twisting strands of my hair and biting my fingernails, when dad helped explain fractions and all of that unnecessary stuff.
Dad was very encouraging, though, when it concerned my love of art, dance and writing. He (and my mother) were especially proud of my writing.
Dad used to read a lot. Even the brochures that came with medicine depicting the breakdown of chemical components and graphs kept him interested.
Most fathers would agree that they work hard for their families. Dad was like that. Often he'd come home from the pharmacy at 1 or 2 a.m. There had been so much paperwork and other things to catch up on.
If I got sick or developed an infection, he'd call a doctor, then go right back to the pharmacy to fill the script. He was tired but did this anyway.
Eventually, he developed ulcers on his legs. When filling scripts, a pharmacist can't move around. Dad stood … a lot.
Today, pharmacists tell me that it's a good thing my dad didn’t have to deal with all of the insurance and policy/plan changes, or else he'd probably "go nuts."
Talk about going the extra mile, Dad drove eight hours to Missouri where I had been attending college. It was April, and I became very ill and had to leave college early.
On our way back home, we stopped at a little, out-of-the-way country cafe. It was the 1970s, and people had much different values and assumptions then.
The waitresses must have "celebrated" the night before. They began giggling as they served us orange juice, eggs and toast.
As we sipped our juice, we distinctly tasted liquor.
They had spiked the orange juice.
Dad said, "Hmm ... it's vodka or gin, probably vodka."
But the weird part occurred when dad introduced me as his daughter. One waitress smirked, then gave dad a wink.
”Uh-huh, sure,” she said.
A similar incident happened at the motel where we stayed over-night. Poor dad. He told the owner he wanted a room with two beds for him and me, “my daughter."
The owner, expressing some skepticism, peered over dad's shoulder and out the window. He looked at me waiting in the Mercury station wagon, turned back to dad and said, "Uh-huh, right, your daughter."
Much later, dad, mom and I had a good laugh about what happened. We couldn't really blame these people for thinking dad and I were "a couple."
Silly, what some people think.
The only time I saw my father cry was watching on TV the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. He stood behind a recliner in our living room, and his tears just flowed.
Last year, my brother and I came across dad's World War II photo album. Dad proudly served his country by joining the Army Air Force in 1943.
He helped train Chinese pilots for the Indo-China Conflict under General Chennault.
My brother and I studied the old pictures of aircraft, dad's buddies goofing off and of those people who were strangers to us. We couldn't get over how young he appeared in those pictures.
Dad loved photography just as much as he loved pharmacy. He traveled to Africa, India and Ecuador, and was especially impressed by the African culture and wildlife, and the Galapagos Islands where he was bitten by a seal for getting too close with his camera.
I miss dad's pancakes and the special way he prepared scrambled eggs. When I was much younger, sometimes he would fix iced coffee. Together, I with my small cup and he with his large mug, we savored the taste.
One time, as a kid, mom was helping me in the bath and dad came inside from working in the yard, a toad cupped in his hands.
“Look what I brought you."
The toad leaped into the bubble bath and temporarily disappeared under the suds. I squealed. Dad laughed. Mom, on the other hand, wasn’t so amused, but showed relief after dad retrieved the slightly soapy toad and released it back outside.
During my grade school years, dad would let me play and listen to his records. I miss us both listening to Tony Bennett, the Big Band sound,
Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, and yes, even Jules La'Rosa and Doris Day.
I appreciated this type of music and still do today. Later, dad began to grow fond of certain songs by the Beatles. He was particularly moved by "Let It Be" and "My Sweet Lord."
The other day, I saw an older man driving a green pickup. I could have sworn the driver looked like dad. Dad once owned a pickup of the same color and size. My eyes deceived me, and I knew this couldn't be true.
But a memory was almost forgotten as I watched him drive away down the road.