Prelude and In Honor of My Father

Following is a rewrite of a blog I wrote back in 2009, republished in 2013 in honor of Father’s Day. It is included in my latest book entitled “The Episodic Thoughts of Hamp.” More importantly, it was an inspiration for my next book, which is about the life and times of my father. Look for its release during this September/October timeframe. For this Father’s Day, allow me to repost an updated version of “In My Fathers Honor.” A faded but priceless picture from mid to late fifties. Left to right (My stepsister Johnny Mae, me, my stepmother Rosalie, baby sister, Delois Ann, and the man himself, Codis Hampton.) 

Those who know me, often hear me talk about my father in glowing terms. Many of my “old school” crowd has or had fathers with attitudes in the same mode. He worked hard and played hard. He was so full of, yet simply enjoyed life. He said what he meant and meant what he said, and did not like repeating himself. When I was a young lad, there were numerous teachable moments. If he gave us the warning to get our act together and we did not hear or misunderstood him. His famous words were “You heard what I said.” At that point, we better figure it out because if we made that same mistake that brought on his warning in the first place? Well, let’s just say that Papa did not take no stuff.

It took my hard head years to figure out that he was truly doing these things for my benefit. Another one of his favorite sayings was “I’ve been down the same road you are traveling.” While, in my teenage, and smart mouth years, I would reply, “But daddy, the roads have been paved, there are new things to see and conquer.” It was an obvious reference to him growing up in the South. Now, I laugh when I think about it. Because, he would just look at my dumb butt and say “Keep on living son, keep on living.”

Codis Hampton worked for the City of Milwaukee for twenty-eight years and retired (2-17-1985) as a trash collector. He was one of the men that walked behind the truck, emptying neighborhood houses trash receptacle. Today it is called recycling. Often, he would bring home items people threw away and repair them. We would use it, or he would sell it for extra spending cash. At times, he would have a basement full of old fans, toys, radios, and other small appliances. The bounty was a bonus for him working the wealthy side of Milwaukee. Some of our neighborhood kids teased me because they would not differentiate between a trash and garbage collector. I just laughed, for my family of small means, it was like shopping. “What you get today, daddy?” He once told me they offered him the truck driving position at one time.  He turned it down. A position change would interfere with his hustle.

In the wintertime, it almost took him twenty minutes to get out of his clothes.  He would have so many layers on to keep away the hawk. Yeah, Milwaukee, we knew “The Hawk” (cold weather) up close and personal. His message to his kids, get an education, and you will land a “good job”. He, like all parents, wanted his kids to be better than their parents. He probably never knew, but I always felt being a better man than my father would be a tough job. He was just that unique in my eyes.

Daddy grew up in Banks Arkansas. He moved his family (me and my mother) to Milwaukee when I was four months old. Being from Arkansas, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, and all the country stuff. We went fishing almost every weekend of the summers. During our teenage years, my stepsister and I didn’t want to go. We wanted to hang out with friends. Eventually, they trusted us to stay home. Did that mean party time in the house? Not hardly, because if we had brought a bunch of kids to the house while they were fishing, and they found out about it. We would have had to leave town. Did I say Papa did not take no stuff? Although, he was the most loving and caring man you would ever want to meet.

My father was soft spoken, a man of few words. That is until he had his weekend drink. Imagine having a conversation with him on the front porch of a bright summer day. The next door neighbor might play a James Brown record. He hears the music. Daddy would stop the conversation, yell “That’s my record or jam”, and break off into one of his dance routines. That could be any record, R&B, Blues, or even Country Western, anywhere, or any time he was in a playful mood. He just had to dance and dance he did. I’ve got a picture of my father in a hat, dress shirt and pleated dress slacks with a dirty spot on one knee. That’s right; invariably he would do a half split or just go down on his knees and slowly gyrate back up never missing a beat.

Just as it was in a lot of households in those days (late fifties, early sixties), daddy did not want his wife working, so my stepmother was a housewife. She was responsible for me, my stepsister, and after their birth, my younger half-sister and brother. I was the oldest. I thought we were poor, according to the standards of some of the neighborhood kids. Sometimes Santa Clause skipped our house altogether. We always had a Xmas tree, decorations, and visits from family and friends. Gifts were items of need, like school clothes and new shoes. Or in my case those doggone black ankle high “Brogan Boots.” They had a metal tap plate on the front and a metal horseshoe-like plate for the heel. They also had a steel toe. They were similar to today’s safety shoes for hazardous workplaces.  One could not tear up that boot with a blow torch. At times, I used everything but, trying to destroy those boots. I think one pair would last something like two years. For maintenance, all I had to do was polish them.  After which they would look…polished.  I was so glad when I turned thirteen. I did not have to wear them anymore.

We never went a day without food or a hot meal from my stepmother. Never went a day without clean and freshly iron clothes. We never came home to a nasty house unless there was a gathering culminating with them playing cards and drinking on a Friday or Saturday. Either way, Mama Rosalie had that house spic and span by the next day. Little doilies placed on the arm of the couch. Pillows smartly placed where they should be, end and cocktail table shining with furniture polish, clean ashtrays for company. She would put out one or two ashtrays that could be used by the guest. We had ashtrays for show that were never used. And cook, she is the only woman I’ve ever known that could make beans, neck bones and cornbread taste like a Rib- eye steak dinner, with all your favorite side dishes. She was also the first lady I called my friend. That was partly because she liked to talk and would try to answer my questions.  All we had to do was to keep our bedrooms clean. In our house, everything had a place and everything was in place.

It was not only my house. Most neighbors and family members I knew kept a clean house and somehow dust free. Now, I often wonder where all this dust was when I was a kid. Oh, there were the exceptions and everybody in the neighborhood knew the identity of that family. Why? The entire neighborhood talked about them.

I was living the American Dream at home and did not even know it. I learned more about being a man, being part of a family and life itself from watching my dad live his life. As previously stated, the men back then did not talk a lot. There were times I wanted him to explain things to me. Now that I look back on it and being as inquisitive as I am, he probably felt like he did not have the time to explain every little thing in long detail to me. I practically ran the nuns crazy at St. Benedict (Grade and later, Jr high school) asking them about God and racial relations.

All in all, he was a great dad. I would not have had him behave in any other way. He taught me by words and deeds. After moving my family out west, (1978), I would always call him, a couple of uncles, cousins, and my mother. Living a Long distance from family, each of you not so sure when you will see each other again, has a tendency to eliminate all taboo subjects. Conversations were meaningful, heartfelt, and simply enjoyable.  These were people who I missed talking too, seeing or simply being in their presence. I learned so much more about them and from them during those conversations than I ever knew.

Today, many of them have passed on; I will never again talk to them on this earth.  My father died of a stroke (January 14, 1988), twenty days before his 63rd birthday. I knew at the time how important it was for me to have had those memorable conversations with him. Especially… those that were between a once knuckled-headed son and a very understanding father. You think you and your homies are close, try family. That is a real bond of blood for life and eternity.

So today, or on his special day, if you have the opportunity to look into your father’s eyes, smile at him.  He probably is not really looking for flowers, candy, or some other small gift from you this Father’s Day. That’s not the way daddy’s roll. You might just catch him staring at you. Know that he stares because he is looking at his finished product, so to speak. You, just happen to be the one great legacy or gift he gave this world. He looks at you knowing that in you, he has placed in this world another part of himself. The remainder of his dreams and aspirations are in you. Oh, he won’t say it because he doesn’t want to put a large burden on you. But you can bet your last bottom dollar, he wants you to carry on. That is the way daddy’s roll.

On a personal note, I’m having so much fun reminiscing while working on daddy’s book. It’s a pleasure to write about the man for whom I give the credit (besides God) for making me into the man I am today. I just wish you all had met him. You would have remembered him because he was the kind of individual that left a lasting impression. RIP, I love and miss you, Daddy.    

Peace, make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,

Codis Hampton II

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