Remembering ‘Pop’ on Father’s Day

Published 12:06 am Sunday, June 21, 2009

I cannot write about Andy Beard without a lump in my throat, even after more than four decades after his death. He died of cancer in 1963, just weeks before John Kennedy’s assassination.

Andy was nobody really special. He grew up during hard times, working in a lumber mill to help support his family. He began that work at age 8. He didn’t go to school much because of the work. He read on a third-grade level. He wrote his name. He knew a little more mathematics because one had to in a lumber mill to accomplish certain jobs.

I remember him as tall and gray with a broad smile. He nearly always wore blue jean overalls. On Sundays, if he went to church, he usually wore a brown suit, white shirt and tie to match. The right pocket of the brown suit always contained ample peppermints — enough for me to have a good snack if the minister droned on too long.

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I called him Pop.

Andy had false teeth and he would “run them out” for me, meaning he would loosen them and make them stick out like he was about to take them out of his mouth. It was a favorite game of ours. I’d look at him and say, “Run ‘em out, Pop.” And he’d oblige. The whole picture was so grotesque that it made me laugh a little bit because it was funny and a little bit because it scared me.

One Sunday, I sat on the front pew with my maternal grandmother, Pop’s wife, who would follow the preacher closely in the Good Book when he read the scripture. She would amen if the reverend hit a chord with her. Pop sat in the back with the other husbands brought in hand for their own good. He’d usually sleep.

This particular Sunday must have been pretty bad. I stood up on the pew by my grandmother, looked in the back of the church, spotted Pop and yelled, “Run ‘em out, Pop.”

He did.

We both took a tongue lashing from my grandmother over the Sunday lunch table.

Once Pop took me to the barn to show me how to saddle a horse. I noticed one of my favorite squeeze toys from when I was a toddler sitting on a two-by-four near where Pop stored the oats. He knew I had spied the toy.

“I miss you so bad sometimes I come in here and look at that and it makes me happy,” he said.

In those days before I had to go to school, Pop would show up at my house and order Momma to “pack my baby’s bags.” He’d lift me and I’d link my legs around his neck and stick my feet in the bib of his overalls. We’d show up at his house in time to get some of my grandmother’s fried pork chops and creamed corn.

We rode horses together in the summer before the doctor found the mass in his pancreas. We took long walks and talked about how long it takes corn to grow and why the sky looks like it ends, but never does.

Andy Beard was not a famous man, but he was my Pop. He was my best friend.

Happy Father’s Day, Pop.