One of the earliest memories I have of my father remains a wrestling match with a Christmas tree, trying to persuade it to stand just so. Come to think of it, that was actually an annual event. Flying nettles, sweaty brows, and errant gruntled pseudo-curses on par with A Christmas Story Darren McGavin battles with the home boiler. Years go by, decades really, a couple of kids get raised, a couple of marriages pass on, and in 2010 the world of medicine gave my pop a terminal diagnosis, only he proved them wrong. He’ll tell you he should be dead, but today he turns 73.
Other memories of my dad include Cub Scout soap box derbies (man, I hated those), weekends netting crabs down in Pleasure Island, Texas, (that was the best), and countless matinees (even better). Winning a soap box derby took equal parts rudimentary physics and inflated machismo, neither of which we had on our side. However, hanging out on a pier in the Gulf of Mexico for hours on end fit neatly into any weekend. No matter what city we were in and no matter the rating, we’d sit through almost any cinematic wonder - or disaster. Either way 90 minutes later we would know.
Once when my dad lived in Lafayette we found some sleepy theater in some off part of town and we caught the early afternoon feature of Predator, an intense sci-fi Hollywood romp at the time. Other faded flick memories include, when I was 12, a bewildering screening of Raising Arizona at the UA Phelan 6 in Beaumont, Texas. We didn’t know quite what to make of it, but we knew we liked it. Not to mention the oodles of sequels. Robocop 2. Crocodile Dundee 2. Oh, the neverending schlock!
Today when I bring my kids to the movies it’s usually only for them, but sometimes it’s for me. I’ll sit through Smurfs or Despicable Me or whatever animated fare there is. But I will also drag my girls to Star Trek, even as recently as this summer. Why? Because that’s what you do. Star Trek was meant to be seen on the big screen. My dad did it for me, and I’m doing it for them. To a degree I know they indulge me, but I believe also there remains a joy in the event. Meh, I guess time will tell. “My dad used to make us watch Star Trek…”
And that’s where I get it from. Where we all get it from. The yin and yang of genetics and environment and voila that’s anyone. I’ve never formally interviewed my father, and if anything I will tell you he’s always in my opinion remained largely unimpressed with anything I’ve ever written. He may say different when pressed, but I say “malarkey” - or “bullshit,” one of his faves. Granted, he’s no wordsmith himself, but the achievements of his children in my assessment just might come off as less interesting that what his next meal might be. He likes food. Okay, he loves food. Just being honest.
And as a career, he sold cars. A lot of cars. In different states. In different cities. Primarily Oldsmobile. Then Honda. A little Infiniti for good measure. Truly, I was raised on a showroom floor. Do you have any idea what it’s like for a boy to endlessly sit around auto dealership surrounded by car salesmen? This was before smartphones, the internet, or cable even. It was me, the latest model of whatever, maybe a Delta 88, and a slew of immature pranksters akin to a poor man’s Will Ferrell Anchorman in quantity, passing the time with among other things gum spitting contests. But I turned out OK enough, I suppose.
Things my dad didn’t teach me include how to tie a tie or how to shave or even change a tire. These were glossed over mostly because we lived in different states in those transitional prepubescent slash awkward pubescent years. Things my dad did teach me? Well, the list goes on. Always say hello first. Keep your elbows off the table. Chew with your mouth closed. Say excuse me. Hold the door open. Manners. Respect. Decorum. Not that I’m a prime example, but he just might be. His father was a Lt. Col. and one might imagine slop and sloven were not welcome under their roof.
I saw my dad just a few days ago. His health has slowed him some, not so much in his mind but in his body, but then maybe he’s too able-bodied for his own good. Should he really still be driving? Should he really be living alone? He was dressed nicely, it being Sunday, having come from church and having had lunch with his friends. He sat in an orange lawn chair in the sun in our backyard while he watched me pull weeds while the 4-year-old excitedly talked his ear off. Exciting stuff. We talked about, of all things, a movie. The most recent one he’d seen, the new Tom Hanks one. And cars. And that was kinda it. The more things change. Or the older we get.
May we all grow to see our grandkids frolic on an illuminated fall afternoon. And methinks we might all benefit from two hours of cinematic therapy too, genre negotiable. At least that’s how I was raised. Happy birthday, dad.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.