Honor your father and your mother…
Today, I’m celebrating my father not only because it’s Father’s Day, but it’s also the 102nd anniversary of his birth! We lost him in his 76th year, but time has not diminished the profound influence he had on the lives of my two older brothers and me.
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Norman Lee Harper
Daddy was raised in the town of Charleston in southeast Missouri’s Bootheel region—bordered by the Mississippi River. With the exception of four years in the Navy during WWII when he served as an electronics instructor in Chicago and San Francisco, his home was always Charleston. In 1945, he met and married my city-girl mother, and brought her back to his small town to raise their family—Bob, Bill and me.
One of the highlights of our young lives was the summertime fun of our family vacations. One year we had a snowball fight in July on top of Pike’s Peak. The next, we witnessed a mountain goat high in George Washington’s eye at Mount Rushmore! On still another trip we rode on the backs of Oklahoma’s giant turtles.
But no matter where our final destination happened to be, we usually started our trips with a visit to Chicago—my mother’s hometown. In later years I realized that their love for that great metropolis was probably due to the fact that they had met, courted and married there. It was their “City of Romance!”
What an exhilarating place—especially for kids from a town of just over 5,000! And nowhere was that excitement more thrilling for me than at Buckingham Fountain, smack dab in the middle of Grant Park. The vast expanse of green was nestled between Chicago’s mighty skyscrapers and its watery boundary, Lake Michigan.
Daddy and I would go there to share our favorite pastime—watching people and making up stories about them. Daddy could be amazingly accurate, like the time he asked, “See that man over there—the one with the gray hair, holding a pink rose?” he paused to give me time to spy the guy.
“Got him!” I squealed.
“I’ll bet he’s waiting for his high school sweetheart. See, they married other people a long time ago and have been separated for many years. But both of their mates have died now, and they’ve decided to meet because secretly they never stopped loving each other.”
Taught by the master himself, I threw in, “And during their phone conversation to set up this meeting she told him she’d be wearing a pink dress. That’s why his rose is pink!” We laughed and waited patiently.
A True Story
Sure enough, ten minutes later, a lady with silver hair tied up in a neat bun entered the fountain area. And she was wearing a pink dress! The man saw her coming in the distance and began to move quickly toward her. When they finally met they stood for several minutes staring at one another, then talked for a few more minutes before falling into each other’s arms.
Daddy laughed and slapped his knee. “What did I tell you?” Then he added, “And look,” he said proudly, “she’s got on a pink dress just like you said she would!”
Some of our stories were brief, some went on and on, but all were affectionate homespun tales that kept us entertained. I can think of no greater gift a parent could give their children than the desire to cultivate their imaginations.
Happy Father’s Day and Happy Birthday, Daddy!
I celebrate you and thank God He picked you to be my earthly father. I am a storyteller today because you took great delight in sharing your passion for spinning yarns with me. And to think, it all began at that multi-leveled, ever-showering fountain so long ago.