The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Gal baby remembers Daddy and Kipling


June 17, 2018

Jim Williamson was just a few weeks shy of his 49th birthday when he became a dad in the early 1960s, considerably older than most guys picking up their first diaper pin.

Within two and a half years, he and my mom had three of us. I was the “gal baby,” sandwiched between brothers.

I have vivid early memories of my brothers and me piling onto the bench seat of the old red pickup, our dad at the steering wheel, the bed filled with burlap sacks of cottonseed meal, off to feed the cattle, not to mention provide our mother a much-needed break from life with a trio of tiny rapscallions.

As we bumped along the two-track roads that laced our sand hill ranch, Daddy regaled us with his own versions of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories,” taking us “to the banks of the great gray-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees” to hear the how the elephant got his trunk, and other tales from those “High and Far-Off Times.”

He came from a family of readers and he made readers out of his children. We wore out a giant tome of Mother Goose with haunting illustrations, and memorized poems from a battered copy of Hallmark’s “Poetry for Pleasure.”

Before internet and smart phones, he encouraged us to quench our curiosity with the 1959 Encyclopedia Britannica, heavy brown volumes that had a bookcase of their very own a half dozen steps from the kitchen table…fewer if you were in a hurry to win an argument.

Daddy was a lifelong learner. In his 80s he mastered email, in his 90s — vision mostly gone — he devoured books on tape and continued to listen to language lessons to add to the Spanish he first used as a child on his favorite uncle’s ranch in northern Mexico.

It’s from my father that I inherited my (sometimes unwarranted) sense of optimism. In the worst of droughts, he regularly preached that we were “one day closer to a good rain.” He believed, until the end, that the next surgery would finally be the one to fix that darned bad hip and allow him to dance a few more dances and rope a few more calves.

Daddy was up before dawn, in the kitchen singing in the sunrises almost every day of his life. That relentless cheer was barely tolerable to teenaged me, but gratefully welcomed during most of the decades we shared a home.

Although we never spent much time in church, we were shushed into reverential silence each Sunday morning for the television news shows: “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation,” and “This Week with David Brinkley.” Each weekday at noon was another time of sacred silence, the livestock market report on KGNC radio from Amarillo.

Our father loved rare beef (he thought he should flinch a little when the knife cut in). Whatever life lessons we might have missed from church, we knew one thing for certain: There was a path straight to hell for anyone who overcooked meat.

A man with a sweet tooth who would heap sugar onto a slice of ripe tomato and call it dessert, he had no special fondness for chocolate, but lived in a home of chocolate lovers. Twice each year — on his birthday and, yes, Father’s Day — we acquiesced and made him a coconut cake or an apricot cobbler.

Today is an apricot cobbler kind of day, but first a little Kipling and a steak on the grill.

I’ll leave it nice and rare, just the way he taught me to like it.

Betty Williamson is feeling sentimental…and hungry. Reach her at: [email protected]


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