I got my looks from my father. His brown eyes, skin coloring, and face shape. And the dominant eyebrows come from him, too. I look like his sisters and act like them, flitting about and talking nonstop—just like my Aunt Anne. I have the sharp nose I see displayed in photos of all the Simmons boys and the ancestors that came before me on my grandmother Juhan’s side of the family.
I got my father’s laugh. I’ve been told I laugh a lot—that I find ordinary things amusing. I took it as a compliment. His brothers laughed like that too, a hearty laugh. Loud and boisterous, filling the room with the sound. Family gatherings were always noisy events.
There is no denying Byrd Simmons is my father. My physical characteristics and demeanor are easily attributed to him, when you see me—you see him.
I got my father’s work ethic. I’ve always been a hard worker, aiming to excel in all that I do. He taught me that. He never pushed me, but set the example. You see, my father was the oldest boy in a family of six children, five of whom where born about two years apart between 1918 and 1928. Even though he was third in line with two sisters before him, the duty of helping provide for the family during the depression fell on his shoulders. He quit school in 8th grade to work sweeping the floors at a local grocery store earning—don’t quote me on this but I believe one dollar a week—maybe it was a day. Regardless, it wasn’t much money. His mother had divorced his father—I know, I know, scandal in the 1920s—and his father left the State of Georgia never to return. A fatherless boy became a child-man.
I remember my Aunt Anne telling me how she hated my daddy when she was little because he woke her up at 6:00 a.m. to milk the cow. She said she didn’t know what they would have done without him. Probably starved.
I think they did that anyway. He once told me he hated lima beans because he ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when he was little. His grandfather had brought his daughter and her children a sack of dried lima beans. It was all they had to eat. I read once that beans and ham hock was a staple for families during the depression.
By the time he was 24 years old, he had served in the Pacific for five years as a gunner. And prior to going off to war, he had worked in the construction boom after the depression. He bought himself a Lincoln Zephyr with the money he earned.
I never knew a time when my daddy wasn’t helping someone. He helped his mother out until she died in 1971, providing a place for her to live. My other grandmother lived with us and he provided a roof over her head and food to eat. My mother’s sister and her three children lived with us from time-to-time over the years as I was growing up. When she moved backed to Georgia to escape a bad marriage, he helped her get a place to live and a job. After the war, he worked on his step-father’s turpentine farm when his step-father became ill and could not run it. He helped out his nephew Stephen one summer when he was a park ranger out at Reed Bingham State Park. And those are the ones I know about. Like I said, he was always helping someone.
I got my loyalty from him. I’m like an old dog that keeps coming back. I stick by people.
I got my perseverance from him. I’ll always kept trying—as we used to say “keep on keepin’ on.” I don’t give up easily, even when I feel defeated. I’ll get right back up and march on. And act like nothing was wrong, I saw my daddy do that countless times over my childhood.
My daddy loved people—meeting people, being around people, talking to people. And I do too.
He was a man of few words at home. He didn’t argue with me about anything—ever. He didn’t prod or push or come down on me—ever. I don’t remember any sage advice coming out of his mouth. He didn’t condemn me (or anyone for that matter that I ever heard) but neither did he lift me up. He wasn’t one to give a lot of praise. But I knew he was proud of me just by the way he looked at me. By the way he would call me back to the dinner table when we had guests and show me off by having me play a little tune on the piano. Or call me out of my room and get me to sing a song. He never spanked me and barely ever admonished me. All he had to do was say “Little’un” in a firm tone of voice and I straightened up without another word.
My daddy was steady. Not always right, but steady as a rock.