By Sandy Welch Thompson
With Father’s Day being in June and my dad’s birthday as well, I started thinking about the legacy dad left when he passed. There are five of us kids and now, numerous grandkids and a lot of 18-30 year old kids that called him Pa-Pa Welch. He was a tremendous influence to a lot of people.
He was one of a kind. He had an Engineer’s brain, but a blue-collar job. He straightened frames on cars for a living, but was a mechanic, body man and everything in between. Until his first heart surgery when I was in college, I never saw his hands clean. No matter how much GoJo he put on them, every crease of his hands screamed workin’ man. He always wore a white t-shirt and shrink-to-fit Levis. Mom bleached those shirts every night he came home to make sure they were sparkling white when he put them on each day.
He smoked Marlboro Reds and politically correct or not, to this day – I still think he was the coolest lookin’ smoker. One of the best pictures I have is him sitting on his frame truck, with a welding hood on his head, cigarette in his hand, petting Pal, our old German Shepherd. He also created some amazing things…well besides me of course. He made beautiful belt buckles from stainless steel, merry go rounds that he welded together from a car axle and wheel, even a teeter totter from extra pipe that he probably traded out with someone who didn’t have cash to pay him.
Dad’s sense of heart was always bigger than his sense of business because his ties to people were more important to him than his ties to things. He used to say, “I wish I had been born rich instead of so damned good lookin!” He loved doing wood projects too, but he had so many kids that we kept him busy keeping our cars running. His answer to fixing something on our cars that he couldn’t quite figure out, was a toggle switch on the dash. Headlights, air conditioner, radio, it didn’t seem to matter. Dad’s answer for us was a toggle switch hooked up to whatever wire under the dash, and by gosh they worked!
He was also a plumber, electrician, carpenter, mentor, therapist and when mom got sick, he became the best home health care doctor you could have asked for. He was the guy that when times were really lean, he would work on cars outside in the dead of winter or in the middle of summer without so much as a sandwich or crackers for lunch. As long as he had a cup of coffee and ice water both, all day long, he wouldn’t complain. Well, he would if you didn’t fill his cup up completely with ice. He didn’t like his ice to “float” in his ice water.
Then he built a shop at the house. We always had a bunch of cars and parts on our property because his shop was right there. If someone would drive down to the house and ask, “Hey, does that car run?” Dad would retort, “It would if I wanted it to.” I can’t tell ya the number of nights that he worked in the shop all night long trying to get cars out. I loved it when he referred to an easy one as a “gravy” job. Mom loved it too because that meant her grocery buying on Friday wouldn’t be disrupted by not getting a customer’s check. I didn’t work with him like Candy and Jimmy did, but I remember having to run out there at night, to turn off the shop lights and usually a drop light that was still on, perched under a hood. I also remember him giving me a coin-lookin’ thing he found in an old car. It had the letters TU IT on it. I kept it even up through college but lost it somewhere as an adult. It was a ‘round tu it’…as in I’ll get around to it. Eventually, whatever it was…he did. Weird what you remember.
He could fix anything and make anything. He was of the generation that if he didn’t have a tool for something, he just fired up his torches, welder or whatever he had lying around and just made what he needed. Dad was the kind of man that didn’t change a kid’s oil, but would lay on a “creeper” underneath the car while you were learning how. Inevitably the bolt would drop in the oil pan and he would fish it out with a look that told you, he wasn’t thrilled about it. He was the guy that could adjust a truck door and test it by sliding a dollar bill down the side of it. He even built his own portable frame machine. My favorite smell in the whole world is an old shop rag from his shop. They smell like, and are soaked in grease and gasoline. But they are perfect because they are made of blood, sweat and tears. Those old shop rags are a staple to anyone who works on a car. When Emily, my daughter, turned 16 several years ago, she put one of dad’s old shop rags in her car for the same reason. I guess that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It’s a perfect memory.
He had great ‘frenemies’ like Clinton’s dad, Tom. Good Lord those two would sit drinking coffee and just pick at each other like they hated each other, when they really loved each other like brothers. Shoot, the Harmons had a house full of kids too, so dad and Tom needed each other some weeks to get work done, even when they fought like cats and dogs. And it wouldn’t matter who had a good idea, the other one would argue against it. And then, some of dad’s other friends were sort of alone in this life. They either weren’t married or were divorced, but all of them worked in a body shop somewhere and he treated them like his family.
Mom was a heck of a cook, so every holiday at least two of us kids were tasked with delivering a giant plate of food, (complete with dessert), to any of these guys that wouldn’t have celebrated otherwise. She wouldn’t send her “good bowls” so she would send a plate/bowl with foil for us to deliver – with a reminder that they needed to send her plates back the next time dad went to their shop. Something hot would always spill on me in the process. I hated those bowls with foil on them! That just touches the surface of how awesome I thought dad was. If you ever met him, I bet you thought he was pretty awesome too. He was one of a kind for sure.