Today, June 18, 2006, is the 32nd one I have experienced without my father. Charles Thomas Paige (b. 9/25/11, d. 9/6/73) was an usual man for his time. In this photo (click to enlarge), which I believe it was taken on 6/15/50, the date of his graduation from Temple University with a masters’ degree in theology, as well as the date my parents were married, he shows a serious side that was a part of his public persona.
My father was ordained in 1941, in the church that would be our church home once our family returned to Virginia in 1963. A photo from that day is eerily similar to the one taken nine years later. As in real life, my father never seemed to age.
As a minister, my father set an example for his children to follow. Before his death, he requested that a Christian flag drape his coffin, saying that just as Uncle Sam’s soldiers had the American flag on their coffins, he had been a soldier for Christ and wanted this to be a part of his funeral service.
But my father was much more than a minister. Education was something he highly prized so he continued to take classes and study and encouraged us to do the same. By the time he was named as president of the Baptist Industrial College and Seminary in 1956, he was just 9 hours short of doctoral degree, as this article shows. This college ultimately award him an honorary doctorate.
My father was a man of words. He wrote a weekly column for the Tri-State Defender, a local black newspaper in Memphis. In it, he discussed not only religion, but the topics of the day, including the war, rock-and-roll and even politics. He was a great story-teller, as many preachers of his day were. (This particular skill seems to be lacking amongst the preachers I’ve heard lately.) His engaging style of writing and speaking kept his audience engrossed.
Like many of his generation, my father was deeply committed to civil rights in the Jim Crow era of the South. And his commitment was not just in words. In 1963, my family – parents and eight kids ranging in age from 12 to 8 months – returned to my father’s ancestral neighborhood in Phoebus with the clothes on our backs and the few belongings we could carry on the bus. My father had stood up against Jim Crow and had paid a hefty price, losing virtually everything he had worked so hard to obtain. He spent the last ten years of his life working day and night, to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs, neglecting to take care of himself in the process.
It is these last ten years of his life that I remember. Anything before that is just the product of my being the family historian. I was three years old when we came to Phoebus and 13 when my father died. In between, the Reverend Charles Thomas Paige was just Daddy to me. I recall waving to him as he left on Monday morning to drive to the Eastern Shore where he taught biology at Mary N. Smith High School. I recall waiting anxiously for him to return on Friday evenings, vaguely aware that he was teaching during the day and working at the Campbell Soup factory at night. I remember taking him fried egg sandwiches and iced coffee to the cleaners on the corner where he worked on Saturdays. I remember the car trips to churches outside of Phoebus where he was invited to preach, especially one in Kilmarnock, which became a favorite of mine. I recall the letter that he sent me when I was at 4-H camp the summer after 4th grade. “Pumpkin, here’s two dollars” the letter said. I recall standing in the doorway of the family room, afraid to enter, because my mother had caught me smoking and Daddy, the family disciplinarian, was about to mete out my punishment. I recall him coming to a band concert of mine when I was in the 7th grade, him standing with his cane in the rear of the auditorium, his body weakened by the diabetes that had taken hold, half of his foot having been amputated. And I recall my little brother, coming to my cheerleading practice and telling me that I had to come home – immediately – and him blurting out that “Daddy is dead.”
On this Father’s Day, 2006, I remember my Daddy and cherish the little time that I had with him. My Daddy remains ever present in my life. I dream of him often. I wonder what he would think of me today. Would he be proud or disappointed? Have I lived up to the rich legacy that he left? Have I broadened the trail he blazed? I don’t know. But today I honor all that he was. And I think I will try to do it more often, not just on Father’s Day. I started a project years ago to convert to digital format my father’s writings. Life got in the way and I never completed the project. I’m going to try to set aside time to work on it. And, beginning next Sunday, I’m going to publish one of my father’s old columns on this blog.