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Reflections: Jukin' in the Delta with My Old Man

“Call me when you can,” he said.

That’s no out-of-the-ordinary text message from Daddy. Between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Daddy and I are both busy working. We only call if it’s urgent. Otherwise, “when you can” suffices. This morning was no different.
I assumed it was one of his usual “How do I do this?” on Facebook or “Can you help me do that?” on the computer. Don’t get me wrong, it was. But he asked me something else this time that left me reminiscing.
Born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi, you don’t miss the Juke Joint Festival. It’s the event of the year. If, like me, you’ve moved away from the town, you go home for Juke Joint. It’s just as important as Thanksgiving or Christmas.
He asked if I was planning to come home for this year’s festival. Well, of course, I told him.
“Do you have time to walk around town with your old man?”
I can’t remember a Juke Joint Saturday I didn’t walk around town with my old man. I carry my camera to capture sights that aren’t typically seen in the small Delta town, such as tourists from the Netherlands or Australia; and he holds me up at every corner to speak to every familiar face he sees, like Mr. Pettit who he probably spoke to last week.

Juke Joint Festival, 2014

As frustrating as it can be for my impatience, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Being able to carry a conversation with anyone he comes across – whether a new face or familiar – may be the only trait I didn’t get from the old man … but sometimes wish I did.
I got the sarcasm; my mother may even tell you I got a double dose. I got the wit, the work ethic, the sense of responsibility – even if he had to drill it into me – I got it. Several of the characteristics that make my old man who he is were passed down to me, including the not-so-great – like pale skin and skinny legs. Thanks a lot, Dad.
Growing up, he was hard on me. I remember tears upon tears – from softball games to the boy I thought I was in love with. When the old man was disappointed in me, the whole town knew. But of all the heart aches I’ve given him – and there were many – every hard-felt punishment ended with the same few words: “Nobody loves you like your daddy does.”
He’s right. Of course, he’ll tell you he’s never been wrong, but I can tell you with a certainty, nobody on this earth loves me as much as that old man.
Even when I fought tooth and toenail with him at 17 years old and said some of the most hurtful things a daughter could ever say to her father, he hugged me with tear-filled eyes and told me again. If I had to hurt and suffer to know that he loved me more than that boy I was ready to run away with, then so be it. Daddy wasn’t one to give in, and I had to learn the hard way, many times. I could be angry with him and hate him for the rest of my life, but I wasn’t to leave that house. And you best believe, I didn’t.
Today, he asks me things like, “How old are you?” followed by, “OK. You don’t need your daddy’s opinion on every decision you make in your life.”
I could go on and on about him and all that he’s done for me, perhaps even write a whole book. But for the sake of this story, I’ll revert back to the Juke Joint Festival.
Block after block, we stroll through town listening to blues that rings out from every corner, stepping into stores to see what’s new and who we’ll spend our dollar with this time. I snap photo after photo of locals and tourists alike, and whether I take 10 photos or 400, Daddy critiques each one. We may even share some guilt-filled laughs as we walk through town. They usually start something like, “look at that guy” or “did you see what she had on?”
But the day I snapped this photo was different.

I thought I was capturing a special, unusual moment. Here my old man is with a toy at the dining table. The same “get your elbows off the table,” “chew with your mouth closed” father that made us sit together as a family for dinner every night. But that wasn’t at all what I captured.
Only moments after this photo was taken, that same playful, friendly man began praying aloud, pushing chairs and tables aside to clear way for paramedics to tend to the poor fellow who had a heart attack right beside us. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but Daddy did.
Mr. Whitman Bell passed away later that afternoon in the Clarksdale hospital. I like to think Daddy was talking to Mr. Bell during his last moments on earth in this photo. At least Mr. Bell was sitting around a table, feasting and fellowshipping with friends during Clarksdale’s most joyous time of the year when God decided to take him. It was hard to “juke” the rest of that year’s festival, but I’m glad I was there – whether it was to see my old man’s faith or that the love I’ve known for so many years wasn’t just for me. I was blessed to be with him that day, and I’m forever blessed to call him mine.
Daddy and me jukin’ in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

When tomorrow rolls around, whether we’re dancin’ our skinny legs off to some rhythmic blues or testing our faith in the midst of a packed restaurant, sure, Dad. I’d be delighted to take a walk around town with my old man.

By Randall Haley, Editor-in-Chief of HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at randall.haley@hottytoddy.com.

Enjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. 
If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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