My brother Ron recently shared a story that captured the spirit of my dad perfectly. My dad rarely attended church until much later in life, and when we were children, me and my older siblings would stay home with him on the occasional Sunday night. Ron remembers Dad took him one Sunday night to the local movie theater to see True Grit starring John Wayne. Ron remembers Dad commenting on the technicolor cinematography of the film’s locations and backdrops in Ouray County, Colorado. My Dad, much like John Wayne who played Rooster Cogburn in the film, was a man of few words, but when he witnessed the landscape on the big screen he said, “Isn’t that Beautiful?” Ron remembers this experience along with dad’s words as a rare occasion, that my dad caught some grief for when he returned home. Mom, upon finding out that Dad took Ronald to the movies but never was willing to go to church, was rather upset, Ron recalled. But James Roy Loyd, my dad, pretty much did what he wanted. This was his personality. Mom called him stubborn, perhaps others would think him stoic, but whatever adjectives used to describe him would fall short of the extraordinary man that he was.
True Grit made its world premier in Little Rock, Arkansas in June of 1969. Opening in Arkansas before debuting in Hollywood makes sense considering it was the story of Fort Smith, Arkansas Marshall pursuing a murderer into the wild west. Without doubt, John Wayne was my dad’s favorite movie star as he would watch his movies repeatedly. John Wayne was an icon for my dad’s generation. Strong, quiet, no-nonsense kind of persona portrayed in every John Wayne movie was the persona my father adopted, and it was the way that he lived his life. My dad had very little education and couldn’t read or write beyond signing his name, but he learned to navigate life with a tenacity that would have made “The Duke” proud.
I have my own memories of staying home with dad on Sunday nights. By the time I arrived on the scene, I was pretty much an only child as all my siblings had left or were on their way out the door, so most of the time my life consisted of hanging out with mom and dad. Dad would always cook on Sunday night and since mom was gone, it usually meant that there would be fried meat with a few choice vegetables from the garden. I remember sitting beside my dad in his recliner and being so squeezed between him and the armrest that I would practically disappear into the cushions. Our small TV featured crime dramas on Sunday nights, usually Starsky and Hutch followed by S.W.A.T. Dad and I continued to watch television together through the years, but he rarely said anything. I even remember him watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with me, but his only observation was that it wasn’t as good as the original. On this we were in agreement.
These memories grow more precious with every passing year, but I often wonder in what ways things could have been different. Have you ever played this game? It is a foolish one for sure, but imagining yourself with different parents, born at a different place at a different time? How would my life have been different? It is hard to imagine my father any other way than how he was. As quiet as he was, his influence is profound and I still feel his presence in the way that I interact with people or in unconscious mannerism, word choices, thoughts and actions. My dad certainly had his weaknesses but because he was so quiet, private, stoic, there wasn’t a lot that was shared with any of us. The knowledge of who he was, I mean who he truly was, disappeared into the void with his passing. I know things about him, but I don’t know that anyone ever truly knew him. What did my dad dream about? How did he know he was in love with my mother? How did he manage to persevere if someone hurt his feelings? Were his feelings ever hurt?
In some ways I envy my brother Ron, because in the darkness of that movie theater in 1969 he heard my dad express something that I never heard.
My dad saw something beautiful and said so; out loud.