Like just about everyone I know, as Father's Day approaches I think a little more than usual of my own father. Aaron G. Brown was a fine and gentle man who shaped me in more ways than I know. He passed away in 1985, when I was a mere 30 years old-- far too young, it seems to me, to say good-bye to one's father.
Dad was a man of unfailing courtesy, and so when I came across this poem by Elizabeth Bishop, it made me think of him. This was read on the air the Friday evening before Father's Day, 1999, on the PBS Newshour program. The poet is remembering her grandfather, not her father; but a grandfather's still a father:
for a child of 1918
My grandfather said to me
as we sat on the wagon seat,
"Be sure to remember to always speak
to everyone you meet."
We met a stranger on foot.
My grandfather's whip tapped his hat.
"Good day, sir. Good day. A fine day."
And I said it and bowed where I sat.
Then we overtook a boy we knew
with his big pet crow on his shoulder.
"Always offer everyone a ride;
don't forget that when you get older,"
my grandfather said.
So Willy climbed up with us,
but the crow gave a "Caw!" and flew off. I was worried.
How would he know where to go?
But he flew a little way at a time
from fence post to fence post, ahead;
and when Willy whistled he answered.
"A fine bird," my grandfather said,
and he's well brought up.
See, he answers nicely when he's spoken to.
Man or beast, that's good manners.
Be sure that you both always do."
When automobiles went by,
the dust hid the people's faces,
but we shouted "Good day! Good day! Fine day!"
at the top of our voices.
When we came to Hustler Hill,
he said that the mare was tired,
so we all got down and walked,
as our good manners required.