Leslie Earl (George) Leatherwood, my dad, was born on February 19, 1903. He was fifty years old when I was born and he died on February 4, 1972, just a few weeks shy of his 69th birthday. I am currently in my 60s and so I understand exactly what my dad meant when he said things like, “I was 16 about a minute and a half ago,” and “Nothing’s more important than family.” Yes, I do indeed get my dad’s basic life wisdom in ways that escaped me when I was that 16-year-old or when all I wanted was to have a breather from my very large and opinionated family.
One of the best gifts my dad gave me was his optimistic nature. He saw the world as a good place occupied by decent people who were doing the best that they could on a daily basis. He attracted those same people and was loved by many of them. “Mr. George is a good man,” I heard many times during his life, and “Your daddy always makes people feel special.” I was truly blessed to have a father who was so openly loving and so kind to those around him.
One of my favorite memories of my dad was the little jig he routinely danced down in our kitchen. He liked to joke, didn’t mind making fun of himself, and enjoyed having a kitchen-full of kids laugh when he danced that jig. He loved people and he encouraged all of us to love people too. “The more the merrier” was his idea of fun and our house was a gathering spot for many of my brothers’ friends and also mine. There was never a day that he complained about having too many people around or having a lack of privacy.
I was thinking the other day about how gorgeous my parents looked when they got all dressed up to go to some event in town. My dad would put on one of the beautiful suits that he bought at his brother Claude’s store: Leatherwood Men’s Wear and my mother would be dressed in a two-piece women’s suit that was in-style in the 1960s and off they would go to play bridge or dance at the Golf Club or attend some civic function. I remember looking at them and recognizing what style they had and I felt so proud to be their daughter.
Of course, I wish my children could have met my father. They would have loved his open arms and warm hugs. Ray would have liked his off-color jokes and appreciation of a good laugh. I would have loved to have gotten to spend my adult years getting to know him even better.
However, it’s okay. My dad lives in my heart and I think of him often, especially when I’m laughing and enjoying the people around me. He’s also always there to remind me that even when this world hits hard times, the vast majority of people are hardworking and good. He helps me to remember that we all want and need the same things – love, kindness, a warm smile – and that even when it’s difficult to see, most of us spend every day doing the very best we can.
Thanks, Papa. Those are words I work hard to live by. Happy birthday to you.