Father’s Day 2021: He Made Us Laugh

My father, Bill (Billie) Waller, May 1, 1915 – September 8, 1983

Billie Waller, ca. 1921

I remember, in no particular order–

He loved horses. When he was in the saddle, they knew who was in charge. He didn’t have to force them.

He loved driving—down backroads to see how much it had rained, or just for the pleasure of driving. He said my horse Scarlett “rode like a Cadillac,” his highest praise. He appreciated a smooth ride. Scarlett was the only Cadillac he owned.

When children started school at seven, he started at five. His mother had just died, and sending him to school with the two older brothers was easier than keeping him at home with the two younger. He had to repeat first grade.

He quit school before his senior year to farm full-time. His father didn’t think graduating was important. No one else could have convinced him to finish—except maybe one of his mother’s sisters, if she’d thought about trying.

One of his high school teachers told me, “Your daddy was just terrible. He said the funniest things. I was only couple of years older, and he was so funny, I never could get mad at him.” It was genetic. He got it from his mother’s family.

Early 1940s

He created ridiculous fictions my mother then repeated all over town. (“Bill Waller, I am never going to believe another thing you say.” She always believed it.) He learned the art from two his of his maternal uncles.

My parents, Crystal Barrow Waller & Billie Waller, October 1942.

He always gave me five-dollar bills to go to movies that cost fifty cents, including popcorn and Coke, and told me to keep the change. (I didn’t.)

He believed dogs and cats belonged outside but when the Siamese draped herself across his feet in bed at night, he let her lie. The Collie didn’t let him or his pickup out of her sight. He made sure she was in the truck before he left in it.

At home with Nicole, the Siamese, an uninvited but kindly tolerated guest, late 1960s; and with Crystal and Kathy, ca. 1974.

When I called home to say I’d locked the keys (and the spare keys) in the car, he rescued me, no matter what the time or how long the drive, without a word said. Every time.

He pointed out spelling errors on signage. The most memorable was tresspassing, on a sign commissioned by the local water company.

He said he spent half of his life waiting for me to find my shoes.

He told me to keep plenty of money in my purse and the gas tank full, but when I said shouldn’t we fill up before leaving Seguin, he said we’d wait till we got home. We ran out of gas on the country road two miles short of our destination, with only maize fields and a river between us and fuel. He walked; my dress shoes and I waited in the car.

He loved being outside and doing manual labor—cutting brush, stretching barbed wire, plowing and planting, watching the soil turn, working cattle. After a day of doing manual labor for a salary.

He made stunning chocolate and lemon meringue pies.

He liked sardines but said they should be eaten on the riverbank with a can of pork-and-beans.

In uniform, early 1940s
Pvt. Bill Waller, Scotland, ca. 1943-44 (U.S. Army, not British)

He sent me to college, including three years in a dorm, financing it by periodically selling one of Opal’s offspring. Opal was a White-faced Hereford a neighbor had given me when I was eleven after her mother rejected her at birth.

SWTSU graduation, August 1973. Bill, Kathy, Joe (“Bub”) Dauchy, Joe Waller,
Crystal, Mary Veazey Worden, Aunt Bettie Waller, Jim King.

When his brother called from up the street to say my grandfather, who lived next door, had set fire to a pile of brush in the small pasture next to his house, and it was getting dark and the wind was getting up, and somebody ought to do something, but he had to live next door to him . . . he drove two blocks, dragged a water hose through the yard, and said, “I’m putting out that fire before you burn up the whole town.” He was the only one of five sons who could do that and not get in trouble. He was the only one who would risk getting in trouble. (Trouble being a brief parental cold shoulder.)

He read the newspaper starting at the back. He read every word of local “county” papers, right down to the phone numbers in the want-ads. He read magazines. No books. Until he retired, when he picked up my copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and plowed through it. So I started giving him books.

He came home from World War II deaf from bomb concussion. Because his hearing aid didn’t filter out ambient noise, and he was embarrassed to have to ask people to repeat what they’d said, he left church dinners, large family gatherings, and other social events, early, often just taking off and walking home by himself. He quit a job that depended on his using the telephone, because he thought he might get information communicated to him—serial numbers of airplane parts—wrong, and cause a tragedy. When he took off his hearing aid at night, he was gone.

When I was eleven, his hearing aid broke. He sat through the public school week evening program in the school auditorium and heard absolutely nothing.

After twenty years of deafness, he had surgery to restore conversational hearing and his original personality surfaced. He enjoyed mixing with people. He engaged in long telephone conversations with friends. He got a kick out of Archie Bunker.

He watched The Muppet Show every Saturday evening. Every time Kermit the Frog flung his arms around and said, “Ya-a-a-a-a-a-ay,” he shook with silent laughter.

He stood in the churchyard after services checking the dates on inspection stickers on windshields, just killing time. Occasionally he found one that had expired.

He was good to old ladies. He got their cats out of trees He charged Miss Blanche’s ancient car’s ancient battery every six months or so (because she drove only every six months or so). She called every Halloween and said, “Tell Bill to get up her and get some popcorn balls before the kids get them all.”

He worked best alone, I think because, although he could do a multitude of things, he figured out how to do them as we went along. He passed that gene along to me.

He was a gregarious loner.

He was solid and dependable.

He made us laugh.

He died suddenly and unexpectedly and too young.

Four brothers and a cousin: Joe Waller, Rob Waller, Graham Waller, Bill Waller, Donald Waller, ca. 1980.

6 thoughts on “Father’s Day 2021: He Made Us Laugh

  1. Kathy, I certainly enjoyed your memories of your Dad. I, too, have great memories of him and his dry wit. I also remember him driving the old Dodge weapons carrier (World War II surplus) around town. Incidentally, I pulled it over to Ynocencio Gonzalez’ house with my tractor a few years ago. I would bet that the picture of the four brothers and Rob was taken at a church homecoming. My father’s day afternoon was spent repairing a broken water pipe at the meter in Fentress. Call me sometime; emails aren’t very personable, and I’d love to hear your voice.

    Tibetan Proverb:
    Eat half;
    Walk double;
    Laugh triple;
    Love without limits!

    Cousins forever,
    Cullen Dauchy

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    1. Cullen, the picture was indeed taken at a church homecoming–the main place the Waller family gathered in later years. Thank you for moving Car 54 (the weapons carrier) to Ynocencio’s. I was so glad he wanted it and that it would stay in the Fentress family. A shame it couldn’t have gotten there under its own power, but a part went out and Daddy never managed to find a spare. I hope Ynocencio has. I want to hear your voice, too. We need to have a Woodward reunion–at least a Fentress Woodward reunion. I probably have a couple of stories about our dads that you haven’t heard. Did you know Shanna used to visit Daddy when he was sitting out under the pecan trees? (And didn’t always tell her grown-ups where she was going?)

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  2. I love it, too, but it wasn’t actually his regalia. He was stationed in Scotland for several months before D-Day, and one of the amusements the American soldiers engaged in was having their photos taken in the kilt and all that goes with it. A memento. He said when one of the men undressed that night in the barracks, he discovered he was still wearing the argyle socks. On this side of the Atlantic, my dad didn’t go around showing his knees to anyone. One afternoon in a pair of gift Bermuda shorts, and that was it. (I like to think if my ancestors had stayed at home, he might have worn a kilt as a matter of course.)

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