August 16th…that’s the day Elvis fans remember where they were and how they heard the news that Elvis had died. I am one of those people but, now I’ll always remember August 16th, 2021 as the day my dear sweet Daddy died. The one thing I can thank the pandemic for is the chance to have him under our roof living safely in our care since 2019.
My Dad, John C. Putman, was born on July 8, 1934. He grew up in Dyersburg, Tennessee one of eight children. Life wasn’t easy in a big family growing up on the mill grounds. As a mature-for-his age teenager he was trained as a movie theater projectionist and was so well liked he ended up managing a chain of movie theaters in west Tennessee. He enjoyed regaling us with tales of those days especially meeting many of the movie cowboy heroes like “Lash” LaRue who would stop in the theater for their latest movie release.
While working in the movie theaters the then cocky teenager met and married his one and only true love, Gayla (Joyce) the popcorn girl. Their almost 60 year life together set the bar very high for what defines a well lived and well loved marriage. I was their only child, their honeymoon baby, named after Dad.
After moving to Chicago, in 1959, Dad knocked around at a number of jobs finally landing with a company he loved working for and retired early from when A. B. Dick Company was going out of business. He maintained many friendships he made in the three decades he worked there.
As a child I always thought of my Dad as a quiet man who made friends easily but, we really saw him blossom when he and Mom started spending time in Panama City Beach, Fl. It wasn’t uncommon for people to ask if he was a politician when they met him in Golden Corrall, Po’ Folks restaurant or Winn-Dixie. You see, he would walk right up to strangers, strike up a conversation, shake hands and if babies were around ask if he could kiss them too! In PCB he flourished. He finally confided in me that even though he’d lived in Chicago since 1960 he was very self conscious about his southern accent which he never lost. I saw it a hundred times throughout my childhood, someone would ask “where you from” and he would clam up but, in the Florida Panhandle he didn’t have an accent, he sounded like everyone else! Eventually, he embraced his accent along with his silver goatee he would enjoy being told he could be Col. Sanders!
He wasn’t athletic, never really liked sports but, thanks to Steve’s southside roots we adopted the White Sox during lockdown. He eventually looked forward to games the three of us would watch together. He was superstitious enough that he would watch a game to the bitter end for fear of jinxing the Sox.
He loved to cook and prided himself in being able to taste a food and tell you exactly what the ingredients were. He loved setting an attractive table and making food pleasing to the eye even if that meant carving roses out of radishes for garnish. Yet, with his love of cooking his favorite food was always a good ol’ Chicago hotdog.
He was an avid coin and knife collector for 50 plus years. Over the years he amassed an impressive collection of both. His idea of a good Saturday afternoon, if there were no westerns he hadn’t seen on tv, he would haul out the collections and lovingly go over coins or knives and usually find something new to excite him about them.
During 2020 when he was staying safe at home life could be boring…some days his favorite judge shows were turned off so he could catch up with friends and his sisters Linda and Wilma and brother Bill. They were always available to take their big brother’s phone calls.
He loved flowers. From the first peony popping open to daisies, coneflowers hydrangeas and roses he was excited to see them open in our garden. In recent years he did more maintenance, watering of the flowers but, he still loved being in the garden. Even if he was spending time at his condo in Florida, he always wanted to be back home in Chicago in time for Spring planting. While in Fl he did spend some delightful afternoons along with his buddy, Doc, being two of the only men in the PCB Garden Club.
His Florida lifestyle was quite different than life in the Chicago area. He enjoyed starting the day with his morning coffee while reading the paper (he had to have a daily paper!) on his condo balcony overlooking the gulf and watching sunsets from the same location. During the day, walks and a busy schedule of events with friends were his norm with a stop by our little yellow house for coffee and good conversation while sitting on the front porch. He said his visits were always made more enjoyable if Steve would be strumming a guitar while we chatted.
Dad was wild about New Orleans. His favorite trips were those he took with, our dear extended family friend, Steve Dokken (Doc) to the Crescent City. He often talked about how he just felt at home there. He loved the food, the music and frequently joked about “Sunshine,” a Cajun Queen he claimed waited for him in the Big Easy.
Dad had a wonderful sense of humor that never failed to materialize when he thought one of his off the cuff, not off color, comments would shock you the most.
In 1973 I was hospitalized after major surgery. After his first visit he was formally banned from entering my room! He would step in the door and within minutes I would be laughing hysterically while moaning in pain because I had a stomach full of stitches. The staff told him since he couldn’t behave himself he’d have to stay out. He did. Nurses were some of his favorite people.
He enjoyed all genres of music and I often thought his one regret was he never learned to play an instrument. He talked of having a mandolin as a child but, he never pursued playing it. His playlist included Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Stones (we regret never getting him to a concert) and Chuck Berry, among others. If given a chance he would happily turn you on to an all time favorite tune, Bill Anderson’s “It’s Not My Job To Tote Your Monkey.” Yet, along with seeing the Stones, seeing an opera someday was on his bucket list. The Lyric Opera of Chicago‘s closure due to the pandemic cancelled his plans to join them for an evening.
He loved shopping, jewelry and clothes.
In his world if the event called for a smart, fitted sport coat, a colorful dress shirt (which he collected) and shoes to match then he was”dressed to the nines” and ready for anything. If there were females around, young and old chances were good they’d strike up a conversation asking about his cool shirt or his red shoes!
In recent years life was a roller coaster of up and down health events and, exactly one week before he left us, over his morning coffee, he shocked me when he said he thought things were coming to an end. I said, “the end of the world?” He softly chuckled and said no, he didn’t want to make me sad but he did want me to know he was ready. He then changed the subject.
I was so fortunate to not only be with him everyday for almost two years but, the weekend before he passed was the final weekend the hospital was allowing one visitor a day for anytime during an 8 hours period each day. I spent all that time with him for three days. On Sat. we talked a few times throughout the day then he would tell me he needed to nap a bit. Then Monday the 16th the hospital went back to the Covid restrictions of one visitor for one hour a day. I stepped into his room just as he took his final breath. I know he knew I was there.
Steve and I dreaded the day he would leave us but, we are comforted that he did it the way he often said he wanted to by just closing his eyes and going to sleep.
Someday in his memory wear that piece of clothing or jewelry you thought was “too much”, have a Chicago dog with the works (no ketchup), try a gin and tonic but, make it Bombay Sapphire, listen to the Stones, talk to a stranger and make your kids laugh so hard YOU should be reprimanded.
My Daddy will be loved and missed by us and many forever.