My dad departed this life in the early hours of Monday, 16 December 2019 despite the best efforts to save him. He was born 2 July 1953 in Memphis, Tennessee to the late Mack and Hazel Street Holley. He was an only child. He attended Colonial Elementary School in Memphis and Ripley High School back in his ancestral home of Ripley, Mississippi, and Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville. He had to drop out of high school and college to care for an ailing parent. His lack of official degree in no way reflects his deep intelligence and love of learning. He loved all things mechanical and scientific. He often spoke of his longing to learn to fly as his uncles did.
In 1980, not long after the death of his mother, he met my mother, Kathy Taylor. Throughout their marriage, he bestowed upon me the values of family, faith, loyalty and hard work. When my mom fell sick, he trained for home dialysis and was her caregiver until her death almost five years ago. I honestly don’t think there was much question of him doing otherwise. However, in doing so, he set a high standard on how I deserved to be treated.
My dad loved kids. Babies laughed when they saw him and he had one little boy in Food Giant thoroughly convinced he was Batman. He was the king of dad jokes and puns. He was kind to animals including the cats he claimed he did not want (my mom turned him into a cat person). He enjoyed motor racing – the Indy 500 was our Memorial Day ritual, but NASCAR and Darrell Waltrip were in our home weekly. Actually, my dad just loved cars. Looking through pictures in preparation for his funeral, most of them were photos taken at car shows. Most of the car shows he and I attended together so looking at those photos I remember the sheer joy he exuded talking about cars. Do I remember anything he said? Not really. But I can change my oil, change a flat and jump a dead battery. So thanks, daddy.
My dad was interested in so many things: science fiction – specifically, the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov; history: his stories of the Civil War and Ripley and our family played a major role in my obtaining a history degree; writing; drawing; architecture; music. He loved all kinds of music from rock, country, blues, to Beethoven and the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack. I now have a very interesting record collection. He nurtured an ambition to play the drums like his idol Buddy Rich. He claimed Buddy Holly as a cousin, though we have never proved it. I have very fond memories of my dad serenading me with “Everyday.” When the Hollies came on the radio, he’d look me in the eye and say, ‘they want us to sing.’ Sometimes I’d shake my head but sing we would. I became very familiar with “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” well before I probably should have. Being a girl, I got stuck with the high parts: Righteous Brothers, Beach Boys, you name it. I can hit notes that would make Brian Wilson proud. Yeah, don’t know if that’s good or not. Whether we sang became a barometer for our mood. We knew the other was unhappy when they wouldn’t sing.
Dad was a huge fan of Tennessee Titans football and would have loved this championship run they’re on this year. He supported Chicago Cubs baseball and cheered as loud as anybody did when they finally won their title. I’m a Cardinals fan, so that got a little awkward at times. I was able, however, to rub my love of Nashville Predators hockey and European football off on him a bit. I wanted so much to take him to a game or a race but it just never happened.
My dad loved gardening. He could make anything grow. Remember what I said about him teaching me the value of hard work? I honestly think I learned it the garden we had every summer growing up. It wasn’t that large of a garden or anything, but I hated every minute of doing it: weeding, picking, digging potatoes, etc. My back hurts even thinking about it right now. Beans were the worst because they always seemed to grow toward the ground, which, of course, meant bending over and picking them. Oh, and then there was the year two rows of tomatoes grew together at the top, forming a tunnel. I had to crawl through the tunnel every day or every other day, shoving the bucket in front of me. In case you didn’t know, do not wear a white t-shirt when performing this activity. You look like you’ve been lashed and are bleeding green all along your back. When my mom got through with the fresh food though, it was amazing.
He loved to cook even though he was really slow. You didn’t want him to cook a meal if you were in a hurry to eat. It would feel like a decade had passed you by before the food was done. Half the meal would be cold anyhow, so much time had gone by. If something was broken, he could fix it. If he didn’t know how, he’d buy a book to teach him how. I have a lot of sorting through to do ahead of me.
My dad was my idol, the tall strong guy who would never let anything happen to me. Most of my interests align with his, as you would notice if you know only me. He knew everything about everything and was everything I ever wanted to be. He knew almost everyone in town too and would do anything he could for them. He was known around town as Mr. Billy or ‘the guy in the truck with the dog.’
If I could be half as good a person as the man who loved old fashioneds, the man who brought me breakfast from McDonald’s every Saturday morning when he got off work when he worked third shift at the rubber plant, and the man who loved museums where I learned more from him than the exhibits, if I could be half as good as that man, I will consider myself a success.