Saturday, June 22, 2013

My dad, he's a character...

At 94, my dad is probably the biggest character you'll ever meet. People 'round here know him as Tex, the sassy, rarin' to go guy with a coffee takeout cup in hand.

Age has barely slow him down, which isn't always a good thing. He's fairly fearless, which means within the past decade, he's been way up on the roof of their tall old barn. I've seen him at 2 in the morning on a tractor, farming the fields behind my house. Scares the skittles out of me at times.

He's still a skilled driver, although people don't realize when he "takes his half out of the middle" of the road, that's just an eccentricity he picked up when his family had early-model cars with wooden spokes, on trails through the sagebrush so primitive you had to stop in the middle of the road to open gates.

My grandfather, a German-Russian immigrant who died before I was born, was one of the first farmers in Texas to use tractors. My dad grew up learning mechanical skills from the hired men who were around.

He's been a cowboy ─ could rope and tie a calf in 5-and-a-half seconds ─ and his family still owns a rodeo supply company in Texas, which supplied the equipment in the 1994 movie "8 Seconds."

Over the years, I've learned hundreds of his stories. How he flew a plane over a nudist camp, how he was named for the banker in town who sponsored education for the immigrants in the area, how the Dust Bowl made him want to move north, how he ran from the women people wanted to fix him up with ─ until he finally settled down in his 40s and married my mom, 16 years his junior.

My dad is a major extrovert who craves social contact. And boy, is he a talker. For Father's Day this year, my brother, mom and kids put our heads together to remember some of his choicest phrases, such as "under the haystack, fast asleep," "meaner than a barrel of snakes," "straighten up and fly right," "son of a Bisquick eater," and "squealin' like a pig under a gate."

Names of some of his favorite things were added: Grand Ole Opry, Paul Harvey, cowboy boots, the panhandle of Texas, a "spot of Sanka," cornbread without any sugar. We also took phrases from his history he's shared and songs we've all heard him sing, as well as the German prayer we grew up hearing, "Komm Herr Jesus…Heilig Gott alle zeit, Amen," and his German counting rhyme, "Eins, zwei, drei, vier, the papa drinks the buttermilch, the mama drinks the bier." The toughest part was figuring out the correct spelling for the German words.

The more we talked, texted and messaged, the more we started remembering all the funny things my dad has said over the years. It actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Interested in doing a similar project? Here are the steps I followed:
  1. I put together a Word file of his sayings, found a picture I wanted to use, got rid of distracting background features, sharpened the picture, then found a website that would convert the words to a picture. This was a bit challenging to find; since I'd seen similar projects all over Pinterest I figured it was no big deal, but turns out that site no longer worked.
  2. I finally found a good site to use: After uploading the photo, I pasted the text from my Word file into the "Character" line and chose "sequence." I chose the largest font size, indicated I wanted it to be in color, and selected my browser. Finding the right background color took some work, I tried lots of different color codes from this chart, but you can Google "color code chart" to find one in a different format (it worked better for me if I typed in the color code without the space in the middle). Play around with the "extra contrast" setting to see which you prefer.
  3. I took a screenshot, saved it as a .jpg and pasted it into a Word file to tinker with it some more. For my PC, I just use my keyboard (control + print screen) and paste it into my Paint program. When I used to use a Mac, it was a different process; if you're not familiar with how to do this, just Google "how to take a screenshot" plus either PC, Mac, or the name of any other device you're using.
  4. Once you save it as a photo and have pasted it into Word, try the different options under "Format" to add a border. If you like, you can add the original photo like I did, formatting it to complement the picture. With my photo, the original picture also served to cover the dark silhouette of my niece, which looked odd in the text picture.
  5. I saved this in both Word and XPS versions (click on the .pdf option to do this), loaded it onto my flash drive and took it to Staples to have it printed on glossy paper. Staples was able to open the XPS file and print it on 11-x-17-inch pape. I cut off the bottom 3 inches to fit an 11-by-14-inch photo frame. They will cut it for you, but it costs an extra dollar. Because I cut off the bottom 3 inches myself, I spent only $2. For older eyes that don't work so well, it's a little challenging to read the text on the printout. Along with framing the print as a gift, I also e-mailed it to family members so they could zoom in and see the words better. Note: My copy is better than the one here, since I intentionally reduced the size for this blog.
I'd encourage you to try this project. Until we started putting our heads together to think of my dad's choice sayings, we had no idea how many of them were based on historical events associated with his childhood. When I started comparing notes with others, I found some of his sayings were similar to those of their parents (or grandparents). Some things he said were based on popular songs of my dad's era, or were common among immigrants who came from the same region.

Although this projects took only a few days to complete ─ including the brainstorming ─ we learned more about my dad's history and grew a little closer in the process. I hope you have as much fun as we did!

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