Although it’s natural for me to be sad on this first Father’s Day without my dad, since Daddy loved nothing more than a good story, I’ll commemorate the day by telling you a funny story . . . about him.
Reading a new book just about every week, Daddy liked a variety of authors and topics. Traditional favorites like Faulkner and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings were balanced by biographies and stories about the wild west. His emergency hurricane cash-stash was hidden between the pages of Jimmy Buffett’s, “A Pirate looks at Fifty” and I once found Daddy sitting with Winston Groom in the Latte Da Coffee Shop in Fairhope discussing his book, Shiloh 1862.”
He loved all these authors, but Lord have mercy, if Fanny Flagg had a new book, the world stood still until he had a copy. She was his favorite, and one of his proudest moments was when I got to interview the Alabama author.
Years before, Daddy had uncharacteristically sent Fannie Flagg a fan letter. They were close in age and had crossed paths in Birmingham and along the Gulf Coast, but never met. In the letter, he jokingly mentioned that he was pretty sure he’d seen her phone number on a wall down in Panama City Beach when he was in high school. Not to be outdone by a prankster, Fannie Flagg sent back an 8×10 photo and matched his smarty-pants humor by writing, “Cordell, thanks for the great time in Panama City in 1957!” then added, “P.S. Our son is now 34 years old. Send support . . . “
Daddy roared with laughter and thought it was the best joke ever. He immediately framed the photo and placed it in his home office next to my mother’s smaller 5×7 photo. Mother never mentioned it because she knew it was all in fun, but I don’t think she thought it was quite as funny as Daddy did.
Years later, when I got to meet Fanny Flagg, I reminded her of the story and she started laughing both at Daddy’s craziness and her clever response, then I added, “But what you don’t know is that Daddy was a Baptist minister!” She laughed so hard I thought she was going to fall off her chair and autographed a new book for him with the inscription to, “come visit me sometime!” She was a great sport.
After Daddy died last year, we were cleaning out his office and I told mother the main thing I would like to have was the Fannie Flagg photo, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. Mother offered the perfect church lady response and admitted, “The deacons were coming over for a meeting and I didn’t think some of them would get the joke, so I hid it and now have no idea where it is.”
Finally discovered in a drawer, I now have the photo on my desk where I sit and write. Although I’m also a big fan of the Fried Green Tomatoes author (her first book, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man is my favorite), the picture doesn’t really remind me of the author as much as it reminds me of the playful, fun spirit of my Dad. He could be serious, but oh, his love of laughter was the best part about him. Remembering a Dad full of spirited joy is now the best part of Father’s Day.
This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile Press Register, Birmingham News and the Huntsville Times.