remembering daddy: a father’s day tribute

Riding the Tail of the Dragon.

Riding the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina.

This is my first Father’s Day without my Daddy here. What else can I say except I miss him sorely. [Pause] In sharing what I miss most or my most cherished memory it is hard to find a good starting point. He was far from perfect. Oh, he had a good share of flaws, but this is what made him incredibly down-to-earth and relatable in my eyes. It made him human. It made him present. And while he was still here and still present he could present with such vivid color, stories of his childhood or a delicious meal that had encountered his palate in a way that would prb_2 just reel anyone in. I miss our conversations. No matter how bizarre they became toward the end of his time here on this earth, I knew I could pick up the phone and hear on the other end of the line, his voice.

Thankfully, my Daddy filled my cup with so many memories good, bad and just plain ugly that I could go the rest of my lifetime keeping him close at heart. Knowing that as long as I hold a memory or two of him near that he will always be here with me. I will remember the time when he surprised my 8 year-old brother and my 10 year-old self by bringing home a new member of the family. It was a bonsai tree. And I will remember that terrible visit to his apartment after he had gone. There she was on the table in front of me. Karma, his beloved bonsai tree. I will recall his excitement after returning from a bike ride up and down the Tail of the Dragon. He always wanted to make a point of the number of curves there and the number of fellow thrill-seekers who attempted the same ride, but never survived to tell it. Then I will reflect on the somber feeling that filled my stomach when I had the tow come and take his bike away. I’m grateful that he left this temporary place trusting that I would be strong enough to handle his final wishes. To handle his passing far too soon.

I alluded to his gifted ability to tell a story and now I’d like to share an excerpt from an incomplete unpublished work that consumed his spirit during his final years.

Mister Demby


I did reasonably well in junior high, but I blossomed academically in high school. I was the only starting football player who was also on the Honor Society and “Who’s Who Among American High School Students.” But I was a mediocre football player. I was in the top 30 students of my 300 student high school, but I had no college opportunities. I can recall clearly my day with the counselor and Ms. Warren was out, so I met with Mr. Weatherford, my welding teacher. His view of my future would stun me and shape me for the rest of my life. He made it very simple:

“Can your parents afford to send you to college?”


“Then I believe you should pursue a welding job up at the plant.”

I had no response but I was broken. A single sentence had in my mind sentenced me to a life of mediocrity. I was crushed, but his logic was inescapable. In my 17-year-old mind, the only solution was to play basketball all summer and when school starts again, I would find a job and make a plan from there. David Cosby came by the house with an opportunity where you work at a plant and go to college at night, I believe in Kentucky or Tennessee, and my mom waved it off. It was as if she knew something better was on the way. I had no real plan.

One day in the 90 degree heat on the court next door to my house, I was actively engaged in a game when an old Cadillac drove up. A short bald man sat behind the wheel of the aging leather clad Caddy then leaned over from the driver side and yelled, “Is Peter Barnes out there?” I was a little disturbed some stranger was interrupting my game, but I stopped and walked over to the passenger side window and leaned in. We greeted one another and he began talking. I was only half listening because I was looking at my sweat fall onto his leather seats thinking these drops are going to leave little salt circles on his seats.

When I returned my focus to what he was saying, he asked what I made on the ACT test. My memory went to the fact I recall being hung over when I took it but, apparently scored decently. I answered and he said, “What if I told you I (or that score) could get you a full scholarship to Alcorn State University where we would pay for tuition, room, board, books, and meals?” I replied, “That would be great,” but I had little hope a complete stranger even if he could do it, would do it for me. I returned to my game and forgot about Mr. Demby until two weeks later when a full academic scholarship to Alcorn State University arrived in the mail. Mr. Demby, a man I had never seen before and would never see again, a total stranger had transformed my life. I can only speculate about what went on behind the scenes between Ms. Warren and Mr. Demby, but I never got an opportunity to say thanks to either of them. Teachers and educators often go out of their way to help people behind the scenes, and I want to thank all of them.

While in college I was a good student. When graduation came around, I had two opportunities, Shell Oil and the United States Army. I was nudged toward the Army when Shell interviewed me, liked what they saw and sent me a declination letter. During the immediate aftermath of that experience, I reluctantly joined the active Army as Regular Army vice Reserves. Within days of that decision, I got a 2d letter from Shell saying they wanted me after all. I stayed with the Army.

I love you Daddy.

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