Growling and giggling with Dad

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

We held hands. That’s what scared little kids usually do.

The short, darkened hallway led to four different rooms. We knew he was waiting for us in one of those rooms. We knew he was going to spring out from one of those dark rooms and scare us. We knew… but we couldn’t stop ourselves from creeping slowly into the darkness.

The light from the living room disappeared into shadow. Now, we held hands and arms. We were as close as we could get to each other. Our little feet shuffled forward. We whispered, making scared little sounds.

We stopped between the first two doorways. We were between the bathroom and Mom and Dad’s bedroom. We waited. Nothing. We heard a distant growl from the darkness ahead, but we couldn’t tell which room it came from. It could be coming from my room or Belinda’s room.

We just couldn’t tell. By that time, we were too scared to care.

It was a primal, gruff, harsh growl. We knew our Daddy was hiding somewhere in the darkness, but could our Daddy be making those sounds?

Not our Daddy. It had to be the Monster of Maple Street.

We took two more small, hesitant steps. Without the faintest sound of warning, Daddy launched himself from Belinda’s room. The growls became peals of laughter and whoops of delight.

“I’m gonna get you, get you, get you?” He yelled as he tickled us and hugged us with absolute joy and love.

Immediately, we started begging, “Do it again. Do it again.” He almost always did.

I’m not sure about Belinda, but every time Dad jumped out, I may have peed a little. Between the fear that once-was and the sheer joy of laughing and wrestling with our Daddy, anything could have happened.

Our little house on Maple Street was often rowdy and loud. A few years later, there were four of us, but when Belinda and I were in our pre-school years, it was just us with our Mom and Dad.

Later, we were joined by Jeff and Terri, after that, it got louder and rowdier.

We had a ball. We played and laughed. Dad was always in the middle of it. I really miss Dad this year.

Our grandparents lived in southern Indiana. Grandma and Grandpa Riley lived in Austin. Mamaw and Papaw Bridges lived in Crothersville, about four miles north.

As a teenager, Mom worked as a waitress. That’s how Dad met her. The courting started early and ended in a young marriage that lasted 70 years.

Mom and Dad soon became young parents. In a sense, we all grew up together.

Several times a year, we would drive nearly three hours from Germantown to visit grandparents and cousins. It was always an adventure. The old saying, “Getting there is half the fun,” certainly held true for our trips to southern Indiana.

Back in the mid-1950s there were no interstate highways, seatbelt laws or even seatbelts. We stretched out in the backseat wherever we wanted. Jeff was small enough to fit into the little window shelf behind the back seat. I envied him. He had the best view.

We didn’t have anything to entertain us except Dad. I think Dad knew every word to every Hank Williams song ever recorded. He also taught us several silly songs, like “I’m My Own Grandpa” and “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea.” The more we sang, the louder and sillier we got.

We also counted cows to see who had the most on their side of the road. We played the A-B-C game with road signs and license plates. One of my favorite games was trying to guess when Terri was going to get carsick. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when, and how often. She was consistent.

One of the few things that came in plastic bags at that time was bread. Mom always had several Wonder Bread bags ready for Terri.

This past Sunday our first Father’s Day without Dad. He died last year just after Father’s Day. That whole month last year is just a big blur.

My memories this year are not of the hardworking Dad who always provided for his family, but the memories are of bouncing on my Dad’s knee as he sang silly songs … “Ride a little horsey, up the hill, down a little bank and round a little hill.”

The faster he sang the song, the faster and higher we bounced on his knee. We always ended up bouncing off his lap, but he always caught us before we landed on the floor. There were always giggles and laughs, followed by, “Do it again. Do it again.”

Last week, I was walking down the hallway with my granddaughter, little 3-year-old Claire-Bear, and without thinking about it, I started to growl. At first, she was scared, but we ended up giggling and laughing.

Thanks, Dad.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist