By Dennis Edwards
New Journal and Guide
Had life been different, my Dad would have been 100-years-old on August 10. Leroy Thornton Edwards, Sr. was born in the summer of 1915, the only son of Laura Elizabeth Woodruff Edwards and Clem Edwards.
So I decided to celebrate by writing about him on his birthday, to share the difference his life is still making in mine. What does a son say about the father who died just after his fourth birthday? How does a wonder-struck soul utter happy birthday to such a cherished memory? Or is he really just a memory? I think not. He’s still a vital part of who I am and how I grow older. He is all over me and I am so proud of the him that is in me.
There are times when I wonder how he felt at my age. Then I am forced to reckon with the fact he never made it. He was 45 when a massive heart attack snatched him away in 1960. Yet he is woven, like a scarlet thread, through the fabric of my daily thoughts. The face staring back at me in the mirror is so much his. So is the smile.
Once a haunting question rose up within like a torrential rain. How did he feel, what was he thinking when he was alive? Someone more aware at that moment said “he felt what you feel,” “he thought what you think.” Perhaps this is how “we all become our parents.” We inherit their talents, personality traits, gestures, moods, manners and everything they said we vowed never to repeat.
My Dad was an Accountant and a Newspaper Journalist. He had an office on “The Fair Grounds,” the historic Black business district in Suffolk. It was next to Dr. H.M. Diggs’ medical practice in the building which still bears his name. He left home at 15 to work in CC Camps constructing parks and road projects all over the country. Then came WWII and a rise to the rank of Staff Sgt. in the U.S. Army.
Dad was among those who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He killed more than a few Germans in Hitler’s failed attack from the rear. There was the mortar fire that flipped his jeep. The friend who died in the seat next to him.
He never quite got over taking human life. Back then they called it Battle Fatigue. It threw him into a bout with alcoholism and a battle of a different kind to regain his footing. Just the knowledge of his challenge convinced me to stay away from alcohol for much of my life. Not out of shame. But in homage to a weakness that might surface again. It never did. But I’m appreciative to him for the heads up.
Dad struggled mightily with that demon and won. He was finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration at Norfolk State when life threw him the curve ball of sudden death.
At his funeral I told somebody “my Daddy’s gonna get up out of that grave.” I didn’t believe it could hold him. And in a way it didn’t. Much of him resurrects in me. The deep connection he had with Grandma Edwards, a mother’s attachment to the son who was her last link to the husband to whom she never got to say goodbye, an abiding love affair with laughter, good music and dancing.
Seems his mind showed up too. His IQ was once measured at 156. As time has merged with maturity, I’ve reluctantly acknowledged a shared legacy of intellectual curiosity. Though my friends would agree there’s some serious doubt as to whether I’d ever match his numbers.
So we return to the question, what does a son say about the father he barely knew? I can say he never gave up in the unfairness of life and because of him neither will I.
What’s more, there are these distant and dusty memories of his playfully tossing me in the air and soul-deep snapshots of the love I saw when he looked at me or held my hand. My God that’s it, the stuff that’s carrying me through the worst life has thrown my way. There it is, the difference one life can make.
Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award winning Television Investigative Journalist.He is a graduate of Suffolk High School, Virginia Union University and it’s Samuel Proctor School of Theology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.