George on my Mind
I have been surrounded by â€œGeorgeâ€™sâ€ all my life. My Daddyâ€™s name was George, my husband is a George, and my brother-in-law is a George. Today is the wedding anniversary of my parents and also the birthday of George Alton Oâ€™Kelley, my Daddy. I carry the genes for his sense of adventure, love of music, strong work ethic, and patriotism.
Daddy was born in the back bedroom on July 7, 1929 to Edward and Bessie Oâ€™Kelley. They lived in a low middle-class neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida, where Daddy says â€œeverybody was equal.â€ His childhood was happy because, as he put it, â€œnone of our friends had anything.â€ They often played in the empty lot beside their white house with a big front porch.
Being the youngest of four brothers, Daddy was given more freedom; but he was still expected to live up to the high standards his brothers had set. And he did.
In high school, Daddy played football and threw the shot put. After high school, he attended the University of Florida, where he caught diphtheria during his freshman year. He transferred to Auburn University with his brother and graduated with a Civil Engineering degree. Daddy met my mother, Margaret Evans, at a street dance while attending Auburn. He married her one month after graduation. On the second day of their honeymoon, he was called into active duty.
He spent two years as a Lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers. The second year was spent in the Korean War. His duties included building a M.A.S.H hospital and constructing a bridge. Upon his return, Mother and Daddy settled in Jacksonville, Florida, where he worked for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. A higher-paying job with a pulp and paper company wooed them to Texas. After two years with a baby in tow, Daddy accepted a design engineering job with Kimberly Clark Paper in Childersburg, Alabama. He eventually became the head maintenance engineer supervising thirteen men.
â€œI achieved through hard work, long hours, extra studying, and being fair with other people. I worked hard to instill pride in the Oâ€™Kelley name and to establish family traditions.â€ As I read these words written by my Daddyâ€™s hand to his first granddaughter, I reflect upon his goals. He did work hard and long at the paper mill, often getting calls to return after hours.
Head of the O’Kelley Household
Daddy was the provider for our family of five while my mother stayed home until my sisters and I were in school. He was not exactly hands-on in the day-to-day rearing of Elaine, me, and Nancy, but he instilled values in us including good money management. He paid cash for everything he purchased, including our house and cars. We lived within our means, and you can bet â€œour meansâ€ fell well within the classification of low middle class.
Daddy built the first house I can remember living in on Greenwood Circle. It was a simple brick home with three bedrooms and abundant woods in the backyard.
Patriotism ranked high on Daddyâ€™s list. At ballgames, he stood tall with his hand flat over his heart when the national anthem played. The pride he carried for our country was humbling.
He didnâ€™t do it often, but I loved when he played the piano. He only played a few classical pieces, including a Hungarian Rhapsody. Every so often, I pull out his music to play.
Daddy was a godly man. He wasnâ€™t particularly overt about his beliefs, but his morals were exemplary. He taught a menâ€™s Sunday School class for a while. To my knowledge, he was never a deacon, but when he spoke, people listened. His booming voice projected wisdom. His laughter bellowed, as did his prayer for Sunday lunch. And he gave the best bear hugs ever.
When I left home for college, Daddy bought me a used orange hatchback Datsun, perfect for hauling. He also bought me a portable keyboard to have in the dorm. I knew it was a monetary sacrifice, but it was one for which I will be forever grateful.
Iâ€™m glad Daddy saw me graduate as a medical technologist. He also took great pride in walking me down the aisle to get married. He didnâ€™t have good health for the last decade of his life, developing Parkinsonâ€™s disease on top of his gout, joint problems, and heart issues. His weight didnâ€™t help matters. At the age of 72, on Martin Luther Kingâ€™s Day, 2002, Daddy died peacefully in his sleep from a massive heart attack. At his funeral, I arranged for Uilleann bagpipes to be played as it seemed fitting for a man who loved his Irish heritage. Although itâ€™s been twenty-plus years, I still miss birthday cards signed by my Daddy. I miss the joy of eating boiled peanuts in the car. I may not be the son you hoped for, Daddy, but I never felt any less loved.
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