My Dad, James William McNeal
My memories are filled with Pop and his sometimes eccentric ways. He taught me to respect nature and all God's creatures. He kept a bird feeder just outside the kitchen window so we could watch the birds while we ate.
The shelves behind his seat at the kitchen table were filled with slides, his microscope, jars of nails, screws and little instruments he used to make slides, and stacks of books. In fact, there were stacks of books everywhere. Homemade bookcases filled with all kinds of books lined the walls and all the nooks and crannies of the house.
No lampshade was safe from his newspaper clippings that he pinned to them like little bulletin boards everywhere. If someone walked by them or opened a door the clippings would rustle and flap around on the shades.
He liked to fish, shoot pellet guns and even arrows at targets on the potting shed door. I managed to shoot well enough to at least hit the potting house with those arrows, but many times the arrows just flew off into no man's land. I got good at shooting my B.B. gun (a replica of a Western Peacemaker). We even hung tin cans from strings and swung them to make them harder to hit.
Pop loved the ocean even though we seldom went to the beach when my sister and I were growing up. He was a meteorologist. His favorite job was when he worked for Ocean Weather on a coastguard cutter that went as far north as Greenland. Unfortunately, it seemed every time he left port, some catastrophe would take place. Mom finally had enough of Pop's long absences out at sea and he gave up Ocean Weather to work for the United States Weather Bureau.
After he retired from the US Weather Bureau, Pop accepted an offer to be the weatherman for the local news on TV. What he really loved about this job was making films teaching kids about wildlife. He was pretty good at it. Pop was a conservationist before it was cool. Jacques Cousteau was among his favorite wildlife conservationists.
We played our harmonicas together. He liked to play what he called "Dixie", but it wasn't Dixie at all. It was a tune he made up, but we played it just the same. We also played in our grand repertoire, my favorite, Shenandoah.
He and I sat on the screened in porch during the hot weather to watch the political conventions while we ate caviar with crackers and drank cold beer. That was my first taste of caviar. It's an acquired taste, but I came to like it.
He taught me to play chess. I only ever won one game. Pop wasn't the type to let a kid win on purpose. If you won, you really won, so that one game was quite a victory for me.
We traded stuff a lot. Once we traded my Thesaurus for his brass ashtray. I liked it because it had a deer in the bottom of it. Pop sometimes forgot what he traded and tried to reclaim his stuff. Because of his forgetfulness, I made him write and sign a release of that ashtray in trade for the Thesaurus. I still have that note and the ashtray.
I still miss him. I miss fighting with him. I miss laughing with him, I miss bargaining for goods with him, and mostly, I just miss him because I loved him.
To all of you who are fathers, have fathers, have kids that are fathers, or miss your fathers, I wish you a Happy Father's Day.