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Working with Daddy kept ‘docket’ full, fun

"Son, what’s on your docket for today?” my daddy would ask with a cheerful voice when he called me almost every morning. He had worked almost his entire life at a propane gas company. I’m sure that question was something he asked all of his gas delivery men each morning before their routes began. It was so ingrained in him after all those years that he always asked the same thing of me.

Most of you know I didn’t take the “work at the propane gas company” route for my life. That’s why it was always so funny to me that Daddy asked me that question. I usually told him that “my docket” was overflowing. He never quite wrapped his mind around the fact I didn’t go somewhere every morning to a regular job. My creative jobs over the years have definitely been anything but regular and, at times, somewhat sporadic to say the least.

Daddy thought on the opposite side of the brain than me. I was painting, writing and creating things and he was making sure propane gas got where it was supposed to be, when it was supposed to be! To this day, Raymond Dallas Ballard was one of the most honest, hard working and dependable men you would ever have the good fortune to meet. However, there was nothing spontaneous about him. Everything in his life was planned and executed promptly!

Even though our jobs were about as different as night is from day, we did enjoy each other’s company. One thing we both loved doing was cooking and we spent many hours over the years doing just that. However, even our cooking techniques were not the same. He was a master of the propane grill. He could grill anything! Having sold grills, he knew just how to coax the bright blue and yellow flames into doing just what he needed them to do. His hamburgers and steaks were juicy as was his barbecue chicken that always dripped with flavor. He baked potatoes, steamed vegetables and even baked biscuits on his grill! He was amazing with a pair of tongs wearing an apron that was always stained with sauces from former grilling endeavors.

I guess since he had perfected the grilling thing, I never felt the need to embrace the propane-fueled flame like he had. So over the years, I baked cakes and pies, breads and sauces, side dishes and anything else that was fattening. Together, we would have made the perfect chef.

Another thing we both loved to do was work with wood and build things. Just like with the cooking, we made the perfect woodworking pair. I could design what I wanted. All I had to do was draw a rough sketch of it on a piece of paper. Daddy then studied it and devised a plan of attack. Before long what I imagined had come to life.

Sometimes he clearly didn’t understand why I wanted something built a certain way but, after I explained my concept, at least he pretended to get it. He sometimes shook his head in disbelief because he knew me so well. I couldn’t just have something built that was plain and ordinary. Whatever we constructed had to be painted, embellished and completely detailed with unusual do-dads and beautiful trinkets.

Boy, did we create all kinds of unique things over the years. Everything from an ornate sleigh for my porcelain Santa that featured three dimensional flowers, to display cases and shadow boxes designed to house my collectibles, to hand-painted cabinets and cases to hold our televisions and books, to desks for my children to use to do their homework to pretty much anything else my mind could imagine.

Daddy and I were very similar in the fact we wanted everything yesterday! Once we decided on a project, we would go out to his shop and work ourselves into a frenzy until late into the night. As we worked, sawdust blew around his shop like low flying clouds, nails clinked and moaned as hammers forced them into the wood and electric sanders seemed to cry out in pain as they smoothed the wood’s surface until it was as slick as a peeled onion. When we were finished with a project, all that was left was unneeded pieces of wood, used pieces of sandpaper, tiny particles of sawdust, a dropped nail here and there and a whole lot of memories.

Recently I received a wonderful gift from a childhood friend who was going through some of his family’s old photos. It was a snapshot that had yellowed with time and had “November 27, 1968” typed at the bottom. As I studied it closer, I realized it was a photo of me when I was a little boy. It was taken at our church in the social hall, probably right before a meal. Behind me stood my daddy with his hand lovingly “gripping” the back of my neck.

First, my eyes welled up with tears and then a big smile came over my face. Even though I don’t have him with me any longer, I still have those wonderful memories and all of his woodworking tools, his grill, propane tank and apron. What I don’t have is the chance to tell him what is on my docket for the day anymore but somewhere and somehow I know that he knows.


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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA. 31208, fax them to (478) 474-4930 or call (478) 757-6877.