My Daddy, Virgil Earl Glisson, was born in Statesboro, Georgia on July 29, 1916 to Joseph Paul Glisson and Carrie Bell Futch. He had a very hard childhood which haunted him throughout his life. His mother died in childbirth when he was 3 years old and he would forever long for the tender touch of his mother. After his mother died, Grandpa Glisson remarried and I am told that on their wedding night things were not quite what they appeared and the marriage did not work out. Soon after, Grandpa made the wife leave and life was hard on all the children. It was rumored that the new wife put ground glass in the children’s food in an attempt to get rid of them. Daddy has 7 siblings, Rufus, Bertha, Beatrice, Janie Ernestine, Lawton, Willy, who died as a child, and Alvareen, who was pregnant at the time, and who was pummeled to death by an abusive husband. Unclear to me is why he suffered no consequence for his actions, but I assume it was the fact that it was a rural, backward area and women were possessions and in most instances of no value. They were to produce heirs and farm workers and cook, clean and generally take care of the home and husband, whatever that required doing.
In that day and place, education was not important and Daddy was taken out of school when he was in 3rd grade to work on the farm. Grandpa was a ruthless father and made life difficult for his children. Daddy survived his childhood and grew to be a man, continuing to work on the farm with his father and siblings. He met my mother when he went into town one day to see Mama’s cousin. He took a liking to Mama and she returned the affection, and on February 19, 1939, they were married. Daddy and Mama lived in town and settled into a nice little house where in 1940, Mama gave birth to their first child, Gloria Jean. She was their pride and joy and kept them busy. In 1942, their 2nd child, Clara Janie, was born and Earl, Jr. was born in 1944, shortly after which Daddy was drafted into the Army. He was not gone long however as somehow Mama got him a hardship discharge. I remember when he came home and this man in a uniform knocked at the door and Mama was crying and so happy. We all got dressed up and I remember we walked downtown and strolled about.
Daddy did not like living in the city, so after a while he returned to the farm to do the only thing he knew how to do, farming. Mama had never envisioned being a farmer’s wife, but she soon took to it and did everything she had to do. As children, we learned at an early age the value of hard work and what it took to achieve goals. Daddy was an excellent farmer and did well. We learned how to pick cotton, plant, pick, string and hand tobacco, and everything else that needed done on the farm. We learned a lot in childhood that would follow us throughout our lives.
The only downfall Daddy had was alcohol. Mama always said he was a ladies man and really knew how to cut a rug (dance). He also love to call square dances. One night he went into town with Mama’s sister’s husband and never came home. The next morning my aunt came out and told Mama that Daddy and my uncle were in jail. Mama had to go into town and get him out. Seems that they both had too much to drink, had gotten into a fight with some other fellas and a brawl ensued and they all got thrown in the pokey. Well, she got him out of jail and he walked a fine line after that.
Mama hid the drinking from us until we were older and we kinda figured things out. She didn’t want us to think badly of Daddy, but it answered a lot of questions I had. I remember Daddy went into town with a neighbor on a business matter and he returned a few hours later and the neighbor dropped him off at the end of the pecan-lined lane leading up to the house. We were all out in the yard with Mama raking leaves and Mama looked up the lane and saw Daddy weaving back and forth. She threw down the rake and ran into the house crying. When Daddy saw that happen, he started running and went into the house after her just a laughing and telling her he was just funning around with her. He never did that again. I don’t mean he didn’t drink again, but that he never pretended he was drunk again.
After buying the farm and the passage of a few years, somehow my father and mother lost the farm and we were back to share cropping. My mother told me once what happened and it broke her heart, but I will leave that part out. She loved that house and I remember it as being beautiful. We moved several times during those years. As the years passed, our family continued to grow with the birth of Charles Grady, who only lived for a few days. I wrote about Charles Grady in another chapter. Then Judy and Joey were born and it was suspected that my father possibly had some sort of lung disease or TB. The doctor told him he needed to leave the farm and do something other farming. Mama was happy sInce all of Mama’s family had already migrated to Florida. Mama, and Daddy very reluctantly, moved to Florida to begin a life with which Daddy was very unfamiliar. After the move to Florida, our family continued to grow. Luann, Stevie and Tommy were born.
This was a new experience for all of us because we had always lived in the country and that was all we knew. Daddy was a very insecure man with a huge inferiority complex. He was a little paranoid and would not eat in public because he thought people were watching him eat. He was also a very jealous man as far as Mama was concerned. Mama walked a fine line all of her married life because of that jealousy. She was afraid to speak to a man for fear of a scene from Daddy.
Daddy had a really hard time finding a job after we got to Jacksonville. I remember a salesman knocked on the door one day and my sister, Gloria, answered the door. He was selling cemetery plots and wanted to know if we were interested. My sister matter-of-factly told him that, no not right now but to check back in a couple of months because if Daddy didn’t find a job soon, we were all going to starve to death. We knew even as children that in order to survive you had to work.
Daddy finally found a job working at a bakery. He worked there many years and became supervisor of his department before he retired. I loved it when he was in the cinnamon roll department. He used to bring them home and we all loved them. He never ate them and he said he didn’t care if he ever saw another cinnamon roll for the rest of his life. He retired on disability when one day his hand got caught in the machinery and he lost part of his hand and 3 fingers. They were able to save his thumb and index finger but he was unable to perform his job. After he retired, time became Daddy’s worst enemy. He had time to increase his drinking habit, time to sit around and feel sorry for himself and time to worry about Mama’s fidelity. He worked around the house and kept things in good repair under Mama’s watchful eye. One day he climbed on the roof to make repairs and fell off breaking his arm. Mama thought he’d had a nip or two before climbing up on the roof. He said not, but she begged to differ.
In 1982, Daddy suffered a massive heart attack. We were living in Ohio at the time so we made the trip to Jacksonville by car with the 3 children because he wasn’t expected to live. He had open-heart surgery and they punctured a lung and his entire body swelled up like a balloon. He managed to overcome all his difficulties and went home after several weeks in the hospital. It was a long road back for him, but Mama took good care of him. He didn’t like the food he had to eat. He was a meat and potatoes man and loved salt. This was at about the time chlolesterol became a big deal and Mama was determined to save him. She made him walk with her every day. One day as they were getting ready to walk, Daddy said Ruby, I don’t feel like walking today. She was already out the door and turned to him and said, Virgil, you don’t walk, you don’t eat. Since food was a big deal to Daddy, he meekly followed her out the door and walked. He never tried that again.
In 1984, we relocated our family to Florida to be closer to my family and for a change of climate. Daddy and Mama had settled into a routine and Mama continued keeping children to earn extra money, most of them being grandchildren. This went on for a time and Daddy reverted back to his old ways and had another heart attack. It took a lot of rehab and Mama controlling his diet for Daddy to make a comeback, but he did. He became more agreeable about taking care of himself and did what Mama told him to do. He stopped drinking and started going to church with Mama on Sunday. Nothing pleased her more than that one thing.
One night he was sitting in the living room and Mama was in the kitchen and she heard him call her name. She went into the living room and he was laying on the floor. She called 911 and they took him to Shands. The doctor said he had suffered sudden death syndrome and that he would not make it. He was in ER for 2 days. We were all there constantly talking to him, and sometimes just sitting there silently holding his hand and praying. On the third day he regained consciousness and was moved to CCU. He was in the hospital for 3 weeks and recovered and went home. He had been given another chance.
He started failing in other ways and seemed to have the beginnings of dementia and the jealously he had always had about Mama returned and he became paranoid that every man was after her, no matter his age. This became very distressing for Mama and she had to be so careful. On December 3, 1994, Mama and I took Daddy to the ER because he had been so sick for a week and just wasn’t getting any better. The doctor immediately decided to admit him because he had congestive heart failure and pneumonia and they needed to drain some of the fluid from his lungs. They started his treatment immediately and on Sunday he seemed to be better.
On Monday, December 5, 1994, I did not make my usual visit to the hospital on my way to work as I had gotten a bad cold and did not want to expose him to more germs. On my way home, I called him to see how he was doing. He answered the phone and said he couldn’t talk because the nurse was in his room doing something. I went home and about an hour later, I got a call from my brother, Earl. He said they had called and said Daddy was not doing well and that they had to have permission from Mama to administer a particular drug. It would either work or he would die. Mama gave permission and they administered the drug. A little later the hospital called and said we all needed to come to the hospital because Daddy was dying.
Most of us made it to the hospital in time to say goodbye. When my turn came, I kissed Daddy on the cheek and I whispered into his ear how much I loved him and what a wonderful father he had been. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Saying goodbye to a loved one is heart-wrenching and touches the depths of one’s soul, but, having the opportunity to say goodbye… priceless.