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TOP O' THE MORN: Our memories of father lingers

Fathers Day! And how blessed I was to have had a father who loved his kids and their mother and handed down to us so many wonderful things like music, a sense of humor, love of sports, a Christian church, and love for people.

Dad grew up on a Tennessee plantation in the south, where his father had been a Confederate soldier, an engineer on a troop train. He went to New York City to attend college, where he lived with a married sister and her husband, where he received a degree in pharmacy from New York University. His first job offer was clear across the United States in Mesa, Ariz. As a young man he played baseball with a Phoenix team, in the days when baseball teams used their bare hands — no gloves. And he said that every joint in both hands had been broken.

His job as a pharmacist came naturally, his grandfather was a doctor, plus several uncles of the Ristine family. Growing up, we seldom had to call a real doctor, Dad would go to the nearest drugstore, mix up what would cure whatever we had, and it did.

When Dad met my mother in Mesa, Aria., he found she had come there with her sister who was ill, and thought the warmer climate would help her. Mother’s father was a Yankee soldier in the Civil War, and had brought his family to Mount Vernon, on the Skagit River to live. When I was born, Dad wanted to name me Dixie Lee. Mother said it was a nice name, but “we could never go home!” At the age of one I had little to say.

In Mount Vernon, Dad took over the job of foreman at the Carnation Condensary. Fifteen years later the family moved to Whidbey Island. On Whidbey, Dad made use of his knowledge of pharmacy, selling medicines for farm animals, and becoming more or less or a veterinarian ... his nickname was “Doc.”

He loved baseball, and joined the Oak Harbor ball team as the oldest member of the team. Fishing was his delight, and he rowed a boat as far as Snaklum Point to fish, then rowed all the way home! There were few boats in the harbor with engines, but Dad and his son-in-law, Mel, bought a big black “rowboat” that had a little “putt-putt” engine in the middle. We named it the Battleship, and it took the whole family to fill it!

In the summer time, Dad and Mother, with mandolin and guitar, would sit on the front porch and play all the old tunes, and sing them. There was no getting away from the sing-along for us. We had to come sit on the steps or in the hammock, to sing from the old “southern” songs to the “twenties” songs, dear to the heart of flapper Fanny!

There weren’t many cars in those days, and in the cool of the evenings, people would stroll along the sidewalks, slowing down and stopping to hear the rendition of “Way Down Upon the Swannee River,” et al.

We think the love of music is learned in early days, when baby was rocked to sleep in Mother’s arms while she sang the songs about “my kitty cat” or birdies. Our youngest child said his first words from his favorite song, “Bring back my kitten to me, to me.” Whenever we came to “to me” he sang along with us!

“My kitty has gone from her basket

My kitty has gone up a tree,

Oh who will go up in the branches,

And bring back my kitty to me?”

I learned to play the guitar from Mother, and my sister Marguerite and I sang duets at church, parties, programs, and once were invited to sing over the radio in Seattle! There was no television at that time, and the radio had come full bore into everyone’s living room. We sang, and received acclaim in our home town, but never went further. We sang in the church choir, and our own kids followed the family example by singing in the church choirs.

Our little dog Beanie, who went everywhere the kids went, sat between their choir seats in church, and one Sunday morning as they were assembling, someone stepped on Beanie’s tail! He let out a “yipe” and the young minister rose and addressed his audience, “You have just heard an impromptu solo by Beanie.”

Dorothy Neil has gathered and recorded local history for more than 50 years. Her 10 books chronicle Whidbey Island life and times.

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