D is for Dad’s Death

Les Green was the first black registered auctioneer in the state of North Carolina.

Rescuing a bird

Hmm. I said to myself, “Self, do I really want to do this?” I had a whole ‘nother blog post planned for today. but it IS the anniversary of the death of my father, Les Green. Moreover, it’s the 10th anniversary this very day. You know how those round numbers often hold special significance.

Top picture: Oui, c’est moi de l’enfant.

I wrote about the circumstances of his death five years ago. Here’s the peculiar thing: I misremembered the date that he told us he had prostate cancer! I wrote that he informed us in January 1998, when in fact it was January 1997, during the same trip we had the conversation about spanking.

How could I forget that detail? Easy: as I said before, he was SO cavalier about it. It was as though he were discussing twisting his ankle. No big deal.

And I suppose maybe that’s what he thought. As the Mayo Clinic put it, “Prostate cancer that is detected early — when it’s still confined to the prostate gland — has a better chance of successful treatment.”

In many ways, my dad was pretty remarkable. He graduated from high school – barely, by all accounts – went into the Army in 1945 and 1946. Eventually, he had a number of different jobs, from florist and sign painter to a vice-president of a large construction company. He was rather the epitome of the “self-made man.”

He also played guitar, largely self-taught, and sang. He billed himself locally (Binghamton, NY) as the “Lonesome and Lonely Traveller”. He described himself as a “singer of folk songs”, rather than as a “folk singer”, because his repertoire was not limited to the one genre. Eventually, my sister Leslie and I performed with him as the Green Family Singers for a time.


My back, my dad to the left, at my Grandma Williams’ funeral.

One insight into my father’s behavior involves cigarette smoking. For years, he smoked Winstons; he used to send my sister Leslie and me to O’Leary’s, the store at the corner, to buy them. When I was a teenager, he developed emphysema
and quit smoking. When the disease went away, he returned to smoking, to my transparent dismay. Then a few years later, he just stopped smoking. But he said that he didn’t quit; he preferred the notion that he just didn’t happen to have one for almost 30 years.

Did I ever tell you how my parents met? He delivered flowers as a teenager, and he was supposed to make a delivery to 13 Maple Avenue, but went instead to 13 Maple Street, on the opposite side of town. Apparently, my mother was smitten by this guy bringing flowers, even if they weren’t for her, and he was likewise taken by her.

When he made waffles, he made a big production about how to suss out their doneness. He told tall tales about cooking for George Washington and other historical figures. Whatever leftovers were in the fridge he could turn into a quite delicious concoction he called “gouly-goop”, undoubtedly a variation on the word goulash, though I don’t think I knew that at the time.

My father was very much involved in the civil rights movement in the area. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., there was violence in a lot of American cities, but not in Binghamton, in no small part because my father helped keep the peace.

Les Green was gregarious and personable, but not always at home, which is probably why I ended sending him a pair of letters. Still, I believe that it made things much better between us afterward.

My father always had a plan to get rich. Some of his ideas were workable. Did you know that Les Green was the first black registered auctioneer in the state of North Carolina? But he had, by my mother’s estimation, about 39 different businesses from the time he moved to North Carolina until the time he died in 2000, selling everything from prepaid phone cards to home alarm systems, many of them arguably pyramid schemes. All of his kids rolled their eyes when he signed all three of us – at $700 a pop! – to be distributors of one of his products, without our knowledge. He was lousy at keeping track of money.

He kept asking me – I’m smart, I work at a Small Business Development Center – to find him a way to get rich quickly via the Internet. I kept telling him that he ought to go to his local SBDC, so THEY could tell him the deficiencies of his more quixotic plans.

Probably the best time I ever had with my father, certainly, as an adult, was when I went to the ASBDC conference in Savannah, GA in the fall of 1998. He drove down from Charlotte, NC, and just hung out around town with me and three of my female colleagues, with whom he shamelessly flirted, as was his wont.


At Carol’s and my wedding reception, May 1999. Dad did the floral arrangements.

We have a small tribe, and his death made me the alpha male. Heck, with the exception of my niece’s husband, the ONLY male, and has been an interesting evolution in my life. My sisters often send me Father’s Day cards, which initially took me by surprise.

His death at the age of 73, now a decade ago, sometimes seems surreal. I’m STILL looking for an audiotape that my father made a few months before he died where he claimed that he was going to explain to the family what was going on with him, a dialogue with his doctor. I heard a snippet of it when I was down in Charlotte a month after he died, I set it aside, and then it disappeared.


I’m sure this was disjointed and rambling, but such was the relationship I had with my father. I should mention, though, that I love and miss my dad.

ABC Wednesday – Round 7