Thursday, January 27, 2011

meet my dad, Alford.

Reid & Alford
The first time my daddy came to California he was 16 years old. He was hanging around his brother in law’s filling station, passing time on a humid Summer day, daydreaming about life outside these North Carolina hills and dirt roads, when a college graduate from Durham, NC, rolled into town in his 1941 Willys Farm truck, in route to beautiful Cal-i-for-ni-a. “I’ve always wanted to go to California,” said my dad eagerly, in his thick and slow southern drawl (which he still maintains today, despite having lived in Cali for over 30 years). He was a skinny, freckled, toe-head back then with the heart of a rambler and the pockets of a pauper. Though his name was Johnny, just about everyone called him by his middle name “Alford.,” as they are prone to do in the South. Some of his kinfolk called him "Cotton" on account of his light-colored hair.
Dad portrait
The college grad and the country boy rode along route 66, picking up hitchhikers along the way. Eventually, my dad found himself in Venice Beach, California, where the kind stranger found him a room. For money, my dad danced in front of a jukebox in a restaurant situated on the now defunct “POP”, Pacific Ocean Park Amusement Pier (1958-1967) in Santa Monica. I imagine he did the hambone and played the spoons. The proprietor of the joint took a liking to my dad, and hired him to work as a bus boy, but my dad didn't stay on long. He heard the train whistle blow, and headed back home. As a parting gift, some ladies bought him a sailor cap. Before his train ride, my dad went into a restaurant and had a cup of coffee. Back then, you’d get a monetary reward if you reported a service man gone “A-wall.” Because he was wearing a sailor cap, the waitress must have thought my dad was in the service because when he exited the restaurant he was greeted by policemen who began to question him and even went through his suitcase to determine if he were an “a-wall” marine. When they found that he was just a kid headed home, the police let him go.
Pacific Ocean Park
My dad told me this story last night, though I had previously heard bits and pieces. I believe he hasn’t changed much. He’s always had little to no money and a big personality, and he’s always been driven to get up and go. For a long time now – nearly 30 years – his ramblin bones have taken the shape of a missionary, and God is his GPS, and sometimes this GPS seems to go a little haywire just like mine does. These days, dad is set on going to Indonesia. Half of me hopes that he makes it there and the other half of me wishes he’d just settle down and stay where he is needed. He does a lot of volunteer work in senior centers and the old folks really take to him. I sometimes think it’s a shame when he cuts out. Sometimes, his wanderings seem aimless, like a child lost in the super market, and then I start to feel sorry for him. Then I think of what Franz Kafka said, “You are free and that is why you are lost.” Though I haven't always supported his rambling way, I admire his ability to take the path less straight so that he can fulfill his purpose.
Here's Johnny
A favorite photo of my dad & Anna from Thanksgiving 2009. My dad is a virtuoso tambourine player. You may also notice some other instruments in his hands -- the spoons and the kazoo.
yes, that's my dad with spoons, tambourine, and kazoo in his hand
My dad is wearing that shirt in every picture of him since 2004. You can buy one for $10 if you want.

By the way, in that first photo, my dad is the taller of the two boys.

To be continued ...


  1. He wore that shirt to roller derby games, and that's how i knew it was him when i saw him at my local supermarket a couple years ago. Your dad is rad. Thanks for sharing....


  2. thanks for sharing! i always love hearing about the lives people have lead.

  3. Thanks for sharing your Dad in such a sweet, touching way. I'm also a transplanted Southerner, and have family members that remind me of your Dad, in some ways. Your Dad is the real thing, he's following a different beat. =)


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