Tales From The Quarter: Happy Birthday, Phil

12:54 November 10, 2016
By: Debbie Lindsey

Every time I see a beige Volkswagen Beetle tooling down the street, I wave at Phil. Oh, I know it’s not really my dad, Phil—and yet, for me it is. It was sometime in the mid-1960s that Daddy brought home the most adorable little car; a puppy could not have thrilled me more. I seem to remember this new car’s sticker price being something crazy like $1,900, which even then seemed cheap. This car was ridiculously tiny for a less-than-agile, six-feet-tall guy to fold into. But he loved it. The VW Bug (as we called it) was known for amazing gas mileage, and Phil devoted himself to tracking its gas consumption. My dad and I spent many years covering many miles of Mobile and surrounding areas in that car. He chauffeured my friends and me in that car; later taught me to drive in that car; lectured me, talked heart-to-heart, laughed, lost his temper and shared his family history in that car. We would drive to my aunt’s and uncle’s across the bay and go eat at this little joint that served crab burgers (I suspect now that they were frozen and fairly tasteless, but to me, they were the best).

The little Bug was quite a novelty to folks back when they first became popular. So lightweight, the neighborhood kids would occasionally hide it from my dad. They would gather in force, lift and carry it into the backyard. Other times, there were contests to see how many kids could fit into the car—I believe 12 was the winning number. We were easily amused.

As I became an obnoxious teenager, Phil still spent time taking me on outings. Once we went to the beach and of course I was mortified to be there with my father. What teen wouldn’t be? Yet, how stupid I was to roll my eyes at the effort he made to have a good time with a surly kid. At least I was able to save the day when he lost the car keys in the Gulf of Mexico, and we towed that VW Bug back to town with my big leather belt that had adorned my hip-hugger bell-bottomed jeans (both of which made my mom want to pull her hair out and run screaming—hippies were just not in her comfort zone). The “God awful tacky belt” was looped to Mom’s car (she got to drive from town to fetch us) and successfully towed us home.

So many things remind me of Dad, just as strawberry cream pies, fried chicken, those little bottles of Coca-Cola, sailboats on the bay, and Johnny Carson remind me of Momma. For the past eight years, I have watched most every morning a neighbor man and his son walking their dog. They talk, really talk. This started when the boy was little, and now he is becoming a teenager and still they act like best friends. This makes me just plain slap happy, remembering my walks with Dad, and knowing this kid will remember his mornings with his best friend.

My earliest memories of Daddy and me walking and talking were when I was somewhere between six and eight. I learned many years later that he was wrestling with the impending loss of the family business, Lindsey Lumber Company, and the bankruptcy that would ensue. I was too young for him to share this with and too young to offer him advice. But I suspect our walks helped him to decompress and take that much needed deep breath. 

Thanksgiving mornings were always kinda magical as Dad and I would walk the then wooded campus of Spring Hill College. We’d walk along mysterious and seemingly lost-in-time foot paths that led past graveyards, rambling old stucco buildings, courtyards and statues. We walked down time-worn stone steps to a stucco and brick building with its watery basement a few feet below, which must have acted as a conduit for the natural underground springs to feed the small dark lake just beyond. The lake was rumored to be bottomless and I chose to believe it. Anyway, those Thanksgiving walks are some of my strongest visual memories.

I was weaned on Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein and Sondheim, Lerner and Loewe. Both my parents loved movie musicals and would take me to the old Saenger Theatre in downtown Mobile. But it was Dad’s collection of records that infused the lyrics into my vocal cords and my heart. I never could and never will be a singer (my friends insist I lip-sync during Christmas caroling). Yet in my heart, I was Mitzi Gaynor belting out “Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” to anyone who would listen. When most kids were swooning to the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was watching TV replays of My Fair Lady and Oklahoma. And the first record I ever bought was The Sound of Music. To this day, when one of those musicals airs, I find myself reaching for the phone to tell Daddy to tune in.

Phil Lindsey is my father. He is also my best friend. Sure, Daddy passed in January 1994, but he was and will always be my mentor and buddy. And on November 11, I will celebrate his birthday. He would be 107, and I am still upset with him for skipping out at a mere 85. But Dad lives on in my sister Susan’s heart and all those whose lives he touched. He’s there in a thousand little things I see, think and experience daily, and in most everything about me that makes me proud—he made me a better person. Thanks, Daddy. 

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