Wednesday, June 12, 2019

My Weird & Wonderful Dad – an Artist

My dad, wearing conventional clothes
by Gayle Hallenbeck Lynds

My father, Paul Hallenbeck, was weird.  When I was a kid, I didn’t understand why.  Years later, I finally figured it out.  God help him, he was an artist.

At six feet nine inches tall, you couldn’t miss him.  He had bright red hair, glowing blue eyes, and a nose destined to be admired for its grand size.  He was a handsome fellow, and his smile would light up a room.

But if you didn’t watch him, he’d go to elegant events without his socks.  I doubt he realized this would become a cool thing a decade later.  He was just more comfortable, and it gave him an edge to poke his finger at the silly conventions of society. 

In the summer, he’d arrive at the dinner table without his shirt.  Grandma – my mother’s mom – would stare at his bronzed chest and curly red chest hair, turn on her heel, and leave, horrified.  Although I think he enjoyed irritating her, the reason he didn’t put on a shirt was he’d been out in the sun, torso naked, wearing a baseball cap, working in his oversized vegetable garden or among his fruit trees.  He was sweaty.
Some of Dad's wood candlesticks & bowls, 1980s & 1990s

Come on, we’re talking comfort here – his – and he was hungry.  Oh, and Grandma represented “society.”

Then there were the times visitors would arrive at the house, and he’d close the basement door and stay down there happily alone – he was working on one of his wood projects. 

He always made us late to events, whether church, family, or school related, because he was, again, working on a wood project and happily alone.  So Mom got wily: She compensated by lying about the hour at which we needed to leave the house.  The truth was always a half hour later than she’d announce, and he was always a half hour late, which meant we got there on time.
Dad's china cabinet, 1980s

Besides gardening and wood projects, Dad specialized in being resourceful.  One spring afternoon he and Rennie, our neighbor, stood in our backyard staring at the long string of mounds ruining the aesthetics of Dad’s grassy lawn. 

Rennie was chortling.  Dad was gloomy.  They agreed it was the doing of a single energetic gopher. 

“Some things just can’t be fixed,” Rennie taunted.  “You’ve got a gopher.  He’ll never let you catch him.  Might as well make him a pet.”

Dad shot Rennie one of his withering looks that said, you are so wrong.  “We’ll see.  How about loaning me your lawn mower?” 

It was a gas one.  “You’re gonna kill it?” Rennie said, surprised. 

Dad was a known softie.  “We’ll see,” he repeated.

So Rennie fetched the lawn mower.  Dad attached a hose and stuck the free end into the earth where the gopher’s tunneling began.
Dad & the garage he built by hand

As the motor churned, and the gas blew into the tunnel, they watched.

“You’re never gonna catch it, Paul,” Rennie said.  “They’re too damn smart.”

The gopher was in motion, tunneling fast, the ground rising as it skedaddled across the property line and into Rennie’s flower garden.  Dad had studied the pattern of the tunnels and realized the only place left for the gopher to go that’d be uncontaminated was the virgin territory at Rennie’s place.  Rennie wasn’t going to easily convince the gopher to return to ours. 

“Oh, hell,” Rennie said.

“Yep, they’re smart,” Dad agreed.  He removed his hose and walked off, grinning.  “Have fun with your pet gopher.”

I could go on and on about Dad’s eccentricities – there’s a long laundry list in family lore, but instead, take a look at his modestly called “wood projects” displayed here.
One of Dad's mysterious wood plates, 1990s

Dad’s days were spent as a tool-and-die engineer, but at night and on weekends through the long Iowa winters he designed and created beautiful pieces of art in wood.  He often built his own machines and tools to get the looks he wanted.  For instance, he made wood plates that still baffle wood-workers and engineers – how had he managed to achieve that ruffled look?

As Dad grew older and more confident that maybe he was on to something, he showed his work at art fairs in the Midwest.  He won many prizes.  Some of his pieces are still displayed in banks, libraries, and homes.  This was the time in my parents’ lives when my father made sense at last to all of us. 

Mom would introduce him proudly, “I’d like you to meet my husband.  He’s an artist.” 

By then I was publishing, and he and I would often talk about how we solved problems in our work, what we did to encourage our creativity, and how we figured out what we wanted to do next.
Article about Dad in Nebraska newspaper, 1941

Like him, I usually didn’t wear socks and I was often late wherever I was going.  Was it because I was imitating him ... or because I was like him, distracted, my mind churning with exciting ideas?

Yes, my father was weird.  And I turned out weird, too, as well as an occasional embarrassment to my children.  Now I watch them embarrass my grandchildren.  Life is good.  Thanks, Dad -- and Mom, too.

Dear Rogue Reader ... Please leave a comment about your dad or another man who's been important in your life....  Happy Fathers Day!

14 comments:

  1. That wood plate is beautiful! Glad he ended up showing his work. Sounds like a labor of love. This post is a lovely tribute.

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    1. Thanks, Jamie. It was fun to revisit Dad, and enlightening. Isn't it interesting how by writing we reveal ourselves to ourselves!

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  2. My father was sort of the opposite—always on time and definitely with socks—but he also abruptly drove me to the library in the middle of one evening because we’d been talking about books and he wanted to introduce me to P.G. Wodehouse (whose works are still a passion of my entire family). He would also neglect guests to tinker with radios in the basement, until my mother pretended that she had to go out and abandon his brother and sister in law in the living room. That got him to emerge in a hurry!

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    1. What wonderful stories about your dad, Lisa! My kinda guy. He and my dad would've been in the basement together, which is definitely preferable to the dog house, to which it seems to me they could've easily been headed.

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  3. Your father sounds like a kindred soul! Being an artist myself, I can relate! I'm definitely weird, lost in thought, would totally love to neglect any guests and go down to the basement (except we don't have one) and I'm always late--my husband (and kids) telling me to leave earlier than I need to, etc., etc.

    Great tribute, Gayle!

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    1. We need wives, Robin! Then we can be lost in thought while someone else does the reality thinking!

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  4. Sounds like a wonderful father - and you have great memories. What a smart and clever he must have been. And how special that you got to discuss your writing with him. It's the time of year to remember our Dads, isn't it? Although,it's always a good time of the year to remember.

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    1. Yes, I agree, S. Lee, it's always a good time to remember what they did for us, and who they were besides being our dads. And I'm thrilled to see you can make comments as yourself again. Hooray!

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  5. Great story about your dad, Gayle. However, I not believe that YOU are weird! As for a father being a man of many talents (I LOVE that wooden plate yours created), when I reflect on my own father, though he was a banker, who would have thought that he could write poetry, cook all our meals and sing in a men's barbershop quartet that won the International Championship back in the 40's? Thanks for the timely piece here - as we all are about to celebrate Father's Day on Sunday!

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  6. Your dad is amazing, so many talents and interests. Aren't we lucky to have had them. He must've been so proud of you!

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  7. Wonderful blog, Gayle! What amazing woodwork!

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  8. Gayle, I wrote a long comment, but it went away, but your dad was a great artist and such lovely memories ❤

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    1. Thanks, Dixie. Lovely of you to try. I'm so proud of him, and miss him. I appreciate your kind words.

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