In January of 2009, Ralph Nicholas – my dad – left this world to join his dad in heaven. Dad had fought a long battle with cancer and survived many years longer than his doctors first considered possible. Today, as I write this article, I hope to shed a little light upon his life and legacy. Some of you may have known dad, but you likely do not know some of the things I will share in this article. My dad was a “man’s man,” so to speak – often larger than life. I had a deep love for my dad, but I also respected his powerful presence. Throughout my life, I knew that I could always depend on his solid, stable character… no matter what.
Today is Father’s Day and I have been reminiscing a lot about the past, my dad, and life in general. I find myself going to Rose Hill Cemetery in Humboldt to just check on dad’s grave… and to see if the tombstone has been erected for my brother Donny who died just a few months ago. I believe with all my heart that they are both in heaven now, fully aware and gloriously alive. They are in a state of perfect peace without pain or despair. Well, I had better get back on track and share a few things about dad’s life,
- Dad served our country well during the Korean War. He didn’t speak of this much in front of us. However, I recall when the TV series M.A.S.H. first aired, often dad and I would watch the episodes together and he would comment about how the scenery (especially the hills) “looked just like KO-rea.”
- Dad served his community well as a policeman in Humboldt for over 35 years. Dad was invited to have lunch with Gov. Ned McWherter once and was honored for having the longest consecutive years of service in the state of Tennessee (at that time). Dad loved being a cop and retired as a Captain. Over the years, I have been told by more than one person that dad was a man “not to be trifled with,” but treated everyone fairly – rich and poor alike.
- Dad was an expert marksman and if I remember this correctly, he was once the third best shot with a handgun in the state of Tennessee among all police officers.
- During the civil unrest that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, riots broke out in Humboldt. One night, dad was shot at 6 times. I remember thinking to myself… how could they miss such a big man! Of course, I was thankful that they did and later I realized that most people feared getting into a direct confrontation my dad, so they took “pot-shots” at him from a distance.
- Dad was raised on a family farm and that love for “growing things” never left him. We always had a large city garden and dad was known far and wide to be somewhat a Johnny Appleseed of the muscadine world. We grew lots of muscadines and blackberries. Dad rooted hundreds of muscadine plants and gave them to people all over West Tennessee.
- Dad was an avid fisherman. My earliest childhood memories include annual fishing trips to Bass Bay on the Tennessee River. We caught hundreds of Bluegill, catfish,and assorted other species of fish. We jug fished and later in his life, dad got serious about trot-line fishing. One time, at the Humboldt Lake, we were jug fishing and “almost” caught a large catfish. I say almost, because I was trying to wrestle this 30 to 40 pound cat into the boat when the hook broke and it got away. For a moment there, I though dad was going to trow me in after the fish!
- Fun fact… on another occasion, when I was a very young child, dad and I were at the Humboldt Lake where he struck up a conversation with a big fellow that I didn’t recognize. dad looked down at me and said “son, this is Buford Pusser.”
- Another fun fact… once when dad was on duty with the police in Humboldt, he was asked to allow Anthony Zerbe to ride with him one evening as he patrolled the city. Mr. Zerbe was a fairly famous actor who was trying to “understand the part” of a small town Southern police officer. He was in town preparing for the filming of a major movie, “The Liberation of L.B. Jones.” The movie was based on a screenplay by Jesse Hill Ford. Mr. Ford was a citizen of Humboldt at the time. Mr. Zerbe rode with dad that night, asking questions about the job and the South, until dad got a call to respond to a disturbance in a rough part of town… at that point, he asked dad to drop him off at the police station because his insurance didn’t allow for that level of realism.
- And another fun fact… once when I lived next door to dad, on a Thanksgiving Day, I heard a car horn toot. I stuck my head out the front door just in time to see T.G. Sheppard walk in the front door of dad’s house. Now, to be clear about this… he actually stopped by to pick up my sister to take her to a Thanksgiving meal. Tracy was a friend of T.G.’s son, but dad knew T.G.’s family as well.
- Dad taught me to respect the destructive power of handguns and how to hunt small game. He also taught me how to catch, clean, and cook various species of fish.
- Dad cared deeply for his immediate family… his brothers and sisters. Even though he left the farm to go to war, never to return to that lifestyle, he always found his way back to the farm to visit his dad and stay in touch with his siblings.
- Dad cared deeply for his own family, the one I am a part of. He worked hard to support us, especially during the early years when I was a toddler. Believe it or not, when I was a small child, dad worked 5 different jobs simultaneously to provide for us and save enough money to put a down payment on a small house. His main job was as a policemen, but he also worked as a part-time deputy sheriff, on the loading docks of McLean Trucking, part-time city worker pressing street signs, and as a volunteer fireman (if I remember correctly).
- Honestly, when I was growing up, dad was not active in church life. However, later in life, after a life-threatening cancer scare, dad dedicated his life to the Lord through Faith Baptist Church. I remember how proud I was of him to see him living for Jesus and even getting involved with community outreach. It was a big deal for him to walk through his neighborhood inviting people to church and bragging on the Lord. For me, this is the greatest memory of all.
Oh my, I could tell dozens of stories. Yet there are a few that I probably don’t need to tell (grinning). Yes indeed, dad was a larger than life pillar of the community. He also held that position within my life. I hope you enjoyed reading a few things that may have surprised you about the experiences of his life. Let me wrap this up by telling you that after he seriously made a commitment to Jesus, his life changed and new facets of his personality emerged. He is in heaven now, I am confident of that and if you could hear dad speaking to you right now, he would tell you to make that same commitment to trust in Jesus with your whole heart. Don’t delay that decision. You are not or ever will be perfect on this side of glory, but you can be committed to the cause of Christ and trust in Him for your salvation. Say yes to Jesus today. Then after the fullness of time fades away, we can all gather together in heaven. I’ll introduce you to my dad there, because he waits for us to join him… amen.