Friday, June 15, 2012

Portrait of an All American Dad or "He Parked Near the Door."

Joseph David Shelton, my awesome dad.
 Andy, is a Priceline pro so we decided to give my parents a trip to California for Christmas, anticipating my youngest brother Brad's graduation from Cal State Fullerton with an MFA in Technical Theatre which we all wanted to witness personally. The hotel was triangle-shaped and the doors to the rooms opened up to the inside. The hotel atrium, including the seating for their restaurant was ten floors below. We were staying on the tenth floor. It was the end of May and California is showing off in May. Flowers everywhere, gorgeous weather and Priceline had been good to us again. We were staying at [a very nice hotel] I'll refrain from naming it to dad...the not so innocent.

Sunday morning we got up to go to church with Brad and Ashley (his wife). At the set time, I walked out to the balcony to knock on my parents door which was two doors down. I saw my dad, who was all dressed up for church, with his back against the door of his room, one finger up to his lips in the "shhhhhhh" gesture. I cocked both eyebrows when I saw him because I have never seen my dad so scared. He was even breathing hard holding his other hand on his chest like he was about to have a heart-attack. His face was beet red. We don't take than too lightly.

"What's wrong dad?" I whispered. "I, I...I went down and bought a Diet Coke from the was really cold. And it was only $1.25, imagine that, you can't even get Diet Coke for that price at Walmart..." So much information, I thought. I looked at him, he was not holding a Diet Coke. "What'd you do with it? Where is it now?" I asked. He just pointed down. T.E.N. floors down.

He pulled me into the room and shut the door. He was in that "just-about-to-cry,-laugh-or poop-don't-know-which, moment as he explained.

He's always the first one dressed for church. So while he was waiting for the rest of us, he went to the hotel vending machine and got a plastic 20 oz. bottle of the nectar of the Gods and walked back to his room. He leaned over the balcony, elbows resting on the rail, and as he unscrewed the bottle's cap, the condensation got the better of him and it slipped out of his grip and fell ten floors to it's death... just in front of the registration desk. As if in slow motion, he watched it go about four floors before his mind registered the fact that his face was clearly visible to the people below as he watched the spectacle happen. He took two quick steps back against the door just as the explosion went off. That sound brought my mom out of the room. She said it sounded like a gun shot. That's so Utah of her..."oooh someones firing a gun, let's go OUT and see what's going on..."

I appeared about ten seconds after it hit and that's why he looked like he was in cardiac arrest.

Andy had joined the group at this point, and said "what's wrong?" Assuming from the looks on our faces that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. "I lost my Diet Coke," he said, as if one of his children had just died. Andy said, "do you need more change? I have some more change in the room." "No," I said in disgust, "he can't be trusted. He dropped the first one over the ledge." At which time all three of us pointed down with our index fingers as if we were dipping our finger repeatedly in a pot of jam. Because he is not a Shelton, Andy's brain clicked from one to 792 in a single second. "Get in the elevator as fast as you can before they check the camera's and come to arrest us." C.A.M.E.R.A.S?

A chorus of words were uttered that all began with "S" and should not be said as you are on your way to church.

We had seen prom couples checking in the night before so I said "Maybe they'll just think it was some hung over Prom King." "To the elevator, NOW," Andy said, and we went as we were commanded. I jabbed at the button a few times. I sure needed to pee all the sudden. My mom hadn't stopped nodding her head back and forth in disbelief since she heard the shot ring out. My dad said "I wish I had a Diet Coke right now." And that broke the tension and we burst into fits of shushed giggling and could not stop.

It took forty days and forty nights for the elevator to come to our floor. Andy was trying to get the story again, but I was hysterical and trying not to pee my dress. Mom was still shaking her head.

When the doors finally opened there was an official looking man in a suit and a scowl, that stepped out and turned down our hall as we dashed into the elevator and Andy pushed the lobby button...about twenty times. "That was so close," he said. "You could have spent the night in the hotel brig." No one was breathing. Down we went. Dad, with his perfect comic timing as usual, just said "ten floors is quite a drop." Then we all started laughing until we got to the bottom floor......................

Then it wasn't funny anymore.

We had to pass by the registration desk as we left. I popped my head out and looked around for an alternate exit, but mom just started walking "Joe, just go over there and apologize," she said in her pragmatic mom voice. "They'll look on the tapes and see that it was accident." "No, no, dad, just keep walking, avert your eyes, look natural" I said as we passed about 5 cleaning ladies in uniforms wiping down the furniture, plants and tile in a twenty foot radius around the point of impact. "My word," he said "what happened here?"

Joseph William Shelton
I have no idea what the church meeting was about.

Joseph David Shelton (my dad) was born at the end of the depression, the beginning of World War II in Lehi, Utah. His mother was a saint.  He had two sisters, one older and one younger. He was a copy of his  father whom he never really knew, because Joseph Sr. died in a Sanatorium from Pneumoconiosis (Black Lung disease) when my dad, was only 5 years-old. He had gone to work in the gold mines during the depression, to save money to buy a cattle ranch. My brothers also look just like this ..........................................................}

There were men in his life after that, uncles, grandparents and a step dad...but he was raised primarily by my grandmother Leona, one of the great and original single moms. So what he learned about being a dad, he learned from all sorts of people. He was/is an amazing father.

I wrote a play about love. The central
characters were my dad's parents. This is
my dad, his sister (left) , Leona (center back)

Leona always took them to church and when he turned 19 he served an LDS mission to Mexico back in the D.A.Y. when there were only two missions in the entire country and when you served for 12 years. Just kidding. But he was in Mexico for 30 months. That's a bunch of months. And now there are dozens of missions there. Mexico made a huge impression on him.

We wore this costume for many a Halloween.

And when he returned home, instead of becoming a dentist, as he had thought, he became a Spanish and History teacher. He got his Bachelors from BYU.

Dad (far right) Sucking it in. Vintage.
I blame him for my tunnel vision for teaching. Ever since I was old enough to wield a stapler, I helped him with his bulletin boards, straightened his desks and graded papers. I don't remember a time when he didn't have a stack of papers sitting next to his chair that needed to be graded.

When you teach eighth graders for 35 years you might be certifiably crazy. You will also have taught THOUSANDS of kids. I never had a class from him but I know he was a great teacher. He has a bunch of tangible teaching awards...but MORE importantly than that, I will be...anywhere in the world and people will come up to me and say "Your dad was my favorite teacher," or "I just loved your dad, he was my Spanish teacher." One day a lady came up to me in Disneyland and started singing La Cucaracha and I thought I was on Candid Camera. Nope. She just wanted to say, "Your dad taught me that song 30 years ago and I still remember it. He was..." "Wait! Let me guess! Your favorite teacher?" "YES! He was so funny! Is he still alive?" "No. He died in jail. He was serving time for dropping a Diet Coke on Bill Marriott. (pause...wait for a reaction) Just kidding!"

So when you are the child of a great teacher, a remarkable, wonderful teacher, you have big shoes to fill. I live with that every day. It does not haunt me. It drives me. He set a standard of excellence for me that is still coming through his students eight years after he retired. I want to live up to that. He always said "no one is going to remember Spanish when they are an adult, but they will always remember how you made them feel."

So, on this Father's Day weekend, I pay tribute to my dad with this list.
"The Top Ten Things that People will Remember Long After Joe Shelton Dies of a Diet Coke Overdose"

New bishop workin' a red jacket. Woot!
  1. He was a Bishop (ecclesiastical ward leader) for nearly a decade. They made him a Bishop when he was just 31 years old. He bonded the Ninth Ward by taking them all camping every Spring break to our pristine national state parks. Those people are still like family to me. I remember when he sang in a barbershop quartet with other men in the ward and they would practice at our house. He's always used his talents in the ward choir. He's done name extraction (now called indexing) and been a temple worker. He was the Branch president of a group of missionaries at the Missionary Training Center...he's a leader in the church. A Super Mormon. His testimony of the restored gospel will burn a hole in your soul. Careful if you hear him bear will change your life forever.
Ninth Ward Campout 1978! Hilarious! 
2.     He was a tax-paying, three-job working fool. After teaching all day, he would clean the Lehi Seminary building. Then after that he would go to his third job, which was also custodial and when he finally got his last child through college he was able to retire from all of those jobs. He did that so my mom could stay home with us. No wonder he takes a few naps these days. He's catching up.

3.   He is a great neighbor. He plants a garden that could feed a Uzbekistan. Things just grow when he puts them in the ground. I did NOT inherit this talent. I'm really excited to live nearer that garden this year. It's the most amazing, inspiring thing.  The thing is...he gives most of it away to the neighbors. I remember when he would bring home movies from school. The kind you wind into a machine that sits on a table and shoots the film toward a big sheet that your mom would hang on the paneled wall? My mom would make popcorn balls or homemade doughnuts for the entire neighborhood and everyone would come over and watch these movies about American History.  Johnny Tremain was my favorite.

4.   He saves his change in a silver garbage can at the end of every day. After a year or two (or three) he takes it down to the bank and turns it in for real money... a lot of real money. Enough money to fly his entire family (including grand kids) to Disneyland kind of money. The man uses cash. I'm not sure if he even owns a credit card. He is famous for saying "what the hell it's only money" after he drops a couple hundred dollars on fireworks or rodeo tickets or anything that will bring us all together for memory making. Don't forget he also paid for all those weddings and missions. Who would ASK for that kind of responsibility? Joe Shelton did! 

5.   He has a Masters Degree in Spanish and he got that by teaching me how to speak Spanish when I was 9. It was some kind of "immersion" project for his Thesis. Sometimes I listen to Telemundo and translate it for Andy just for kicks and giggles. I can't speak it, but buried in the back of my brain is 9-year-old Spanish. I remember how hard that was for him. I'm sure I had ADHD then. But he did it because it meant he would get a raise. He has never been in the dad business for the money

6.   He has a deep and abiding love for Mexico and the Mexican people. In 1974 or 5, he took his four kids (at the time) wife, their mothers, and two aunts to Mexico City in a motor home. From Northern Utah to M e x i c o  C i t y. In a motor home. In July. With four old ladies that smelled like Pero and didn't speak Spanish. La Cucaracha! Sweet memories. (cough)

7.   My parents never argued in front of us. It's the absolute truth. I never knew if they were arguing because they must have done it behind closed doors. It wasn't until I was about 12 or so that I learned the vocabulary word divorce, and that was probably from the T.V. Maybe that's why I was so picky about who I married. But no...because none of my sisters were very picky. HEHEHEHE...just kidding!! The fact is, my sisters ALL married men that are just like my dad and so did I. Why wouldn't we? Mom, don't answer that. When Andy ask him if he could marry me, the only thing he said was "what the hell took you so long?

8.   He taught us the value of a dollar. He's that guy that buys a home and pays it off. He's that guy that helps his children buy homes and cars because with a credit score that high, banks start to salivate the minute he walks through the door. Right after I built my home in Lehi he appeared one day and said "Charlie will be by on Saturday to put your sprinkler system in." Then shortly after that a load of sod came and he laid it. Then shortly after that he and my mom planted masses of tulips in my yard and they magically came up. They knew I was alone. Then when we lost Noah, they allowed me to use the other half of their Katie's plot to bury their grandson. I could go on, but I'd better stop before my siblings start getting jealous. They don't have a huge home or take vacations around the world, they take care of their kids.

9.   He has 8 children and let me think about it....23 grand kids including a new little girl that is due any minute now. He will attend someones high school graduation for the next 21 years. Even though I don't have children (I did count Noah) he came to Scotland with me to chaperone "my kids." 40 drama kids. He was one of four people that stayed awake on the train from London to Edinburgh. He played cards with my boys. I'll cherish that trip all my days. My students have always called him Papa Joe.

10.   I could go on and on but I promised only 10, so finally, if you go shopping with Papa Joe, you never have to worry about a parking space opening up near the door. There is ALWAYS space near the door if you are with him. It's some kind of spell. SO...he and my mom had their gravestone done (already - yes and thanks) and on the back it has all our names and then it says "HE PARKED NEAR THE DOOR." Who does that? This guy does:

If you take grapes from him, warning: you never know where they've been.
This picture has been tacked to a cork board in my office for years. It's
to remind me to lighten up and don't take myself too seriously.

Next year, on May 10, they will have been married 50 years.
 Still, did they have to get their headstone so early?
At least its a bench. Thanks for that. Oh and thanks for
putting it next to the babies. Forever babysitting. I'm sincerely grateful.

Dad, I'm sorry about those years from 18 - 20 when we wanted to kill each other. I was stupid. You did alright though. None of your kids went to jail (that you know of) and only a few of us are addicted to anything stronger than Diet Coke. ;-) Not many men these days would take on the jobs, follow through with the responsibilities, magnify your talents like you have done, and make so many sacrifices. But the absolute prize-winning decision you made in your entire life was to marry Kay Smith. Thanks for that too.

You are an incredible example to the world.

Happy Father's Day to Papa Joe aka the world's greatest dad.

I LOVE this picture from 1973-4! (ish?)  Inner monologues:
Dad: "Open your eyes everybody!" (Sheltons are know for their squinty eyes)
Mom: "Just take the picture already."
Jan: "What is Steve wearing?"
Steve: "I look goooooood. Wish the sun wasn't in my eyes. I'm going to stand here like the Sears model I am."
Paula: "I wish I could get out of this head lock."
Penny: "Squirrel!"
P.S. Happy Father's Day to my beloved Andy, Stupendous Steve, Charming Charles, Genuine Joel, Cool Kyle, Awesome Andy and Bold Brad. Thank you for being such amazing men.