Echoes from the Past



I thought I heard my father’s voice the other day. I wasn’t dreaming. “Jim, get on the stick,” he said. It was his voice. His tone. His cadence. He used this phrase throughout his life with his six children. The stick? It was his reference to stay on task. Focus on the goal, the assignment. Maintain your discipline—and get back to work.

Nothing happened in my life to summon this echo. Echoes from the past from a loved one come to me randomly, like this one, as I’m driving down the road. I’m not sure why they float into my mind, but I accept them with the joy of a fond memory. After all, it’s always nice to hear from your father, isn’t it? Even if he’s challenging you to get something done.

In her article, “On Losing Your Mom,” bestselling author Anna Quindlen, wrote: “I’ve needed my mother many, many times over the last 25 years, but she has never been there, except in my mind, where she tells me to buy quality, keep my hair off my face, and give my father the benefit of the doubt.”

Echoes from the past.

My father grew up on a farm in Leonard, Missouri. He hated farming. But was as sharp as a whip, skipping third grade, completing college in three years, graduating from Northwestern University, and working as the cost accounting manager at Chrysler Corporation. But he never lost his southern colloquialisms. His advice was wise, his tone direct, and his delivery memorable. Maybe that’s why my five siblings and I have them etched in our memory.

Growing up, if we faced a serious health issue or were at an unfair advantage, my sister, Mary, reminded me he would say, “We need to accept it, move forward, and don’t get stuck.” Keyword: Stuck. When our mother died, he kept us moving forward, by just keeping us moving. We went to school the next day. No getting stuck.

When corporate America was overworking employees, he once warned my brother, Chris, “They’ll run a good horse to death.” His way of saying companies always give extra work to the busy person. Since Chris was a top performer, he added, “Don’t let them turn a racehorse into a plow horse.” The former gets things done. The latter carries the load for poor performers.

“Don’t let them turn a racehorse into a plow horse.”

During trying political times, brother Bob reminded me he would quip, “There’s a foul wind blowing.”

When we were very young, and in our pajamas, all six of us would race him to the front door when he was leaving for an evening errand and chime in unison, “Where are you going, Dad?” His reply was classic.

“I’m going to see a man about a dog.” I imagine him glancing at Mom and winking. She smiles, knowing how many times we begged him for a dog. He would return after a short time—with a gallon of milk.

We would never own a dog.

When we questioned the premature loss of our mom months after the fact, he would explain, “It’s just the way it is.” This became his common refrain, regardless of how hard life became. I admired his attitude and strength. But my entire life, I have wrestled to accept things—without a fight.

I’m not sure why I hear these random echoes of the past. Perhaps as I get older; I’m a little more nostalgic—if that’s possible. We all miss the past, and the significant people in our lives who live there now.

Yet, I’m grateful for all the familiar voices from my past that still echo in my mind as I drive down the road—and remind me that life’s toughest challenges are “just the way it is.” I need to accept them and “move forward and not get stuck.” So, “get on the stick.”

And by the way, “Jim—get a haircut.”


SOMETHING TO CHEW ON: Have you heard echoes from the past in your mind—the voice of a loved one echoing a familiar refrain? What is it? How does it make you feel? Let me know at
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