by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 25, 2005
A SMILE ON HIS FACE AND A SHINE ON HIS SHOES
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- His business card read W. L. (Bill) Dunn but my mother called him Len and we called him Papa. I thought I knew him well. As the youngest, he had a little more time to dote on me than on the others growing up during the earning and yearning years.
He'd sing "Come Sit By My Side Little Darlin'" and wink as he trilled over the lines. As I said, I thought I know him well. Yesterday, I found another, earlier, version of a young man just going about his business without a thought in the world that I would one day be his daughter.
I've been looking over the newly available Federal Census records from 1930 and enjoyed recognizing the address where the family had lived before I was born. I joined Ancestry.com and filled in the blanks. In the International Database, My mother's entire family came up, the Bells of Prince Edward Island, Canada. I found copies of my two uncles' army enlistment applications filled out with firm hands and a willingness to die for their country. One of them did, at Vimy Ridge during the last week of the war. That information was already known to me but not to them. George Bell's destiny is found in Canada's Military Database.
The extent of information available to future generations is rich, indeed, but I didn't know how very rich it would become to me in just mere seconds at the keyboard. I put my father William Leonard Dunn into the blanks, born in Canada. I chose All Directories rather than Census alone.
There is was in an instant. World War I Draft Registration Card. It was filled out by hand, but not his hand. His handwriting was very distinctive. I hesitated to believe it could be Papa.
The birthday was the same. His home address in Roxbury, Massachusetts was in the back of my mind as a place the family once lived. He was married to a Caucasian, that would be Mama, and had three children. All of that fits. Medium height and weight, blue eyes and blonde hair. Check! That would be right although I only knew him as prematurely gray.
I continued scrolling to the bottom of the form and just as if he jumped out and said "Boo!" I saw his signature. Chills ran through me. Here was a 27 year old man registering for the draft as required by law. I don't know about eligibility with three children, but I can see him standing there now, big as life, smiling as he answered the questions: Trade? "Salesman." Firm? "McCaskey Register Company."
In my lifetime, Papa sold heavy equipment -- like Lorain Cranes and Johns Manville insulations. I had never heard of his working for McCaskey's. I looked it up. And, in the years he would have been selling, that particular register was the number one choice at gas stations. The innovations were the ability to key in number of gallons as well as price per gallon, a precursor to the "boda-bing" which takes our cash and delivers change today. That sounds to me like a piece of equipment every gas station on the road would want - unless they were hit by some major calamity, like a depression, a Great Depression, and that was just around the corner.
As I held the printed out form in my hands, I let my thoughts wonder about his situation then while at the same time placing him in age-related places. At 27, he was younger than any of my children. At 27 he would have been firmly set in the ways he carried into the years that I knew him: he never came to the table without his suit jacket. When I said yes or no, I'd better follow it with Mama or Papa.
His blue eyes would twinkle delight or flash fury in an instant -- sometimes the same instant. He loved to tell jokes and always had one for his clients. Unfortunately, he always laughed his way through the telling and was doubled over before the punch line. Yet, everyone listened with joy and with laughter all around.
He yielded his higher education to a career in professional hockey in Canada and then found his niche in Sales. When anyone asked him to how they could get a job in Sales, he'd say, "put a smile on your face and a shine on your shoes."
"That's all?" they'd ask.
"Well, that gets you in the door," he'd say. "After that, you shake their hand and use their name."
"And that's all?" they'd continue.
"Conversation. Easy banter. It'll come to you," he'd say.
They'd probably be thinking, easy for him - and it was easy for him.
He played the violin but fiddled; he played every stringed instrument but no one was allowed to play a horn for the "blow-fish" look he said it promoted after a while.
I didn't know this young man who signed this form, but I came to know him well in his life after 50 and again today as listed in my "Ancestry.com." He held his pen firmly on June 8, 1917 and scrolled his name with confidence. I like that.
I don't recall his ever giving me advice and yet I have that same confidence that doors will open for me. From what I've been told, I have a gift for gab, no doubt developed while Papa and I were shining his shoes.