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He had a heart of gold

Posted: June 12, 2014 12:51 p.m.
Updated: June 13, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Happy Father’s Day! A few weeks ago I wrote the story of my mother here, just in time for Mother’s Day. Now, let me share a few words about my father.

Bill Phillips was born and raised in the small town of Dexter, Mo., and lived there his entire life, although he did enjoy some travels and adventures along the way. Dexter was, and is, a small town with a great many similarities to Camden. Daddy was the baby of his family and by all accounts was a real “momma’s boy.” He and my mother didn’t marry until after his mother passed away and there were several years difference in their ages. He ran a route for a diary, picking up milk from farms in the area and it was on one of those farms he found her. Yes, my daddy married the farmer’s daughter.

Most of his life he was a businessman who worked for himself and made a living through a number of enterprises, usually several at one time. As his main vocation, he owned and drove a dump truck, hauling dirt for people’s yards and gardens, gravel for their driveways, sand for construction sites, whatever anyone needed. He worked hard at that and was always gone by the time I got out of bed. Sometimes he would take me with him in the truck. When I was little he would let me work the controls that raised and lowered the bed when he made a delivery. That was fun and made me feel like such a big shot. I was helping.

He had his name and phone number painted on his truck and, in huge letters, the word “DIRT.” You could not help but see him rolling down the road. He was well known in our small town and nearly everyone, no matter their age, called him “Bill.” My mother was an elementary school teacher, so she was always “Mrs. Phillips” to the kids, but he was just Bill. “Hi, Mrs. Phillips. Where’s Bill?”

In the summer, he had a fireworks stand. It started small with just a few items, but grew over the years and he eventually started selling wholesale to other people who wanted to have their own fireworks stands. He didn’t even make them pay up front. He would give them a full inventory and, after July 4, they would bring back what they didn’t sell (or set off themselves) and pay him for what they didn’t return. I saw him get burned on a lot of those deals, as people often had sad stories or reasons (or excuses) they didn’t have his money. He always let them slide.

He was generous like that. If a kid showed up at the fireworks stand and looked like he didn’t have any money, he still didn’t go away empty handed. Daddy would give him or her some firecrackers for free. He had a big heart for sure, but he also said he had people come back to the stand years later when they were doing better. They’d bring their own kids and buy their fireworks from Bill Phillips, because they remembered and appreciated his generosity.

He bought and sold farm machinery and parts. He had what I guess could only be called a “junk yard” for farm implements, but he had the kinds of things farmers just couldn’t find anywhere else. He called it “rusty gold,” and had customers come from quite a distance sometimes because someone had told them about “the old guy in Dexter who has just about everything you need.”

He also had several large shop buildings on his property he rented out to guys to work on race cars or use to house their business or just as a grown man’s “playhouse” to hang out with the guys and get away from their wives for a while. He was Dexter, Mo.’s, version of Donald Trump, in Osh Kosh Bib overalls.

Being self-employed allowed him to take time to enjoy one of his favorite pursuits, hunting, mostly for ducks and geese. During hunting season he would go every day except Sunday, which was of course church day. He could hunt a while every morning and, if he wanted to, he could still haul a few loads of dirt or gravel later in the day and make as much money as a lot of people did working all day. He took me with him on Saturdays and holidays and sometimes it was fun. A lot of the time it was just cold and miserable, but I now wish I could have some of those days again, cold and misery be hanged. He taught me how to be a successful hunter and, even more importantly, how to follow the rules and be a good sportsman.

When he passed away in January 1996 at age 79, he was buried less than a half-mile from where he was born, fitting for a man who spent his entire life in his home town. He traveled some in his time, deer hunting in Colorado, to New York City for the World’s Fair in 1964, to Washington, D.C., on that trip and again in the mid-1970s, to Florida to visit his sister and several trips to Texas to see his kids (my sister and myself) for the holidays. But he always went to back to Dexter -- rather quickly.

Of course, I miss him, but he left plenty of good memories for me to cherish and I’m very thankful for that. My biggest regret in life is that my own son has not had as good a father as I had.  


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