James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

Speech to My Dad’s Retirement Luncheon

This year, my family and I are thrilled that my dad’s retiring from his long career in the heating and air business. Later today we’ll be celebrating his long and productive work life with a special luncheon in his honor. Here are a few thoughts I plan to make.

Delivered to the assembled guests at the Capitol Club, Columbia, SC, April 13, 2015

Obviously you all know Dave McCallister, or wouldn’t be here. You’ve worked with him, dealt with him, put up with his foolishness and so on. Right? You know the guy.

On this auspicious occasion, however, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I thought I’d tell you about the Dave McCallister I knew growing up in the same house. A different situation.

Well, look. This isn’t easy to say, but there’d be times we’d be safe and snug in our beds at home in the middle of the night, and sometimes Dave would just up and run out on us.

Oh, yeah. Let that sink for in a moment.

We’d be home in Lugoff on a Saturday night, let’s say, his wife and little son, and the phone would ring. And he’d answer, and it’d be this mysterious stranger. And then, he’d ‘have’ to go out. And when he did? He could be gone for hours. All night. And my mom, bless her heart. She’d just sit there and wait, or sigh and go back to bed, trying to make it all look normal.

But another part of him traipsing off into the night I thought I did understand. Before he’d go, see, he’d take the time to put on a uniform. Now, a uniform means somebody’s doing a job that’s important: as a first responder or a soldier, or maybe the mailman bringing comic books or science fiction magazines or movie posters that I’d ordered. Now that was important stuff, at least as far as I knew. But seen through the eyes I had back then, uniforms meant something else, too. Maybe Dave was actually a superhero, for all I knew. A vigilante crimefighter. Keeping the whole city safe. Not just us.

In any case, not only was I a big fan of comic book heroes, but also GI Joe—I know you all remember the tall, fully articulated ones. The real ones, in other words. But I especially dug all the accoutrements you could get, bags of accessories and equipment, everything Joe could need for any mission on which you might send him during playtime.

Well, guess what? My pop drove a special vehicle, painted in bright colors, and full of what seemed like that same stuff! Gear. Tools. Pieces-parts, most of which didn’t make sense to me, and probably still wouldn’t today, I’m sorry to say.

But a time came when I did learn about all those parts, or at least how some of them worked. For at least one summer and maybe more, I would ride in that superhero mobile of his, a rickety Ford van jangling and dangling with hoses and switches and capacitors and this’n that.

Daybreak would come humid and semi-cool, the days long and hot. He did it day-in, day-out, but to me it all seemed fairly thrilling. I remember one morning riding down Olympia Avenue, and it was foggy but the sun broke through, illuminating Williams-Brice where we went to all those ballgames, and it felt like I was mixed up in something big and exciting, being over in the city.

Until I crawled under the houses with him. And went up on the blazing hot roofs. Probably why I chose another path in life than HVAC repair, that summer riding to work with Dave. You tell me.

So it was work, hard work, dirty work. That’s what I learned. But also, I listened as he diagnosed problems like a doctor, fixed wiring like a surgeon, breathed cold freon gas into condensing units like the breath of Boréas, the Greek god of the cold north wind and the bringer of winter. He seemed to know so much about what he did. I thought to myself, now that’s the way you do it. A man who knows his stuff will be in demand.

And if I’m exaggerating Dave’s superhuman talents, ask any of his clients who were either perspiring or shivering, and to whom he returned a modicum of comfort. Was it total comfort? That’s hard to fully say. There’s only so much a harried, hard-working HVAC repairman, and later salesman and general manager, can do, after all. But you can bet that once he got them cooled and heated again, they were duly thankful.

Or at least I hope they were—they’d been serviced by a man who came to do his best. You can count on it.

Gratitude is certainly a feeling my family and I share about Mr. Dave McCallister. He didn’t just bring comfort to other people. First, he brought it to us. Working long hours for forty years, he’s provided the kind of security and happiness that they talk about, or used to talk about, when people referred to what old timers call ‘the American dream.’ George Carlin said they call it the American Dream because you’d have to be asleep to believe it. Somebody wake me,  I guess.

Or rather, don’t wake me, because I stand here today as a successful author and entrepreneur, as one of those quote-unquote American dreamers who happen to still be in the game, and in large part it’s because I’m had a set of parents like Andria and Dave, both of whom served as honest, upstanding, and hardworking examples to me, and to all my friends and many others who have come and gone throughout our lives.

So to sum up, I know all of you here hold the utmost respect and fondest affection for Dave McCallister. How could you not? Maybe you owe him a debt of gratitude in some fashion, or maybe you just enjoy his cheerful company, his can-do spirit, or like me, trying to emulate his remarkable dedication to work and family. Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t know the half of it—you should have tried being the son of that genuine, true-to-life, straight-talking, honest to God hero of a family man. Then you would know what it felt like to know a real man, an honest man, a good person. My father.

Thank you.

My dad and role model, David McCallister, one of the best people I've ever had the privilege of knowing.

My dad and role model, David McCallister, one of the best people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest book, a story collection called The Year They Canceled Christmas, releases in November 2017.

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