@story and images TONYA McCOY
There’s an old picture that I love of my dad, Randal McCoy, at about the age of twelve, proudly holding up a bobcat he’d shot with a pellet gun. He used to explore the land next to my grandmother’s home in the 1960s when it was all thick cedar and oak. Later he raised our family on that same patch of land. He was a quiet, good kid that was in Boy Scouts and liked to take turns riding his motorbike down the road with his brother Bob. Before the family got their first television, Dad would slip off to the neighbor’s just to sit in awe of the black-and-white technological wonder. But during the hot summer days he could be found on the bank of the pond, just down the hill from where he lives today.
I remember standing at that same pond when I was about five while Daddy taught me how to fish. He’d lean back and cast my pole with the red-and-white bobber and hooked minnow into the murky water. He’d say very quietly, not wanting to scare away any potential catches, “Now, right there. Watch the bobber. If it goes under, you reel. Turn it this way,” he’d add, while demonstrating which way to crank. My impatience with fishing over the years has cost my dad more than one bobber and hook snagged on a tree limb or bush. However, on that seemingly magical day, I remember feeling the tug of a fish and dad hollering, “Reel it in. Reel it.” And I did, with all my five-year-old might, the pole bending in the shape of an upside down ‘u.’ I thought it was going to break. My father ran over to finish pulling in a ten pound catfish. I posed for a picture that ended up in the Charleston Express newspaper the next week. I thought I was bigtime.
Although dad loved to fish and hunt, it sounds funny to say, but he was a bit of an animal lover. What country home is complete without a pet or two? My father was a beagle fan and I remember my first beagle pup, Snoopy. There were other hunting dogs my dad raised over the years. However, we kids had our own ideas about pets. There were turtles and frogs we would catch. But also rabbits, stray cats, and even two baby goats. The conversation would go something like this. “Mom can we keep the [insert unsuspecting rescue animal here]?” to which she would reply, “Go ask your father.” So then it was set. I’d ask my dad, who would be lounging in his recliner watching MASH after a hard day’s work. “Dad, Mom said we could keep such and such pet, if you say it’s okay.” He would look at us, me and my little sister Randie, for a few seconds while taking a drag from his cigarette. He would squint his eyes a little and sigh, “I guess.” I think Dad probably got in trouble from my mom many times for the pets she thought he would naturally say no to—but did not.
Now, all my one-year-old nephew has to do is point his little finger and say “oos,” which is his best try at saying “moos,” meaning the cows he wants to go see, and my dad picks him up and heads out the door. A couple of times a week you can see the three McCoy boys – my dad, my son Gregory, and my nephew Caden - bumping across the pasture on a four wheeler at my father’s house. The same house I grew up in and where I remember bumpy wheel barrel rides, courtesy of my father.
These warm summer afternoons Caden stands at the edge of the garden, grinning, pacifier in mouth, reaching out and opening and closing his hands—motioning for my dad. My dad, in his Big Smith overalls, drops the post-hole diggers he’s been using and walks to the edge of the field to pick him up. He places his ball cap on Caden’s head.
Many days, after eight hours of a factory job you can find him working the garden, mowing his yard, or grading the road. And I can’t count how many hours are spent laboring over my problematic car. And other days the factory work, which he’s done for thirty-five years, wears him out. He naps after dinner, or goes to bed at eight, all to get back up at two and start all over again. With diabetes and a bum shoulder, it amazes me that he can still work so hard.
But you don’t hear him complain. He carries on. He’s always been the gardener, the mechanic, the factory worker. But he’s also the guy who couldn’t say no to four wheeler rides just to look at cows, or to his daughters’ ridiculous request for pet goats. He’s the perfect balance of strength and heart.