Southern Folks: My father, the SOB (sweet ole Bill)

Southern Folks: My father, the SOB (sweet ole Bill)

June 14th, 2019 by Bill Stamps in Life Entertainment
Bill Stamps

Bill Stamps

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

I loved my father with all my heart. He's been gone 14 years. I think about him every day. I miss him every day. He was a great guy. Anyone who knew him will tell you the same.

Dad was an original. I was named after him. I was his and my mom's first child.

Dad was born in Nashville. Up to his teens, he was raised by his grandparents on his mother's side of the family.

His mother died from complications of giving birth to him. For all his life, deep down inside, Dad blamed himself for his mother's untimely death.

Southern Folks

Dad's father hung around for a few weeks, then took off. Dad's grandparents adopted him as a Stamps. When they got too old to look after him, his mother's sister and her husband took him in. As soon as Dad graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Air Force's 101st Airborne and ended up in India. When he got out, he came back to Nashville.

A childhood friend, Judd Collins, worked at WSM radio. He convinced Dad to give it a go at being a radio announcer. Dad was baritone and had a true "gift of gab," everything one needed to be on the air. He was a hit on WSM, then, later on, WLAC. He and Mom got married and divorced twice before I turned 9.

After three years with Mom, my two younger brothers and I came to live with Dad in Cleveland, Tennessee. Things were good. Dad was our hero. He had saved us. We bounced right along for three years. Dad was a swinging bachelor, manager and morning man at WCLE, and we boys were happy as clams.

One day, while Dad and us boys were having lunch at the Village Green, a curvaceous woman from out of town bent over to pick up something that her 3-year-old daughter threw on the floor. The woman's ample bosom was exposed. Turned out that she was a former Miss Universe contestant from Memphis. My lustful father was in love.

Fast-forward a few months, and I was a 12-year-old best man at the wedding. Dad and she and our new family of two more kids, a parakeet and my dog, Prince, were on our way to Medford, Oregon. The parakeet flew out the car window at a gas station, and Prince had severe stomach disorders all the way across the country. Every few hundred miles, we had to bail out of the car.

One year in Medford, and we were on our way to Northern California, where Dad purchased his first radio station. Dad did mornings and quickly became the talk of the town. He fathered one child more, my youngest sister. Then, Dad and Miss Universe married and divorced twice. Old habits never die.

Dad remarried one time more. She passed away six years into the marriage. Dad was heartbroken. Just before his death, Dad was involved with a woman 30 years his junior. She was married to a retired Army colonel. She attempted to take everything from Dad's home on the golf course. With the help of a friend of mine, who was the county sheriff, we recovered all the stuff she stole and sent her down the road.

Dad was a complex man. He was always in pursuit of a woman's love: A woman who would put up with his many quirks and rather hard-line opinions on almost everything and certain people. A woman who would rub his back and cook him a steak. A woman who listened to his stories and laughed at his jokes, regardless of how many times they'd heard them.

Dad never found complete happiness with a woman. He was too afraid to give himself and his true heart completely to anyone, including me. There's no doubt in my mind that he loved me the best way he knew how. He taught me the radio business. I was doing an afternoon rock-jock show for him by the time I turned 15.

By the time we moved to Northern California, I had attended 10 schools. I made friends, then we moved. I didn't get along with Miss Universe. She had become an alcoholic. Dad was never at home. As soon as I got my driver's license, I was hard to find.

Our house was on a 15-foot bluff right above the beach. Through the two-story living room windows, you could see the lighthouse to the left and big rocks and a sandy beach to the right. I had created a little hut out of driftwood, built a fire and awaited my date, a good-looking blond cheerleader I intended to woo from the campfire into the hut.

Before I left the house, I told my brothers that under no circumstances were they to tell anyone where I was. They promised. That was good enough for me. Off I went with teenage visions in my head.

I had no more than gotten the fire going when Dad showed up at the top of the cliff, yelling for me to get up there "right away." I was thinking about what I was going to do to whoever ratted on me. Dad told me that Anchorage, Alaska, had had a nine-point-something earthquake and that a tidal wave was on its way south toward our little town.

Dad's station was the FCC-designated Emergency Broadcast Station. That means when there's any kind of disaster prevalent, people tune into the station for updates and conditions. Dad was very proud of that and took it very seriously. He preached to me, more than a few times, that being a radio man meant that you were first and foremost a public servant. I never forgot that.

Dad was on his way to sign on the station and begin broadcasting. I went with him. My family moved to higher ground taking shelter at a local pizza parlor far away from downtown. I was missing out on the best pizza in town, but having alone time with Dad, even under the most dire of circumstances, was fine by me.

I watched Dad do his magic behind the microphone, taking calls and making them. I made him some coffee and found him a half pack of Lucky Strikes in his desk drawer. Then I sat across from him in the control room. He was totally in his element. Smooth as silk, as he went from one call to the next. I was so proud to be his son. He really was something.

At some point, it sounded like a string of diesel trains was coming our way — a rumble that I've only heard that night. The ocean crossed the beach, ran over Front Street and was on its way toward Second Street. That's where the station was. Where Dad and I were. Dad's last words were, "I'm not sure how long we're going to be able to stay on the air." The wave hit us dead-on.

We were on the second story. The wave flew by us and up the hill for six more blocks. When the wave went back out, it took more than 150 buildings with it. It wiped out a complete downtown business district. From the second-story window, we watched telephone poles collide with cars, appliances and chairs and some store's shoes float past us. Once the water had subsided, Dad and I took off down the stairs. We had to jump. Ten of the 17 steps were gone. We made it out just in time. There were three more waves that came in.

Dad went on to be the voice of the region. Throughout the 40-plus years he kept his loyal listeners informed and entertained, he received every award and honor that can be bestowed to man. He was the consummate radio man. He passed away in 2005, on his way to work, at age 81.

While Dad and I were waiting for the water to go down, both of us witnessing the destruction going on just below, not knowing if we were gonna get out in one piece, Dad began to cry. I hugged him and told him that I loved him. He hugged me tight and without hesitation, no rigidity in his voice, Dad told me he loved me, too. Crazy as it sounds, that was a good night for me.

Just in case you're wondering, when Dad got up into his 70s, he started calling himself the SOB, Sweet Ole Bill. All in all, he sat behind a microphone for 62 years. I sure miss that SOB. Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Bill Stamps' book "Miz Lena" may be purchased on Amazon (soft-cover and Kindle). Or order a signed copy at bill_stamps@aol.com. His second book, "Southern Folks," is due to be released in late June.