Errol Ward Atkinson

(my father)

September 23, 1909 - September 24, 1967

Photo taken at Straight Bayou, Mississippi, General Store

about 1933 - age 24

There has never been a kinder, more devoted man than my father. He was born into a large farm family in the poorest state in the country, and came of age as the Depression was about to strike. He never had a chance to make his fortune, and had to work hard all his life.

My parents were both 37 years old when I was born. Daddy had interrupted his job to enlist in the Army, and after the war he moved to Greenwood to work for his older brother Arliss, who owned a dry cleaning business. It took all he could make, and all of Mother's income as a nurse, to make ends meet. Although we never owned our own home, we never felt deprived. My parents were so loving to me; but I remember Mother was the one who would give the discipline when I needed it. I can never remember my father raising his hand or his voice to me.

One brief anecdote says everything about my father's character. Daddy would do the pick-up and delivery chores for the cleaners, and his route would take him all over Greenwood and to the tiny villages of Sidon and Cruger to the south. During the summer I would often ride with him. It was so pleasant to follow him into the little general store in Sidon and pick out a Nehi fruit soda from the icebox where the drinks were cooled by sitting in cold water. I can see the mimosa blossoms and smell the honeysuckle in vivid imagery now.

This was all well and good when I was a pre-teenager. Unfortunately, the insanity which usually strikes at age thirteen struck me also, and I thought I knew everything. I don't remember the subject we were discussing on that drive back up Highway 7, but my memory kicks in when I looked at Daddy with full-fledged teenage smartass and spat, "You just make me sick."

Daddy slowed the car and pulled over to the edge of the road. Oh no, I thought, he's finally going to let me have it. But Daddy just turned to me and said gently, "If you're going to be sick, just open the door and lean out of the car."

He had taken me literally and reacted out of love. It broke my heart. "Oh Daddy, I'm so sorry," I sobbed. "I won't ever talk to you like that again." And I never did.

I finished college at Ole Miss May 29, 1967, and returned home to work in drafting and mapmaking at the Greenwood Street Department before entering medical school in the fall. On May 31, Daddy checked into the Greenwood-Leflore Hospital because of severe back pain, weight loss, and cough. A diagnosis of lung cancer, metastatic to the spine, was made. He remained hospitalized on the fourth floor of Greenwood-Leflore for nearly four months until he passed away. Daddy was the sixth of eleven siblings, and the first one to die.

I spent the summer of 1967 - the Summer of Love - redrawing the official map of the City of Greenwood during the day, and staying at his bedside in the evenings. When medical school began, I was absent for much of the first month. I wouldn't take anything for being able to spend those precious days with him.

During the last days of his life, Daddy was sedated and sleeping most of the time. On the night of September 22, I was asleep in a chair in the waiting room down the hall from his room. I was awakened by my Uncle Morris: "He's awake and asking for you." Daddy had not spoken for over two days. I rushed to the room.

He looked at me, clearly alert, saw my tears, and smiled. "Take it easy, Little One," he said, holding my hand. "I'm going to be all right." I wept and hugged him as long as I could. Those were the last words he ever said.

One day, Daddy, one day. Some days I hope it won't be too much longer.

I love you so much.

I do believe you would understand.

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