Mack, My Dad

by on July 14, 2011 · 22 comments

in From the Soul, Life Events, Popular

I’ve found myself lately thinking of a man everybody, including me, called Mack. My dad. Just about the most laid back human being the world has ever had.

The man was always at ease, a man of simple tastes. I can see him in my mind, chomping on his almost ever present cheap cigar which chokes me even in my memory, sipping some whiskey, and uttering that obligatory whispery “ahhh” that drinkers who like their liquor neat always sigh and he’s going about any one of his enterprises: playing solitaire, reading True Crime magazine or crossword puzzling – when he wasn’t playing the piano.

He was in and out of my life like a man on the run. I never knew when he was going away or when he would come back. That was just him. Off to gigs in honky tonk clubs anywhere in the USA from Phoenix to Tucson to Douglas to Albuquerque to El Paso or to Nogales or Agua Prieta or Juarez down in Mexico.

One day I’d be going about my play and barely in my sight in the distance like vapors rising from a sunburned street he would manifest himself – and the world would pulsate with a boogie woogie beat and I would fly towards him like a high note shooting out of Satchmo’s horn. And then one day I’d look up and just as he came he’d be gone.

It was pretty much like that for us from my beginning to his end. But we had our moments. Some of my fondest memories revolve around hanging out with him and his musician buddies at their rehearsals. Fess, on bass. Born to pick. Paul, on drums. Nifty with the brushes and sticks. Fats, sweating in gushes, dwarfing his saxophone with his tremendous girth. Blew like it was his last day on earth. Walter or was it Wilmer? One of the two. Blaring his trumpet like a brass man is supposed to do. Mack at the keyboard, making sounds as welcome as a freak cool breeze on a hot summer day. These guys could flat out play.

Like any musicians they dreamed of jamming with Count or Duke or Benny and the like. But there’s only so much room at the top. Mack did have a shot at the big time but let the opportunity slip away. Someone from Warner Brothers heard him and a guitar player in Texas do an original piece of music in a ragtime style and asked them to come to Hollywood to lay down some musical ideas for a motion picture soundtrack. Is that a dream come true or what? I mean, man alive. However he and his buddy, on their way to tinsel town, partied hearty in every little town en route and just never arrived.

The guys in his Tucson band would have knocked down steel walls for a chance like that and they would have probably left days ahead of time in case something happened and they had to walk and if they hadn’t made it so be it. They did other things to feed themselves and their families and at the same time kept their love for playing music alive.

To Mack, work, other than tickling 88 ivory keys, was something to be avoided like a contagious disease and somehow he managed, barely, to make it musically but as to fatherhood responsibilities, he just didn’t have the genes. That was something I never understood about the man, being one who has so many times early on as a dad worked like a zombie, so dead on my feet, hustling to clothe my children and provide them food to eat, reduced sometimes to praying to the universe that the last tread on an already dead tire will just hold out until payday.

Mack missed a lot of my life which means he also missed a lot of what was supposed to be his life. But, oh, how I remember a time when I was a single parent for a spell and desperately just needed somebody to be at home when I couldn’t be there and he came and lived with us for a while and played that role like it was a song for the piano.

I don’t know how I would have managed that rugged stage in my life if he hadn’t come through. That was as close a father and son relationship as we ever had. That’s the sweetest memory I have of Mack: the moments when he came through as my dad.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth July 14, 2011 at 9:41 am

Great stuff, Ernie.


Allen Lewis July 14, 2011 at 10:09 am

Once again Ernie, great lines,I wish I could lay um down like you… ;>)


Ernie McCray July 14, 2011 at 10:47 am

Thanks, Seth and Allen.


Jack July 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Thank you Ernie…what a pleasure to read this afternoon.


Ernie McCray July 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’m glad you liked the piece. I’ve been thinking about Mack all day, coming up with memories I had long forgotten.


Shirley July 14, 2011 at 6:25 pm

I often wondered about your dad. You never mentioned him to me. Didn’t know he was a piano-playin’ musician. Wish I could have heard him. I always wanted to play the piano. So glad you got to hang out for a bit before he left for good.



Ernie McCray July 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Hey, Mack moved about too much to be mentioned other than “Here he come” or “Yon he go.” I think he played at a couple of functions at Dunbar. A couple of times he played on a truck at the Armistice Day Parade or the Rodeo Parade and I’d get to be up there with the musicians waving at everybody like I was FDR. He knew your dad and would stop by the baseball games every now and then and then, of course, he’d be gone (smile).


Shirley July 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Wow! Now that’s news! I didn’t know that our fathers were acquaintances, or maybe friends. It’s a small world! My daddy had a bit more presence in my life–just cause he worked downtown at Buster Duran’s service station. We could drop in any time for a cold bottle of red soda water and a quarter for the Rialto. Them were the good ole’ days.


Ernie McCray July 15, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Hey, one thing I can say is when my dad was in town he was good for tons of red soda waters and money for the Saturday shootem ups at the State Theater.


Kathy Sangha July 14, 2011 at 8:03 pm

So beautifully written Mr. McCray! It’s a shame that he missed out on so much…


Ernie McCray July 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Well, I guess it is what it is and I just have to go with the good moments, thankful that we never had any bad moments to speak of.


J Cannon July 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Now I’m wishing some obscure recording of Mack and his friends would suddenly come out of the blue…..

Thanks for another wonderful bit of history.


Ernie McCray July 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

I would give anything to hear those guys. Somebody some where probably has a recording of them, some night club owner’s great niece, in a box amongst World War Two paraphanalia (sp?) or sumpin’ – and Saturday Evening Post Magazines.


Allen Lewis July 14, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Erinie, I all ready commented on how great you are on laying down lines on paper, well thats is a art, and it brings to mind that sometimes music and art is a curse. I must say it made me think of my dad, who was a long time local of OB, he was a artist, musician and loved and 86 from every bar in OB. All in OB knew him as Louie. He killed him self with alcohol and dugs because he couldn’t fit in with the so called real world. Today I find my self in some ways following in his steps, music has got a grip on me.


Willi J. Horton July 15, 2011 at 10:08 am

Hi Ernie,
It sounds like your father was a true artist. Many artists walk to a different drum beat.
Willie Horton


Ernie McCray July 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Willie, you and Allen hit it with the “artist” thoughts; many of us do walk to different rhythms and voices…


Lauren July 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness when reading your story. Sad for what never was. Still, you “paint” a remarkable picture when you weave your tales for us.


Ernie McCray July 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Sad but I guess not sad as can be in that we did have a life together and we both loved each other. And we never got in each other’s face about anything. So when we were together it was always positive. Maybe I should write another chapter.


Delano Price July 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Big “E”,
What a deep drink. Your reflections reminded of the day we stopped by Jacque’s father’s house and how vivid his memory was of your father. My father was my hero, especially as the second to the last of ten children, who had the opportunity to bond with him after he had mellowed. When I was scraping and scrapping to make ends meet as a young educator, I often thought of him working the graveyard shift as a custodian at the UofA and then taking me with him to do yard work the next morning. Thanks for sharing your story and as a lover of jazz, the historical perspective. Take care, my friend. Peace.


Ernie McCray July 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I’ve always got a little history for my old jazz loving friends.


Gwen Pierce July 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm

What a cool memory. Your Dad sounds like a cool cat, a musician to the bone.


Ernie McCray July 19, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Hey, he was cool, smooth, musical to the core.


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