“Daddy-o,” as I called my father, Lester Hampton, had two hobbies: working and vegetable gardening.
At nearly 50 years old, he started a trucking business and was its only employee.
Born in 1926, he grew up during the Depression, came of age during World War II and was raised on hard work by a single mother.
Hauling sand, dirt and gravel was his “hobby.” He prided himself on the best customer service, which, in turn, enabled him to build a successful business with only word-of-mouth advertising.
Mostly, I think he never outgrew a little boy’s love of big trucks.
He said if he ever won the lottery, he would buy seven dump trucks so he could drive a different one every day, and he would park them in the front yard so he could look at them all the time. Well, he never won the lottery, but he loved his “big truck” and kept it in pristine condition, inside and out.
In 2001, he was successfully treated for throat cancer, and never missed a day of work while undergoing a course of radiation treatment because “What else would I do?”
He could grow anything and loved sharing the fruits of his labor.
Mostly, I think he never outgrew a little boy’s love of tractors.
In his younger years, he “put in” large vegetable gardens, which helped feed his family of eight children. In his later years, he enjoyed planting a green onion patch because the rows of green looked so pretty. One day, a car turned into the driveway, and the driver asked to buy some onions. “No sir,” Daddy-o told him, “but if you’ll pull your car up and pop the trunk, I’ll fill it up with all you want.”
In late 2002, Daddy-o began having daily earaches and sore throats, but he never missed a day of work. He endured this for a whole year but finally there was a diagnosis of laryngeal cancer. And the treatment was dire: removal of the larynx (voice box), which involved separating the airway from the mouth, nose and esophagus. This meant he would now breathe through a neck opening known as a stoma.
He approached this major surgery with an indomitable spirit and a positive attitude that was simply remarkable. He made arrangements with a long-time friend to handle his hauling business during his hospitalization and weeks of recuperation.
And me? I cried at the thought of never again hearing that wonderful voice.
And so, in 2003 at age 76, Daddy-o began a life-altering journey that I still marvel at today.
And, along the way, I learned that he was truly of “the greatest generation.” He was a fighter and a survivor and this was the hand he had been dealt.
With courage, dignity, grace and amazing resiliency, he got on with living. He learned to communicate with a battery-operated device called an alternate larynx — no easy feat. He overcame his trepidation of going out in public.
He resumed his trucking business and worked for another two years until his health forced him into retirement at age 78. He hated retirement and many times said, “If only I could have worked one more year.”
When he sold his big truck, he said if he had been a kid, “I would have run down the road after it yelling, ‘Bring it back!’ ”
Nov. 12 will mark the eighth anniversary of his death. I still miss that wonderful voice.
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