I know Father's Day has already come and gone, but I just had to give a shout out to the man who brought me up.
He was a hard working man as far back as I can remember. He worked for 42 years at a steel mill in Kansas City, changing shifts every week and sometimes working double shifts several times a week. In fact, I can still remember that old rotary dial phone ringing and him telling mom he was going to work an extra shift again. He was a union man through and through. His crew at the rolling mill set records for production and beat their quotas regularly. And yet, his pay was nowhere near what folks thought union steel workers made -- at least not while I was growing up.
Born and raised in the hills of northern Arkansas near the small town of Mountain View, in a backwoods community known as Luber, he was a strong young man. He just had entered seventh grade when he was forced to work in the fields alongside his father. He was the second of four sons born to Oscar and Roxie Stewart. When the sons were old enough, they all moved away from that place looking for jobs that would pay a living wage. One might have ended up in Indiana before returning back home. The other two -- I believe -- moved to Illinois and worked in the factories around Moline and Green Rock.
Dad married Juanita Everett, who lived nearby in a township known as Hanover. They moved to Kansas City where dad took a job at the steel mill with the understanding they would remain there through the winter - from September of 1951 to May of 1952. They were still living in the Kansas City area when dad passed away in 2011.
With the help of our mother, Dad managed to raise four sons.
I remember that most of our "vacations" were spent in Arkansas visiting family, though I recall there was one time when mom talked him into taking us to Memphis to see the zoo and to visit Graceland. During that trip, a very young Bob Stewart looked out at the motel swimming pool and thought it would be a great way to cool off in the oppressive delta heat. Problem was ... I didn't know how to swim. As I was going down for the third time I looked up and saw my dad, fully clothed, running to the side of the pool and jumping in to pull me to safety while the "lifeguard" pointed in my general direction. Needless to say, I was banned from the pool for the rest of the trip. As a side note; all of the Stewart sons were awarded with swimming lessons at the park when we returned home that summer.
When we were teenagers we formed a rock band. At the ripe old age of 10, I was the youngest and played bass guitar. My oldest brother was the lead singer and the next oldest was a great drummer. Our little brother was still only 3 or 4 at the time. Dad was a wonderful road crew, helping us load and unload all of our gear into and out of that old metallic lavender Chevy station wagon Mom called "The Easter Egg." He drove us to all of our "gigs" and waited nearby as we performed at parties, school mixers and roller rinks. He was either our greatest fan or one of the most patient dads ever. Or maybe both.
There is so much more I could say about Dad, but my favorite memories do not come from when I was a kid. They start about the time I started seeing him as Papa Ben after my kids were born.
The way he interacted with them was magical. They all have such wonderful memories of their time with him, yet their memories are all unique. He treated each one special and as an individual and never treated them as if they were just identical parts of the whole. That was special. And I'm sure it was the same for each of his 13 grandchildren. Some say they would like to be the kind of father they had. I would agree. But even more, I think, I'd like to be the kind of Papa he was.
To understate the obvious, Ben touched the lives of so many people, bringing sunshine into each life he touched.
And he will be forever missed by so many.