Everybody knows my Dad as Sam King. And, EVERYBODY knows Sam King. I can’t remember any family trip we ever took – and we traveled a lot – where someone, somewhere didn’t yell across a room, a lake, a street, “Is that Sam King?” We would roll our eyes and laugh. We just could not escape the wide, wide world of Sam King, the sportswriter.
The irony is that Sam is not his name at all. I actually don’t even know where that moniker came from. He was born Gordon Leon King, Jr. into a family where nicknames became more known than real names. My Grandfather, Gordon Leon, Sr., was always called Buster. But, my dad was known by many names – Rick O’Shea was a pen name used at the Denham Springs News or, as Daddy called it, The Dinky Springs News. Momma always called him G.L. unless he didn’t answer, and then she would yell “Sam”. For a short time, people called him Columbo because he looked a lot like the cigar smoking character Peter Falk played on television. Of course, we called him Daddy. My nieces and nephews call him Poppie. And the countless kids that he coached in basketball and baseball called him Coach Sam or Mr. Sam.
I was the first born child to Linda Fair King and Daddy. He was 22 when I was born. As the story goes, my parents were at an LSU – University of Tennessee basketball game the night before I was born. Of course, Daddy was a sportswriter even then, and he stayed after to write and do the things sportswriters do. They got home late, and Momma went into labor. Daddy jumped up and drove as fast as he could to the Baton Rouge General Hospital. Unfortunately, Momma’s physician was at The Lady of the Lake. I can’t even imagine how that conversation might have gone. The other big surprise of the event was me. You see, my Dad wanted a boy, and Momma wanted whatever he wanted. Now, I’m sure in the mind of really young parents, you just really count on the fact that there won’t be disappointment. If you just know you are having a boy, you are! Well, HELLO! I’ve been rebellious since the womb. My name was to be Michael Jerome. Daddy chose my name while Momma was still unconscious because they were so sure I would be a boy that they didn’t even think about girl names. Surprise!
By the time Daddy was 30, he would have 4 children – me, Susan Rae, Terry Michael and Sammy Lee. They also tried to name my sister Michael Jerome, but she surprised them, too. After that, I think they just thought that name might be the kiss of death. Daddy continued to work at either the State Times or The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate until he retired. I don’t know that most people know this, but journalism is generally not a financially lucrative career. Daddy was determined that he be the sole breadwinner for his wife and four children. And he did. My grandparents had a huge vegetable garden where we got most of our food, and Daddy fished. He fished a lot! We ate fish a lot. I had no idea how lucky we were to have homegrown vegetables and fresh caught fish as our staple diet.
The things I remember most about Daddy are actually things I’ve taken on for myself. He was a runner. He used to load us in the car with our bikes, and we’d ride down some lonely country road with him while he ran. He wrote all the time. He had his writing job, of course, but he was always taking on second or third freelance jobs. I always remember him sitting in his office or at the dining room table pecking away at a typewriter until the wee hours of the morning after some sporting event. And, that cheap cigar was always hanging out of his mouth-although he would argue they weren’t cheap.
I think all of us played on one of his sports teams at one time or another. We were always at some ball field everyday during the summer. He was adamant that we would all go to college. He didn’t finish his degree because of the mouths he had to feed, but he was determined we would. And, we did. He has an daughter that is a Creative Writing Teacher, two kids with their Masters Degrees that work in corporate fields and a son with a Ph.D. that is a Wetlands Biologist at LSU. Most of all, he taught us discipline. At times, I will argue it was too much, but in reality it taught me that I had to have a focused plan and stick with it in order to succeed.
He was an avid outdoorsman. I HATED it growing up. Well, it was okay when I was a kid. But, when I got to be a teenager, I did not want to camp, and I definitely didn’t want to fish. I mean, where would I blow dry my hair? You can’t put makeup on in a tent. I wish I could find this picture of my sister and I at 15 and 16 in Colorado. We’re standing in front of this fabulous scenery with scowls on our faces like we’re being walked to the death chamber. I have come back to these things later in my life by choice. We camped a lot in the summer because Daddy had lots of vacation time, and we basically didn’t have the money to spend on hotels. We spent most summer vacations camping in Destin FL. It was nothing like it is now. It was a fishing village. The highlight of each day was going to the Dairy Queen. And, we had fun. Even though all of us fair skinned Irish kids were sunburned from day one, we had a blast. Daddy worked all the time during the sports seasons, so the only time we really saw him a lot was in the summer. Sportswriting is not the ideal career for a family man. I found that out myself when I married one. I’m not sure how they did it. (Except everybody says Momma is a Saint.)
To be a child in Sam King’s household, you had to be tough. You had to have a work ethic. You also had to have a great sense of play when it was time to play. Daddy was and is funny. He loves to laugh and play practical jokes. I could write an entire story on his practical jokes and maybe I will. But, for now, this is a tribute to him. His birthday is coming up on August 23. He and Momma spend their summers as a campground host in Red River, New Mexico these days. He never did like the heat. So, they choose to stay in cooler climes when the Louisiana heat is at its worst. He’s doing what he loves to do. And, that’s something else I learned from him, stubborn as I am.
Happy Birthday, Daddy.