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Roger Powell Robinson Sr.
Roommates and Blind Dates
In the spring of ‘66, mom’s senior year at Florida State University. To complete her Bachelor of Arts in History with a double major in Secondary Education, she interned at Samuel W. Wolfson’s High School in Jacksonville. In the fall, upon completion of that semester, she was offered a job in Social Studies teaching at Wolfson High School. It was the premier high school in south Jacksonville. At a parent’s conference in late October, a student’s mother waited until everyone left and walked up to mom and said,
“I think my daughter is correct. I think you and my neighbor would certainly enjoy each other’s company. I would like to set you two up for a blind date.”
Mom was hesitant and did not think it was very good idea. She thought it over for a couple months. Coincidentally, her roommate at the time, also a teacher, had attended DuPont High School along with dad. One day mom asked her whether she should go on a date with dad, she replied, “well why not, you got nothing to lose.” I usually don’t believe in the aphorism, things happen for a reason, but nevertheless my brothers, niece, nephews, sisters-in-law and my wife are unknowingly thankful that she lived with this woman at the time.
After high school dad worked for Prudential Insurance and was attending community college. He enlisted in the Naval Air Reserve and was on active duty for 3 years to obtain the G.I. Bill. During this time mom and dad met. On December 4th, 1966, they had their first date. Dad took her to see him play guitar and sing in his folk band. After carefully considering her omniscient roommate’s suggestion only a few months prior, they didn’t waste much time. They got engaged on Valentine’s Day, February 1967, and married June 16th, Granddaddy’s birthday. Mom is not the music lover my father, older brother Pwilly and I are. But she does remember the music that played on the radio of his F-85 Oldsmobile, at Atlantic Beach, as dad got down on one knee, a cover by Herman's Hermits, released just 2 months earlier in the US, “There's a Kind of Hush All Over the World,” was playing on the car radio when dad proposed 55 years ago.
Jacksonville to Tallahassee to Crap Comma
Mom continued teaching and after he completed his duty with the Naval reserves. He continued his education at the University of Florida. The Robinson family adored UF, two of his uncles went to the University of Florida, so it was implied if you were going to college, that is where you would end up. He graduated June ‘72, mom was pregnant by then and they moved to Tallahassee where he had his first engineering consultant job. On August 1st, 1972, my brother Powell was born, dad went to work for the state of Florida he worked there for three years. During that time August 5th, 1974, I was born. Two and a half years later, March 17th, 1976, Hank was born. In October ’79 he was offered a job with an engineering firm in Fort Myers, it was such a fine pecuniary offer he could not resist. We moved to Cape Coral (aka Crap Comma, dad can’t be credited with this one, it came from my enormous accumulation of rubbish between my ears) renting a house, the Disgustems (I can’t take credit, this is dad’s imaginative sobriquet) eventfully moved into. Shortly after working as consultant for the engineering firm, he was offered the position as public works director for the city of Fort Myers. In mom’s words, “Roger always liked working for the public rather than private enterprise the rest is history.”
If you can’t make fun of your elders, who can you make fun of?
His mother, not wanting to be seen as old in others’ eyes, decided she wouldn’t be called grandmother or granny. So, she went with the natural alternative. Yep, you guessed it, Nanu. Wait what? Nope not a typo, you read that correctly she chose Nanu. If you read my first article (actually if you read the paragraph above) you know the Robinson’s love nicknames but uh, yeah, she uh, shat the bed on hers’.
She walked with a limp and always had a big smile on her face. So naturally we did what every other grandchild does we mocked the poor lady. Hank and I would take turns with huge smiles on our face, rocking and swaying from side to side with every step forward, repeating the same line she uttered every single time, “such good, smart, sweet bo-ees, bo-ees, bo-ees, bo-ees.” Talking shit about your word-repeating, dementia-ridden grandmother isn’t something to be proud of, nevertheless it’s still funny in the eyes of a couple of pre-teen grandsons. The memory is still bouncing around in the brain of a dark-humor enthusiast such as I. And now it’s in yours. (Enter Count Dracula laugh here.) Anyway, enough with the shame and humor of our childhood.
She came down to see dad acting in Gilbert and Sullivan’s, The Mikado. When he walked out, stuffed with those old stinky, head-sweat, brown stained pillows, her eyes popped out as big as that dumb ass possum that always tries to cross the street on Wednesday night, when you’re speeding down that dimly lit road after your children’s long, arduous and boring soccer practice. Nanu announces, “he looks like Orson Welles!”
The Thespian Wears No Clothes
Whether it was dressing up, in complete make-up and stuffing seven large stinky pillows under his robe to get into character as the haughty nobleman. Or in his scuba gear brushing the algae off the walls of our swimming pool. I bet you are thinking a messily ass snorkel. Nope. All the scuba gear; a wet suit, a mask, a tank, regulator, fins, flippers whatever you call them, a diver’s knife, (I shouldn’t nerd-out on him too much, I still have my never dived, diver’s knife) inflator vest, depth gauge. Did I miss something? I am willing to bet the house, the farm, and the boat, that you prefer the sight of a wet suit, because the alternative was a horrendously freighting sight. The ominous and ignominious testicle hugging classic, an extra-extra small pair of blue Speedos.
Dad had some strange tastes, later in life. You know what let’s change that to his whole life. Well, I better get my raincoat, I can feel the dark cloud of the pot-calling-the-kettle-black starting to accumulate overhead, with me taking up the writing profession at the ripe age of 47. Is it still a profession if you don’t get paid? Can’t an out of work, bored and lazy dude living in Izmir, Turkey, have hopes and dreams?
His acting career did not end with Poo-Bah. In another Gilbert and Sullivan classic, one of his favorites, H.M.S. Pinafore he played a few different roles, the pinnacle being, Captain Corcoran, the Commander of H.M.S. Pinafore. In addition, he portrayed, Tevye, the lead role, on Fiddler on the Roof. He had a great voice, one of mom’s favorites was his rendition of the bass solo from Handel's Messiah, Refiner's Fire, as mom proclaims, “it was thrilling!” He could imitate Elvis, again in mom’s words, I would substitute the word try.
Music and Hums, I mean Hymns.
He was a singer most of his life. At the age of 10 he was a soprano at St John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville. In high school he was in the chorus and continued at the University of Florida where he was in the men’s chorus. While living with mom he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science with a specialty of Oceanography in May ‘72. He was on the track team in high school. His father at the of age 16, was roughhousing with his brothers and fell off the bed and injured his leg. An infection set in and left him crippled for the rest of his life. It was frequently said that Poppa was the real athlete in family before the injury. The primary memory I have of Poppa was him sitting in his wheelchair in the doorway with Nanu standing behind him, waving while dad backed us out of the driveway in our “Clark Griswold classic” long white and brown wood-paneled station wagon. That childhood injury led to him prohibiting dad from playing sports, he was only allowed to run track. Without having the outlet of sports and athletics to entertain him in his childhood years, the expansion of his love of music was amplified. Church choirs, musical groups, humming with his guitar in the living room, he couldn’t get enough. Hank and I again mocking our elders, would sing maybe a line or two, then jump right into humming the rest. “Puff the Magic Dragon, lived by the sea and frolicked in the…hmmmm….hmmmmm…hmmmm!”
He loved all kinds of music, his favorite being Peter, Paul and Mary (PPM.) One memory I can’t shake. He was by the front door in our Cape Coral home, and PPM came on TV. Dad yelled out, “hot damn, Peter, Paul and Mary!” He bolted for the TV, wearing nothing but a wife beater and his tighty-whities spilling half of his Black Russian along the way. That was the fasted I ever saw him move in 42 years. Obviously, my brother’s and I thought PPM, were horrible. However, one of the bands I did enjoy was, The Kingston Trio an American folk music group in the late 1950s to late 1960s.
I’ve been living in Turkey for 21 of the last 32 months, unable to find work, specifically a US company (this essay was started in February 2022…yeah, I’m a gold medalist in the World Championship of Procrastinators for Peace.) Besides going to the gym, listening to podcasts and eating, I don’t do much of anything. Bored to death, I decided to do something semi productive, so I started writing. When I say started, I’m talking barely reaching for the keyboard. I am getting lapped in the race of life against my arch nemesis, Larry Laziness. I wrote my first article five weeks ago and if, big if I finish this one it will be my whopping second. For a couple decades now, T. Samuel Robinson, is how I penned my signatures at work, personal emails, pretty much anything where I write my name. And what do you know? I just found out a couple months ago, not only was my great-grandfather a writer. He wrote under the pen name H. E. Robinson (HER I). Strange and interesting coincidence I had an urge to begin this profession late in life and as it turns out we both used initials to write our names.
Eh, maybe not so interesting.
He was born in East Machias, Maine. I can see it now, dad with his index finger on his chin, tongue pressing the inside of his protuberant right cheek, one eye squinted and looking to the heavens, hearing him say in his deep contemplating voice, “I always wanted to go to Maine.” HER I, worked for a couple of the big-time agencies, he was a sports editor for the Boston Globe and a journalist for the Associated Press. He wrote several books and interviewed Al Capone. He came south met and married Nellie Mae Powell. Her clan, the Powell’s are one of the founding families of Ft Myers, Florida and my and father’s and brother’s middles names. Nellie Mae’s sister was married to John Morgan Dean another massive influence on the growth of Fort Myers. Morgan Dean was a real estate developer and entrepreneur and friends with Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford.
HER I and Nellie Mae lived in Fort Worth Texas, from 1915 to 1924. He worked as a publisher and was the president of a real estate corporation in Mineral Wells, Texas. While living in Fort Worth he was a senior member of the Knights Templar, a Royal Arch Mason, and a member of the Temple Club. There was speculation was he was involved in the Teapot Dome scandal. Prior to the Watergate scandal, Teapot Dome was regarded as the "greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics.” However, like most of us Robinson’s, and for that matter most of my fellow American-born-Americans, his siblings might have twisted the truth during a classic American family’s much beloved blabbering session. Like most of us Robinson’s he had a quick temper and loved the smell of alcohol. After returning to Jacksonville, he was a member of the Kiwanis Club and the Florida State Chamber of Commerce. His love of fellowship made a big impression on my father, dad also became a Mason. HER I was instrumental in dad’s passion for singing in several choirs throughout his life. He took dad to St. John’s Cathedral Boys choir as a youth. Listening to the way mom tells it he is the most influential person in my dad’s life, although dad never mentioned him. I had a lot of head injuries, maybe I forgot.
From my playful ramblings it appears as though he had a happy and joyful life. However, like all of us he had some dreadful times. Before he met mom, while working for Prudential Insurance, he met a young woman from Live Oak, named Fay. In August, they got married and decided they would have a child. Three months after conception the most horrific news a mother, father, any human with a heartbeat wants to hear. In November, she suffered a miscarriage and an infection ensued and by March she passed from endocarditis.
In 2004, he was rushed into open heart surgery. The surgeons, after attempting to place a stint in his heart, had to quickly change course after it burst leading to a quintuple bypass.
We sat in the front left pew by the casket. I was on the right next to the aisle, the grandchildren sitting to my left. I remember Willie, my youngest nephew, wondering inquisitively around the organ making the organist nervous. When I finished my speech, I returned to my seat and looked down and to my left, Ethan looked up, his body trembling and his eyes swelled with tears. He couldn’t speak, I leaned over squeezed him close to me and kissed him on the top of his head.
Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Roger Powell Robinson, Sr, Martha Jane Robinson, Roger Powell Robinson, Thomas Samuel Robinson, Henry Emmons Robinson, the III, what do all these names have in common? The number 3. Dad loved the number 3.
Back At the house he has three guitars, 3 computers, 30 flashlights and 3 thousand bullets
Last weekend Mom and I were at the hospital with Dad. He was in his usual routine of serenading the medical staff. Sometimes he would even freestyle words not appropriate for this setting or in the presence of the grandchildren.
When the medical staff began suggesting hospice care was something we should consider, Mom said, "Roger the Dr. said they have done all they can do. Your heart is worn out. Do you want to move to Hospice?" Dad looked at Mom and turned to the Doctor and said, "well I guess that is the best thing to do." After the Doctor exited the room, Dad began reaching to his left and then back to his right, asking for the dummy waiters. I said Dad what are you trying to do, He said, "l am trying to set up my room, I want my phone right here so I can call my boys and my grandchildren.
On behalf of my mother, my brothers and l, Brittany, and the grandchildren, we thank those who were unable to attend today, those who are present now, the Holy Trinity Choir and congregation, and Dr. Bell for all the love and condolences sent our way.
Last but not least thank you Martha Jane Robinson and Roger Powell Robinson, Sr for falling in love, getting married and giving my brothers and I and Hanna, aka, Hanna Banana, Ethan aka, "Teakinstein" Henry IV aka, "Henny Penny" Charlie Bear and Sweet William the greatest gift of all — the gift of Life.
Comic relief, courtesy of my cousin, Karen Summers
In 1978, I got married in February and August we went on vacation to Panama City Beach; my friend Lynn, Granny Smith your mom, and dad had a house on the beach with our cousins from Alabama, Merle and Doris. One afternoon after supper Lynne and I were walking down the beach. She had a boyfriend and these guys kept bothering us till finally we could not even walk on the beach anymore. So, we turn around and we go back to the beach house and your mom and dad were sitting out on the porch. They could see we were kind of upset and wanted to know what was going on and so we said we were trying to walk down the beach, but these guys would not leave us alone, even after I told him I was married, and she had a boyfriend. Your dad said, “well I’ll walk with you.” He got up we were walking towards the beach, and I kept looking at him and I thought there's something…this is not quite right because you know your dad wore Speedos (yeah, we all know now.) I kept noticing that it just didn't look right, he had on a t-shirt and his Speedos. Well, that was not the case. We get up to Hwy 98 and I said, “Uncle Roger what do you have on?” He pulled up his shirt he says “my bathinnn…underwear!” He turned around and ran back to the beach house. Lynn and l were dying laughing, we were laughing so hard we were crying. We laughed all the way back to the beach house. Your mom was still sitting there, and she was saying what's wrong? “Roger came back here like his pants was on fire.” And I said, “well he thought he had on his t-shirt and Speedos, but it was his underwear.” Momma says, “I told him not to do that!”
I remember one of the first times he came over to Granny Smith. Granny made chitlins, now that was not something me and my brothers and sisters liked, and my mom couldn't stand it either. Your mom liked them and so did Granddaddy Smith, my dad and Granny. Uncle Roger says, what is that smell?” And we said, “that is what you call chitlins,” we went across the road, you could still smell it. He said, “I will never eat that as long as I live,” and I said, “well you don't have to worry, neither will the rest of us.” We got in the car and went downtown to McDonald's. just had to get away from there. “I just will never forget the look of horror on his face.”
“I don't know if you know this, but your dad used to sleep in the nude.” Aunt Pat was over there one day she worked at the hospital, and she pulled a double shift. Pat was sleeping in the room, where you were at. You woke up crying in the night and Aunt Jane didn't get up and Uncle Roger came into the bedroom and picked you up, and he said, “here the baby is crying.” When he realized it was Pat and he didn't have on any clothes, Aunt Jane was coming through the door and we all just laughed.
Saltine and Mayonnaise Sandwiches & the Oreo Cookie Arch Nemesis.
One afternoon dad was gently and delicately spreading butter over his roll. Hank says, “you like butter don’t you, dad?” Still staring passionately at the roll spreading butter around to every corner, “I dearly love butter.”
He dearly loved butter but if there was a 1a it was mayonnaise. He could go through a whole sleeve of saltines topped with mayonnaise steadily and lustfully. Another one of his go-tos was Oreo cookies. Longtime family friend Jason Hopf, aka, JHopf played on my first ever basketball team, in the Cape Coral Youth Basketball Association. Growing up even though he played basketball every day, he had a fat belly with a belly button the size of a sinkhole. He too had a huge appetite and love of Oreo cookies. After school when JHopf came over, he would go straight to the pantry and open the door looking for you guessed it Oreo cookies. He would grab at least 6-8 cookies and slam them in 1 or 2 minutes at most. When it was time to leave he would grab some more for his ride home. This would inevitably lead to dad screaming at mom, “goddammit Jane! Who’s eating my Goddamn Oreos?”
Music, laughter and the perfect ending.
I hope you enjoyed my musing, but before you close the browser, I want you to do me one favor. If you are at home or driving in your car and no one can hear or see you or if you don’t give a damn if anyone can see or hear. In remembrance of Roger Powell Robinson Sr., please sing along with this John Denver classic.
All my memories gather 'round her
Miner's lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mount-MMMMMMMMMMM
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