It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. These are the opening lines to Charles Dickens book "A Tale Of Two Cities". This could describe life with my father Willard Aaron Segroves for the almost thirteen short years that I knew him. All of his friends and family called him Bill but he was just daddy to his children. The best of times was from my birth in 1950 until I was about ten. The last three years of his life were the worst of times. How does a man evolve from the best father in the world to a murderer? I have asked that question thousands of times in the last fifty years but I will really never have a good answer. On this Fathers Day I want to honor the best of times but first I want to talk about the worst of times. Most people can honor their father on Father's day without reservation but I can only do it if I compartmentalize. Many people through the years have tried to comfort me by saying things like your father was a good man and he loved your mother. Or your father would never have killed your mother if he had been in his right mind. Somehow I can't wrap my mind around mental illness. It is too complex for me to understand. I can relate to why a person would want to kill himself because I have thought about it many times. Not in a serious or obsessive way but I have thought about it. How does a man on the other hand kill the mother of his children and his unborn baby?
My father never drank to the point that he was visibly drunk except on special occasions like New Years. I remember one particular New Year Eve he was so drunk my mother had to drive him home passed out in the front seat but usually his drinking consisted of drinking a six pack of beer before going to bed while watching the late show on television. Then we moved to 6222 Henry Ford Drive in Charlotte Park when I was nine. At first this was the ideal life. Our subdivision was new and new houses were being built all around us. This meant plenty of scrap lumber to build tree houses. There were woods all around our house to play in. Daddy and I worked hard clearing the brush from our back yard. About this time daddy traveled to South Pittsburg Tennessee where he bought enough fireworks to set up a fireworks stand but he never got a license and we ended up firing off most of them. We had every kind of firework that you could imagine and created armies from among the neighborhood kids choosing sides and firing them at each other. My best friend Frankie Marerro and I explored the nearby Cumberland River and rode for miles on our bikes along what would later become I-24. Daddy showed us how to hunt possums and I kept several under our house. This life was about as close to a "Leave It To Beaver" type of life as you could get.
Then my father started drinking heavily. He drank so much that for days and weeks at a time he couldn't work and so my mother would have to work at the store. She was not the manager that my father was and the employees took advantage of her, stealing my father blind. One night when daddy was somewhat sober I asked him to get some help and to my surprise he agreed. I didn't recognize him anymore and it scared me. I wanted my daddy back and I wanted this obnoxious stranger that he had become to go away. He checked himself into a local sanitarium and dried out. For a short while things were good and then he fell off the wagon. He kept going back for treatment and would dry out and then he would go back to drinking again. This behavior became a regular cycle for a couple of years. Mother and daddy would get into violent arguments. I remember two Christmas Eves in a row that were totally ruined in this way. One day daddy was standing in the kitchen with his back facing our garage. The door was open and he was so drunk he fell backwards down the steps slamming his head against the concrete floor knocking him out cold. I just knew he was dead and called my mom at work. She told me to make sure he was still breathing and if he was just let him sleep it off. Another time daddy was driving drunk and I was in the passenger seat. We were traveling down Church Street when I saw a city bus stopped to pick up passengers. He sideswiped the bus and turned right on the next street. I don't think he ever knew that he hit the bus. Another time I fell out of my tree house knocking myself out. I also cut my eyebrow and I needed a few stitches. Daddy was drunk so Donna quietly backed the car out of the driveway so she could drive me and Mark to the drugstore so mother could take me to the hospital. Donna was maybe fourteen and didn't have a drivers license.
Mark and I were sleeping in a front bedroom that was next to our parents bedroom. Mother and daddy were fighting and the noise woke us up. We ran screaming into their bedroom where daddy had my mother penned against the wall choking her with one hand and trying to hit her with a nightstick. Our screams seemed to bring him to his senses and he let go of her falling back heavily on the bed and burying his head in his hands. Mother calmed us down and put us to bed telling me that we didn't need to worry because she could handle daddy when he was drunk. The next day she had bruises all over her neck and I found out years later that he had nearly killed her. This was when she realized she had to find serious help for him. She would try to have him committed to the state mental hospital. One day mother and I walked into the house. I can't remember where we had been but we found pills strewn all over the place and heard moaning coming from the bathroom. Daddy was sitting slumped over on the toilet because he had overdosed on pills. Mother called an ambulance and they were able to pump his stomach saving his life. I can't tell you how many times I wished he had died that day.
My Aunt Viola, his oldest sister, had him committed to Madison Sanitarium where he was given shock treatments. Mother was having to leave us with my grandparents in East Nashville while she worked at the store. At first she tried to take us back and forth to school in West Nashville but this became too much so she enrolled us a Bailey which was a few blocks from my grandparents. Daddy moved in with us after he was discharged from the hospital. Mother found out she was pregnant at some point but she kept that fact pretty much private. Then on the morning of January 16, 1963 daddy dressed to take us to school. I will never forget the look on his face. I happened to glance at him and the look on his face grabbed my attention. It was void of any emotion. Without speaking a word he drove Roy, Alton, Mark and myself to school. After returning home, and while my my mother was sleeping peacefully in the front bedroom at 1300 Mckennie Avenue he pointed a nine shot 22 caliber pistol at the left side of her head and shot her three times. Then he shot himself in the right temple.
Now for the best of times. During the good times there was never a better father than Bill Segroves. I always enjoyed being around my dad. He worked constantly. The drugstore opened early in the morning and he would be there most days until closing, which was around 10:00 or 11:00 PM. Because we were a family owned business I never felt like my father was away too much because many times, when we weren't in school, we were at the store. I still love the image of my father smiling with his arms folded and leaning back against the counter in his white shirt, bow tie, or regular tie and black pants. He always wore a tie of some kind. Or I would look back and see him working in the prescription department. His customers seemed to like and respect him. They were primarily black and this was in the segregated south. It was not a love and respect based on fear or of knowing your place, but the feeling was mutual. I felt this respect because they called my dad "Doc" and I was little "Doc". I think it was because of watching him and my mother and the way that they related to people, no matter their class or station in life that I have benefited from to this day.
My work ethic definitely comes from my father. Even though he worked all the time he always found time for us in every area that a kid could want. He enrolled me in Little League baseball and he never missed a game. One or the other of my parents were always at my practices. I wasn't a great player and I sat on the bench a lot. This was before the age when every kid gets to play or get's a trophy. When I did get to play it was mostly right field. Occasionally I was a relief pitcher or played second base. More than a few times I cried because I didn't get to play in a game. It wasn't my dad's fault that I was a mediocre player because he was always playing pitch with me. He taught me the fundamentals of how to hold the bat, how to field fly balls, grounders, and how to play the bases. My shyness was a large factor. I did great in practice but when I got in a real game I was too hesitant and cautious. Every kid loves to fish and daddy was an avid fisherman. He took us every time we were able to go with him. Many times it would be just me and him which was good quality time together. Most times daddy was catching fish but I would get bored and start throwing rocks and he would get on me about it. If I was catching fish I was okay but I never developed the love of fishing that daddy had just to sit there and commune with nature.
Swimming was another thing that daddy loved. He could easily have been a champion diver. In the summer time we always spent a week down at Chickasaw State Park near Henderson Tennessee. The family rented one large cabin and our family, his cousin Howard and Howard's wife and daughters Sherry and Sandra stayed there. Didi, Roy, Alton and her boyfriend "Gigs" also stayed together for a fun filled week of swimming, fishing, and fellowship. Sometimes my sisters Carolyn and Faye would stay with us. Whenever we were at home we were swimming at area lakes like Lake Louise, Old Hickory Lake, or Cascade Plunge at the fairgrounds. There he would draw a crowd to watch him dive from the top of the diving tower doing the "swan" and "jack knife" among others. I was scared of the water and in old home movies I could be seen wearing a life preserver. Mark on the other hand loved the water and as a baby would jump off into the deep water without hesitation. Of course daddy was there to catch him.
Daddy took us hunting. He hunted for dove, squirrels, and rabbits. He never trusted me that much with a shotgun because I was a wild child but he let me carry a shotgun as I got older. In the late 1950's there was a go kart craze. Go kart tracks were being built everywhere and he was constantly taking us to ride them. He would take us kite flying and we would go to Centennial Park and fly balsa wood airplanes. So all I can honor on Fathers Day is that really good man that I knew for about ten short years. In those years I cannot say enough good things about my father.
|The last picture of my father. December 25, 1962|
|The Nashville Tennessean / January 17, 1963|