“My Daddy Got Killed Last Night” A Father’s Day Story
Gary Basham had started his morning expecting little when he walked out the front door to retrieve the morning paper. In November of 1967, it was a much anticipated beginning of everyday to have the daily news delivered right to your front door, or front lawn, or driveway, depending on the dedication of the kid on the bike.
Gary and his bride of 3 plus years had just 3 weeks earlier bought their first home at 1821 Mimosa in Plano. Jan and Gary were both only 21 when they fell in love and married in August of 1964. Now, 52 years later, there's no record that Gary Basham ever read the November 27, 1967 edition that day.
"Gary went to get the paper, and came back in visibly upset," Jan explained. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, "The little boy next door just told me that his daddy got killed last night."
Kenneth Eugene Smith lost his life sometime after 2:00 a.m. that morning when the car he was test driving after rebuilding, left the roadway at a high rate of speed while crossing a bridge on Plano Parkway just west of Highway 75. He left behind a wife, 4 daughters and the little boy.
Ann Smith was widowed for a second time and once again facing life while trying to raise a troubled teenage daughter, 8 and 6 year old girls and the 4 year old little boy. A father gone and an open door for 2 men that never would be.
Somewhere inside the hearts of those 22-24 year olds, they found room for 3 grieving kids they didn't know and never let go.
Being 24 in 1967, is not the same as being 24 today. There was a standard of character and integrity that was a constant norm. Expectations were high when it came to the responsibilities of simply calling yourself a grown man, you weren't rewarded that title just by reaching your 18th or 21st birthday. You actually had to have a standard of living, understand humility and compassion and develop the skills it takes to say out loud, "I don't know everything." In that vain, Gary Don Basham never hesitated, and his wife backed him up.
Gary and Jan would answer the door for the little boy, usually only a few seconds after Gary would arrive home, and ask if Gary could come out and play. He would. He did. Gary played with the little boy everyday he possibly could, every minute he could spare it seemed, the 2 would find time to throw the football, if for only a few minutes before dark. He bought the little boy his first football jersey, a number 66 which was the same number as Dallas Cowboy George Andrie.
You see, if you were a real Cowboy fan in the 70's, you had to recognize players, every player, by their jersey number. Gary gave the boy a reason to watch football, to play football, to make the catch, to cut behind the tree, to hold the ball tight after he caught it so as not to fumble. Gary Basham "saved the lives" of the boy and his 2 sisters Sandy and Keely the one night he came home late to 3 screaming kids in the doorway of the house next door.
There was a creature they had been fighting for about an hour in the house they simply could not kill. Even after covering the monster with Lysol, Ajax, salt, syrup, hair spray and mustard, it was still moving. To 3 children alone in a house after dark, a chance meeting with a scorpion is more horrifying than dropping a snapping turtle in the bathtub.
Gary hurried over, pulled the paper grocery bag out of the trash can and walked it outside dropping it to the ground and subsequently smashing the scorpion under his shoe. Godzilla had been bested by Basham. Simple to anyone else, but Gary eliminated our fear that day. In one instant, in a single defining moment in time, Gary Basham was responsible for instilling in all 3 of us that he was capable and willing to take away all the fear.We saw it, and we believed it.
Sandy said recently, "The Lord has shown me great grace and mercy by erasing from my memory so many things that happened during those dark days. The short glimpses of happiness and peace I can remember are always littered with Gary's laughter and compassion. We were so lost and felt so alone. And he and Jan were our lighthouse in the sea of despair. In his own way, he taught me by example, how a good father and husband should act. My choice for a husband was based on that knowledge, and I’m proud to say we just celebrated our 42nd anniversary. It’s just simply impossible to quantify the depth of my gratitude. For the loving kindness. He showed all of us."
When you lose anything in life, you are constantly searching for some element of that loss to be filled with something that covers that space. Consciously or subconsciously, we seek to fill the voids that somehow keep us incomplete. For a small boy, losing a father could easily cripple you mentally, sabotage you physically, and most certainly limit your abilities to cope with all the obstacles standing in your way of becoming a good man.
Then Gary showed up with a plan. He gave me his eyes, his ears, and most gratefully, his time. Keely told me once that,"Gary provided us with stability we desperately needed with the loss of a man to call our own." Even as we got older, we would not have had that "go to" leader had Gary decided to simply look the other way".
Gary never became a father himself, though he and Jan adopted Tye Basham June 17 of 1972, once again validating their journey of making the lives around them better. Tye is a good man, married to the beautiful mother of their 2 boys Beckett and Paxton who can look up in the stands at every game and see Jan and Gary yelling till they can't talk.
In a day and time when we are more apt to seek out the deeper reason for our own shortcomings, faults, mishaps, or just plain stupidity by pointing to the losses or missed opportunities of our parents and siblings, I am a prime example of how a blessing can turn a bad day into a wonderful lifetime. When my father died on that awful day, my dad showed up. My loss was his open door and he took full advantage of it. All of it. He has fed us, held us, lead us by example, and never thought the truth was to much for us to handle. It is never a cliche, if it's the truth. I am a much better man because Gary Don Basham showed up. I depend on him for everything I struggle with, I lean on him when I have to, and he never disappoints. I love him most because he loves his wife and showed me how, because he loves his family and shows me why, and I can call him my dad and he doesn't mind. Yes, Fathers Day is very important to me.
On this Fathers Day 2019, never forget that thousands of men just like me, never got the chance to be a father though we can't seem to exhale without wishing we had. Never get too far away from recognizing the Gary Basham's right in front of you that walked into the storm instead of running for shelter. The "step-dad's" that choose to take something broken and make it whole. This world is conquered by those that choose to show up.
Gary and Jan Basham will be married 55 years on August 16th.
Sandy Smith Manning and husband Grady just celebrated 42 years on June 11th.
Keely Frances Smith Robertson has raised 2 incredible children and has dedicated her life to daughter C.A and son Jack and now 4 grandchildren.
The little boy never became a father either, but he learned to love, to pay attention, to listen and give a little time when someone desperately needs it. At the age of 40, he married a Brooklyn girl named Margie who brought with her 7 amazing children who have dropped 6 grand kids thus far. I have all these things By the grace of God, and Gary Basham.
Just last year when Brinleigh turned 4 1/2, I found myself in tears while talking to her at our kitchen bar. When she asked me why I was crying, I explained to her I had lost my daddy when I was her age, something I had only realized at that very moment. She looked puzzled then squeezed my cheeks and said, "You mean, you don't have a daddy?"
I said "Yes ma'am, his name is Gary, but I call him Pop."