Eighty-one years ago, today, my father, Ralph Ray Douglas, was born.
He grew up in Dunbar and graduated from Dunbar High School. After that, he joined the Air Force and spent four years stationed in Germany. He served between the Korean War and Vietnam, so he was spared combat.
There’s a funny story about his name. Throughout his life, up until military service, he thought his middle name was Raymond. That’s what his mother told him it was. He only realized his actual middle name when he got his birth certificate to volunteer for the military. His mother changed her mind after they signed the birth certificate.
My dad is one of those people who is always tinkering with things. As a kid, it seemed like he could fix anything. We did always joke, however, that whenever he had to nail anything, he used 16 penny nails whether the job needed anything that big or not.
Just after I moved to California to take a job in the scuba diving industry, he decided he wanted to learn to dive as well. He was 59 at the time. I put him in touch with my old dive instructor and he was soon blowing bubbles.
He even came to California for a visit so we could dive together for the first time. I ended up writing an article about that for the magazine where I worked. The story was shared around the world in a time before social media.
Just recently, Dad had to hang up his dive fins, but that hasn’t slowed him down. For the last decade or so, he has been heavily involved with Trout Unlimited. He was just out stocking a trout stream a few weekends ago.
Growing up, I remember my dad being a practical man, but he and Mom also used to square dance. In later years, Dad took up clog dancing and was often on the dance floor at the Vandalia Gathering or dancing with a local clogging team.
Dad took some night classes but didn’t earn a college degree. Still, he and Mom made sure we had model rockets and chemistry sets to experiment with. Dad would bring home electric motors from work that we would take apart — and attempt to put back together.
I also remember using a “suicide cord” (an extension cord with alligator clips on the end) to apply power to those motors — so maybe not all his ideas were the best ...
I also remember he brought home a broken surveillance camera and I dug into that. Hmmm, maybe that led to a lifetime with a camera in my hand.
Regardless, I just wanted to take the time to say “Happy Birthday” and wish him many more.
If you see Ralph today, buy him a cup of coffee. He’ll thank you for that.