“Richard C. Shacklett, an ardent fisherman, a ‘dead eye’ hunter and skillful photographer, was a man who mixed his hobbies with his profession—photography.”
In 1995, Dick Lawrence, one of my Dad’s best friends, used these words to describe my father after a lifelong friendship which included numerous fly fishing trips and tromping through the sage brush and fields of Southern Idaho hunting deer and pheasant. Dick Lawrence goes on to say that all these experiences were enhanced and had lasting value calling my father his “dear friend.”
Without a doubt in Dad’s lifetime, God took this generous soul and used his mechanical genius and skill to capture His natural world. Dad’s unique ability together with his favorite camera, the Speed Graphic, coupled with many hours of patience and fortitude, created some of the most breathtaking images in wildlife of the 1950’s—“Mallard Ducks in Flight,”
“The Buck”, and of course, “Strike,” a rainbow trout hitting a fly.
In 1952, “Strike” received national recognition by taking first place in Lucerne, Switzerland at the World Exposition of Photography. Later that year the photo was published in the National Geographic and U.S. Camera. Although this unique photograph brought Dad national and international distinction, it was not his talent as a photographer that set my Dad apart.
God combined the strength of a mountain peak, the wisdom of the ages, the power of an eagle’s flight, the patience of eternity, the faith of a mustard seed, a strong comforting arm in times of need, and placed those eternal qualities in my dearest friend — my father. Only now am I able to appreciate the masterpiece God created and how Dad intuitively understood the depth of our family’s need and responded sacrificially. Yep! He could have been famous photographer, but instead, he chose to be a “Dad”.
In that era of my family’s history, we were living in Idaho. After World War II and college, Dad moved from Tennessee to Twin Falls, Idaho, and opened a studio. He was considered the best in town, and for a moment the studio was very successful. But times got rough. My brother, Bill, was born with a terra tama tumor that had to be removed when he was only six weeks old. Along with some other extenuating circumstances, our family plummeted into financial “hard times.”
To my mother’s chagrin, Dad moved the studio into our home. It was a challenging time for our entire family. Maybe, even at 3, I, too, was affected by the tension in the home. One could hardly have avoided those troubled emotions and apprehensive moments. A murky pall of uncertainty, worry and dread had descended over our household.
There are so many subtle images from my childhood that have created lasting impressions. One of those indelible memories is my Dad’s incredible skill as a whistler. It was during those agonizing days for my family that I was awakened in the middle of the night by a Dad’s whistling — a restless, hypnotic sound which undoubtedly was an apparent release for my father’s fretful thoughts.
As I wandered through the house pursuing this melancholy sound, there on the back porch was my Dad, his face puckered and grimaced as he whistled rolling his tongue with his unique shrills and trills over and over again. He seemingly was unaware that his titillating tune might disturb his sleeping family. As the soft glow from the retouch lamp framed his face, he continued whistling as he carefully corrected a photographic negative.
You know I have come to realize that a little girl needs her daddy for many things. One of is when she is awakened frantic with the terrors of night to find her dad there to comfort when all else falls apart. Only now 24 years later am I able to appreciate my Dad’s toiling for long hours to provide for our family choosing to be “Dad” rather than a fame or fortune as a professional photographer.
Dad’s example is still there like a great mountain of courage and strength, a beacon and a guide for his children Bill, Gloria, and Linda, grandchildren — Ben, Will, Emily, Kate, Peter, Jason and Amanda (who is expecting any day the newest great-grand-Madisen) and other great-grandchildren — Otis, Aidan and Emma.
As most dads, he feared my leaving, my growing up. Many times that enduring twinkle was in his way of declaring his affirmation for me. But more than that, his coarse well-worn hands yearned to pull me close -- to catch me, protect me from a scary grown-up world. His camera and other creative initiatives mirrored what he saw — his complete respect for the human condition.
He taught us that life was more than the struggle to survive, but to live out each moment with vigor and stamina. Many times, he intuitively felt my despair, my stress and even my failures. Although he tossed those sentiments into my direction for empathy, I was not allowed to stay there. He reminded me, “You have strong-willed Idaho blood running through your veins. Don’t you forget it!”
And one more thing…when I was beaten down by the events of life, Dad taught me to run to God with my requests, that Higher place where I would find comfort and answers.
By the way, I have done some research recently about that tune that my Dad would whistle during anxious times. It was called, “Heartaches,” a song popularized by a 1930’s band leader, Ted Weems, featuring one of the world’s most gifted whistlers in Elmo Tanner, who by the way was from Nashville. Dad could whistle that tune with the same precession as Elmo Tanner. The last phrase of the song is…
“I should be happy with someone new but my heart aches for you!”
Dad, now I know … your heart was for your family and for that, Dad, I thank you!