A black and white picture depicted a visit to Grandfather’s farm. The year, was 1954, or possibly earlier–earlier, because my younger brother, Jerry (on the left), appeared to be very young. He was born in 1951, and I dare say, he couldn’t have been older than two. My sister, wasn’t born until 1954. I’m posed in the middle, appropriately, since I was the middle child. My precocious big brother, George, went through a patriotic phase. In pictures, he either saluted military style, or held his hand over his heart. I was impatient, couldn’t stand still–wanted the picture-taking nonsense to cease.
Dad was a WWII veteran, a member of the “greatest generation.” …Toughened by hardships of the great depression. He was a man of principle with firm religious convictions–a born-again Christian. We attended church regularly mid-week and on Sundays. Dad was a strict disciplinarian based upon, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” The “rod of correction” was applied liberally to my backside during childhood. My father’s conservative republican political leanings contrasted with my grandfather’s being a staunch democrat.
In the early fifties, dad felt called to the ministry. We moved first, to Greenville, Illinois and then to Canton, Ohio. Father took classes at nearby Greenville College in preparation for work at the “Volunteers of America” in Ohio. Later, we moved back to Illinois where Dad resumed farming with my Grandfather. There were several overnight trips taken, back to Illinois from Ohio, in our blue, ’54 Ford four-door sedan. Dad drove the entire trip, my baby sister, Marsha slept in mother’s arms in the front seat; I slept on the floor behind the front seat; my brother George slept on the back seat; Jerry slept on the rear window ledge. A service station attendant got a big kick out of this. This, I realize, would be frowned upon today.
Father seemed happiest when farming. There was always an ever-present smile of satisfaction across his face. During the years, he had several second jobs to make ends meet. Mom resumed her teaching career shortly after we moved back to Illinois. Dad, like others of his generation, was self-sufficient. Mom, wasn’t always pleased with his utilitarian home repairs–form always followed function. Our first decent place of residence, wasn’t realized, until we moved into Grandfather’s farmhouse. It had indoor plumbing–unlike our previous three places of residence. This seemed to especially please my mother.
In this 1955 family portrait, my sister Marsha was just a toddler. I’m on the front row, left, Jerry is to the far right, George is on the back row, center. Our family life wasn’t anything like TV sitcom portrayals. Mom didn’t putter around the kitchen in a starched white apron, while Dad relaxed in the living room with his feet propped up, waiting for the evening meal. Mom and Dad’s responsibilities weren’t nine-to-five, Monday through Friday. During the long days of summer, Dad didn’t get in from the fields, till sometimes eight or nine. Mom balanced duties as a teacher, farm wife, household manager, and was mother to four children. Everybody pitched in to help. George filled in as substitute chef when mom attended night classes. I doubt if the “Brady Bunch” could have kept up. It was no wonder my parents were always tired.
On a cold January night in 1986, my phone rang in the early morning hours. It was Dad, his voice quivered with emotion–as he searched for meaning. Our mother, his lifetime companion, had been suddenly taken away. The sense of loss overwhelmed, like a tidal wave. Mom was a stabilizing force that held the family together. Mom balanced dad’s rigidity–she was always the mediator. Dad carried on as family patriarch, but never again found the same love and companionship.
My parents hadn’t always agreed on family issues. Decisions made, whether popular or not, were always made in our best interest. One fatherly admonition, “If I broke the law and landed in jail, I could stay there.” The neighbors were alerted to watch for indiscretions behind the wheel–or anywhere else. I was afraid of the consequences, should I get caught. In the end, I knew that I was loved. The years passed too quickly. Dad contracted a terminal illness and passed away at home on October 27, 1995. I’d, beforehand, had the privilege of telling him how much he meant to me. His life was an example of strong Christian faith–as was my mother’s.
One of my favorite memories, is of him driving the family to church, sporting a gray fedora hat. He never drove over fifty. I guess he figured that God knew his intentions and would wait. He was a strict disciplinarian, but had a softer side, observed on quiet mornings, when no one was around. There he sat, gently stroking the fur of one of our many pet cats and kittens. He stayed true to his beliefs, through thick and thin, right through to the end.
Perhaps Dad had been too strict–didn’t show enough affection? Perhaps, this, or perhaps that, should have been different? Heaven’s the only final authority that matters. I wish he were still here, in good health, telling corny jokes and making horrible puns. I’ve passed on the tradition. His spirit lives on, within me–something reminds me of him everyday.