My dad was seventeen when the Great Depression began and late twenties when it ended. That’s the time in one’s life when adulthood is just beginning. The time to begin a career. Maybe start a family. His parents divorced when he was thirteen, and from then he had no stable home. He told stories of traveling around the country, playing his guitar, and singing for revivals in churches. He never spoke much about his childhood.
Times were hard for everyone, and I’m sure this time in his life molded him into the man he became. He was a hard worker with a great sense of humor and a great love for his family.
One favorite story of mine is when he and Mom decided to get married. They went looking for a preacher and found him plowing in a corn patch. He came over to the fence where they were and married them on the spot, then went back to his plowing.
Although he could be sharp and cruel with his tongue, he loved deeply. He wanted the best for his kids, and his idea of ‘the best’ was not material things. It was integrity, honor, and respect. He taught us to work hard and efficiently. “Do a good job,” he always said, “so you would be proud to sign your name on anything you do.” We were expected to take care of things we used, whether it was ours or belonged to someone else. He taught us these principles by example.
He was not afraid to try new things and take risks. We lived in California when I was born, and he worked in the timber, cutting redwoods. When I was five, he moved us to the island where we worked in the fields, truck patching. When I was eleven, he bought a small hill farm with some cattle, and we raised beans and corn and worked for neighbor farmers. He bought a sorghum pan and the equipment for us to make sorghum for ourselves and for other farmers. It was hard work, and we made it a successful business for several years. He planted two acres of cucumbers, but the backbreaking work picking those things wasn’t worth the pay. He purchased a herd of sheep but never could figure out how to keep them alive. “Those animals will lie down and die for no reason,” he said. He soon sold what was left of the herd.
“You can make anything fun,” he told us, “even the hardest job.” He was right. We learned that a positive attitude goes a long way towards making a hard workday go by quickly. We laughed and told stories while we worked. He could always find something to laugh about, seeing humor in common situations.
He played with us. Once a year when work was caught up, he and Mom loaded the pickup with camping gear and us, and we went swimming and fishing. We had a favorite place on a nearby river where the clear water was shallow and cool. We floated watermelons while we played, and at the end of the day, we had cold watermelon to eat. We caught enough fish to fry with potatoes and roasted corn-on-the-cob to fill hungry bellies. At night, we threw quilts on the ground and in the bed of the truck. We ‘roughed’ it, and we loved it.
He was curious, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. If he saw an unfamiliar road, he went to see where it led. He wondered what Bermuda grassroots would taste like, so he took some home for Mom to cook. Only once. He read and studied. He thought about things and tried to figure out how things worked. He liked to talk to people, seldom meeting a stranger. He was well known and liked in our community.
When he retired, he and Mom turned the old sorghum house into a woodshop. There they built furniture and other wooden projects including toys for their grandchildren. Dad came up with ideas, and Mom perfected the plans. All of us kids have cherished wooden items that were made by our beloved parents.
I’ve often wondered what life would have been like had my dad chosen a different path for his life. For instance, what if he had been a successful musician? He started playing the guitar when he was nine and was a good singer. He played often for his family, but never tried to make a career using this talent. His daughters and one son inherited his musical abilities but never used these talents except in church or for personal pleasure. He could have been an excellent teacher, but he worked in manual labor all his life, teaching only in a church setting.
He was a good dad and was proud of his children. And we loved him.