Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 76 today. He passed away 2 years ago. Some days it still hits me hard that he isn’t here. Today is one of those days. I miss his strength and his calm presence.
My dad never really had much to say but his words were always pretty strong when he did use them. He wrote a few short stories and I loved them. He was an amazing story teller that could captivate any audience. He would dress up as Johnny Appleseed and tell ghost stories or tales of being on the frontier during the early times of America. There are pictures of him telling these stories with his red and black flannel shirt and a pot on his head. He would carry an old worn burlap sack full of apples and after telling his stories he’d pass out apples to all those that had sat and listened. The pictures show him seated in front of kindergartners, first graders, young or old, my dad could get people to listen to a great story.
One summer I desperately wanted my first electric guitar. It was $250 at the music store in town. My dad told me that if I worked all summer he’d pay me $25 per week for the 10 weeks we were out on summer break. My dad got up every morning and made breakfast. I’d crawl out of bed nice and early, eat breakfast and we’d take his old brown Chevy down to the field and work until lunch. We’d come home to rest for a bit before going back out until mom called us in for dinner. We worked all day, six days a week. This meant digging ditches with a hoe and shovel through the cow pasture, or cutting weeds out from underneath the electric fence and all other sorts of manual labor that a cow farm could provide.
There were two natural springs that fed into the river that ran through our property. These springs made small streams through the field as they ran towards the river. As the cows moved back and forth across the streams, they blocked it up and it would make the ground soggy and marsh-like. In order to keep the pasture dry, these streams needed to be dug out. Well, as luck would have it, by the time one was dug, the cows had mucked up the other. So it was a constant back and forth between the streams to prevent the fields from getting backed up with water.
The same went for the electric fence. We had almost 2 miles worth of electric fence. In order to keep the cows in the pasture and from roaming the neighborhood, the electric fence needed to operate well. (They did occasionally get out and those stories are fun in and of themselves but that’s for another time.) It was this everlasting chore to keep the weeds from growing up and into the fence. As the grass or whatever plants got high enough, the electricity flowing through the fence could disperse down into the plants and negate some of the electrical shock that would help keep the cows in the pasture. My dad got the weed eater. I got a mowing scythe. I did it manually. Pretty much as soon as we’d get done going around the 2 miles of fence, we’d have to start over. It might take a week or so but the cycle never ended.
During all this time on the field, we rarely spoke but when my dad gave me directions or I had a question about what needed to be done. It was quiet but we toiled together. My dad worked harder than I did and I was young and had a goal of getting that guitar. I might have complained a little bit and I do remember one occasion of getting caught up playing video games during our lunch break. My dad left in the truck without me and feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt, I stopped playing video games and walked down to the field to get back to work. There wasn’t a lot of talking that needed to happen but just his presence was enough. He had the peaceful presence that just made it a pleasure to be around him. It was calming and soothing. There was this confidence that emanated from him.
I’m not sure how much I may have complained about that summer. He might say otherwise about my complaining, but I remember years later thanking him for letting me do all that work. Despite the hard work and hot days, I have nothing but fond memories of that summer. Some of my fondest memories of my dad are when we were doing nothing but working side by side on the farm. Cutting wood for the fire, digging ditches, chasing cows, or early morning calf feeding by lantern light. Those moments were defining crossroads for me. It taught me a lot about the power of work and dependability. I am who I am in large part because of that summer but also because of the lessons and examples that my dad gave me throughout his life.
I miss him.