Monday, September 23, 2013

My Dad, My Hero

Aunt Mary sent me a story she'd written for Life Stories class at the Mid-Continent Genealogy Library in Independence, MO. dated 9-21-2013
In a letter of condolences following the death of my dad, Alfred, 87, Aunt Mickey wrote: Your dad was your hero.
This was a profound acknowledgement. Indeed! My dad was my hero!
Dad grew up in South Dakota during the depression after moving there at age 6 with his family to homestead. In 1933, with the exception of his oldest sister who'd died of typhoid fever, the family moved back to north Missouri to a farm not many miles from his birthplace. It was there on a neighboring farm that he first saw the girl who would become his future wife and to whom he would one day write a poem declaring her, "My brown eyed queen."
Life was not always easy for dad and mom. They lived with Grandpa Johnnie and Grandma Daisy a few months while fixing up a house on their farm about a mile away. It was there, I was born on their nine month's anniversary and at eleven months battled whooping cough. Within barely four years, I had a sister and a brother all with blue eyes like dad who'd hoped they'd have a brown eyed child.
Sometimes dad would let us wade in the creek and play in the sand alongside the field where he was working with horse drawn equipment. Although he had dark brown hair, which he combed straight back, he had fair skin that freckled and sunburned easily same as me. His forehead, however, shielded by a hat from the sun's damaging rays remained white. His other attire was a pair of bibbed overalls and a pair of high top, laced up, "Lil' Abner" style, work shoes.
During my first eight years of life, dad bought us a gentle, Shetland pony named "Sparkle". That fall, my third grade of school, he drilled me on my multiplication tables. Dad was good in math and figuring in his head. Many times he'd become impatient with me and I, in frustration, would be in tears. Mom found these evenings were upsetting, but I learned, nevertheless, a lesson in fortitude.
The summer I turned ten was a frightening time for our family. Dad returned home from the harvest field shortly after he and the neighbor threshands had eaten dinner. Farm folks called the noon meal "dinner" and the evening meal "supper". He was hallucinating, telling mom and Grandma Daisy (who'd come to help mom prepare a scrumptious, hearty meal), that he other men were plotting against him with intent to harm him and his family.
Grandma Daisy hurried home to refer to her huge doctor's book (a book forbidden for children to look at) and to return with Grandpa Johnnie and his brother Uncle Willie.
Grandma Daisy diagnosed dad with having a nervous breakdown. I believe that dad suffered a heat stroke. Prior to dinner, dad and a neighbor had been inside a barn, grain crib shoveling oats away from a window as they came in by chute. There would have been dust and barely any ventilation.
Uncle Willie sat on the back steps to our screened in porch with a gun across his lap, assuring us that he'd protect us. I don't know if the gun was loaded, but one thing was certain. I was scared!
Grandma and Grandpa helped milk the cows morning and night. I remember proudly carrying a bucket of milk to dad's bedside to show him that I was helping. A neighbor man came to visit dad and offered to help.
It was three weeks before dad agreed to see a doctor, a chiropractor, in Trenton,Mo., 45 miles away. He felt ashamed to a local doctor, believing his illness had a stigma attached.
During those trips to and from Trenton, dad, mom, and Grandpa Johnnie began looking at farms in that vicinity as dad wanted to move away.
In March, 1951, we moved to a farm north of Trenton. The house lacked indoor plumbing, but we now had electricity. It would be several years before we had bottle gas rather than wood for heating and cooking. For the first time, we children rode a bus to a big school in town. Quite a drastic difference from walking to a one room country school!
Shortly before I turned twelve, mom had their fourth and last child by Cesarean, a boy with brown eyes whoe was named Roger.
Upon my graduation from high school and turning eighteen, I felt that it was time for me to leave home and seek employment. Dad responded, "Why don't you stay home and just enjoy this summer with your siblings? Once you put your nose to the grindstone, it will be a long, hard grind!" I had always known that dad loved his family, but it was then that I fully grasped the magnitude of his love, generosity, tender heartedness, and wisdom.
In April, 1964, mom and dad made a move that would change their lives forever. Many of their registered dairy cows were going lame from eating fescue grass that had an invisible mold. Heartsick, Dad wanted to give up farming at age 51. Following an auction, they loaded what few belongings they could into their car and they and Roger, age 12, set our for California to work.
They all loved the climate in San Jose where Grandma Daisy worked and lived with a daughter. They planted fruit trees, grapes and berries and always had a small garden. We teased dad, telling him, "You can take dad out of the country, but you can't take the country out of dad!"
With the exception of losing Roger, their youngest child at age 34, mom and dad enjoyed 53 years together. I can still see dad, 5'8", standing beside a 6'6" nephew, lingering one last time by mom's open casket. He may not have been tall in stature, but he stood tall in my eyes.
Mary Johnson

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