Kathy's Memories of Dad
My memories of Dad come to me in pictures. One image I have is of him sitting at the kitchen table, the shirtsleeves of his gray work shirt rolled up, with his tanned, dark brown lower arms in contrast with the fish-belly white of his upper arms. Then after he ate, sitting in the big lime green chair in the living room, with his glasses on, reading the Farm Journal, the National Geographic, or his book of inspirational writings.
I can also see him standing at the garden gate looking down into the pasture, where the beef cattle were grazing, and remarking with pride at how nice the calves looked in the field. Much earlier when he had only the Holsteins, I can remember him weaning a calf. He had a pail of the smelly milk mixture that he weaned them with, and was dunking the calf’s mouth in the milk to get it to drink. The calf was wagging it’s tail, lurching around, and lifting it’s head up and down, and Dad had all he could do to keep the milk from spilling and the calf in one place.
I also have memories of the times when Dad took time off from the farm work. For several years in the summer, there were some Saturday mornings after he finished milking the cows when Mom would pack up everything we would need to cook breakfast down at the river. Dad would drive us down there through the lane and pasture in the old chevy, always being careful enough not to hit a rut and break the axle, but fast enough to make it pretty bouncy through the pasture, which I liked. Sometimes if Ruthie was home, she, Jonnie and I would walk down with the goat and meet them there.
I can also remember going out for Sunday afternoon drives in the summer. Dad would have on a clean pair of dark green work pants and matching shirt rather than overalls. Many times we would go to a lake where we would have a picnic, and then could swim. On some occasions, he would get his old blue swimming suit out of the trunk of the car, change clothes in the woods, and go swimming. He would dog paddle around on the outskirts of where everyone else was, and then go back out of the water as soon as he got cooled off. Often on our way home we would stop at Burns’ store, or some other roadside gas station/store, and we would all get fudgesicles or popsicles.
When I was very young, I remember Dad used to take my hand and skip with me from the house down the yard towards the gas tank and I would call it “going skippety skip”. He also used to tell me I was “cute as a bug’s ear”, and would say “danke schoen” to me which I interpreted as donkey shine. When I was about six, he was putting shingles on the garage roof, and I was up there with him. He let me pull nails out of an old board with a claw hammer and as I was pulling out nails, the momentum of one pull sent me falling off the roof. I had the wind knocked out of me, and Dad carried me in his arms into the house to Mom. She held me on her lap and rocked me in the old blue upholstered rocking chair.
One of my first memories of Dad, although I didn’t know it at the time, is of him dressed as Santa Claus walking into the kitchen from the back hall. I was about three at the time and he held out a yellow teddy bear for me to take. I was terrified, but I wanted the bear so badly that I inched close enough to reach it and then quickly retreated with my beloved Honey Bear, whom I still have.
One March or April when I was about 12 Dad told me we should make a “bunny hut” for the Easter Bunny. I was way too old for this sort of thing, and immediately had adolescent feelings of dread, but I realized it must have something to do with his childhood or a German tradition, so I went along with it. He took me down to the swamp and we gathered big pieces of thick moss and brought them back to the front yard. There beside the “Chinese Elm” he made a frame with wire for a quonset shaped enclosure about a foot high and at least that wide, with a doorway on one end. He then wove the moss into the frame and the result was a perfect looking little hut. The next morning, Easter Sunday, through the kitchen window I saw there was an Easter basket sitting right outside the door of the hut.
At times I could tell that Dad enjoyed passing on some stories from when he was young. One I liked particularly was about when one of his younger sisters was born and a mid-wife was there to help his mother. The midwife packed his lunch for him because he was out in the fields herding cows all day. When he opened his lunch he found a whole rooster leg from a chicken she had roasted. This was an unusual treat for him that he would never have gotten if his mother had packed his lunch.
A couple of times when I was in high school, I took notes on note cards when Dad told me stories about when he was young. One note card I have says that he left for the trip to Germany in September 1907. Dad was six years old on the trip there, which took ten days by boat, and was seven years old when they came back in late December. It only took seven days to get back. In Germany, they visited with his grandfather, uncles and one aunt. Although Dad said he was sick on the boat he talked about the good food they were given. They would all line up for meals and were served by men who dipped food from big barrels and served him all he wanted on his plate.
Another one I wrote down was about the winter of 1921 and 1922 when Dad went to International Falls, Minnesota to work in a lumber mill. He worked two different jobs, one paying 28 cents an hour and the other one paid 32 cents an hour. He said that he liked the job that paid 28 cents an hour more because although he earned less he was able to work more hours a day – 10 to 12. He rented a room for $2.50 per week at the Forest Inn. He mostly ate beans that he cooked himself. He ended up only staying for 8 weeks in International Falls because he got sick. When he didn’t get well, a black woman who worked at the Forest Inn told him he should go home, so he did.