Sunday, December 5, 2010
Uncle H… his Father, Uncle and Grandpa
"It was summer and I was working for my brother on his farm. We were harvesting grain and had a break-down with the threshing machine. I was under the machine and had just taken a part off when it dropped and fell on my right foot. It was smarting like crazy and I was hobbling around when my oldest brother drove into the yard. He had another man with him. He said, “H this is your father.” Of course I didn’t know him and besides, I didn’t really care for him anyway. My foot was hurting badly, so I just took off for the house to give it some attention. I guess they stayed and talked I don’t know."
I know little about Uncle H’s father, my grandfather. I personally only remember seeing him once. I have heard a few stories and most of the stories do not flatter him. Recently, my mother recalled to me a scene. She was standing on the porch by the back door and her brother R was in the corral. Her dad was on the outside of the corral swinging a bull whip. My uncle R was agile and doing a pretty good job using the posts and poles of the corral to avoid the long whip. Mom says she was scared and ran inside for help and doesn’t know if her brother was ever hit.
When she told me this story I wondered who else knew the story as I had never heard it before. Families are interesting that way with their secrets. I suppose often the secrets are kept hidden because it is just too painful to talk about, or maybe the shame keeps the secrets hidden under cover. My mother was quite young when this happened and maybe that is why I never heard it.
Every family seems to have at least one quirky uncle, aunt or maybe a grandpa. Uncle H’s grandfather was a Mennonite traveling preacher (evangelist). As he aged he became legally blind, the problem - he refused to stop driving.
“Grandpa was legally blind the last ten years of his life. Even though he could no longer read his Bible, he still preached and could recite scripture from memory. He also still drove a car even after his eye sight was really bad. I remember one time when he was coming to our house to visit Mom and he almost drove over me. I was walking home from school and heard a car coming up from behind but since I was so far off the side of the road I thought all was well. For some reason, I looked around at the last minute and he was right behind me. I dove for the ditch and he barely missed me. When I got home, I asked him why he tried to run me over. He said he never even saw me. He said he always tried to stay far to the right in case any cars were coming his way." Now, there is someone who should not be driving. It seems that a simple act of hiding his keys would have solved the problem after all he was blind and would not have been able to find them.
In a farm community a man is most known by his work ethic. One might hear, “Yip, that Slim Jenkins, he holds his own”. Or one might hear about Larry Loafer, he’s a good guy, just not very dependable. My uncle H talks about his hardest jobs. They were always when he had to follow behind one of his brothers. Uncle H was often hired based on his brother’s good work ethic.
“The only times that I couldn't quite do a job as well as expected was when I was following a job that one of my older brothers had done previously. The employers were so enamored by the work my brothers had done that I had a tough time living up to the expectations. It wasn't for lack of effort.”
One last event to mention before leaving Uncle H’s school years. The family was poor but seemed to find a way to send several of the children to the Mennonite High School in Kansas. This was done a couple of ways. My mother tells how when she was ready to start her ninth grade year in high school the tradition had been for each child to stay out a year to work. The income was always turned over to the family and it helped pay the way for those who were still in school. My mother ended up staying out two years and therefore did not graduate from high school until she was twenty years old. In addition the ones in school usually had after school jobs, especially the boys. With all this effort they were still poor and this fact apparently was obvious, causing my Uncle H to stand out.
“It was during my senior year at Hesston that I was walking across the campus and my cousin, Junior, came out to meet me on the grass and said his Dad, wanted me to go to town with him on Saturday. When I met my Uncle Floyd that Saturday he said he was taking me to town so I could pick out some new clothes. I suppose I looked pretty ragged to him. Anyway, I was somewhat embarrassed and actually didn’t know how to go about buying clothes. I had never done this before in my life. He insisted that I pick out whatever I wanted since he was buying. I finally picked out one pull over shirt. It was blue and turned out to be a little tight for me, since I never tried it on. I was ready to quit, but finally gave in and picked out a pair of pants also. I felt like I was mooching from him and refused to buy any more, even though he wanted me to. We always wore clothes until they were unpatchable or really worn out, so I guess I felt mine were still okay. Mom was quite good at patching clothes. I will never forget this gesture from my Uncle, even though he didn’t remember it when I talked to him about it years later.”
To be continued…