Sunday, December 12, 2010

Uncle H the Man

A childhood forms the man. Uncle H grew up in hard times. He began his work life in the third grade. He had no father but watched a mother whose every effort focused on the family unit and its survival. He always wore hand me down clothes, lived each day under the shame of a broken home that was magnified by the ridged Mennonite religious community he lived in. He was at the tail end of six brothers who set the bar high for hard work. He took on the expectation of individual responsibility that often required extraordinary effort, and this formed the man.

‘Growing up it was always understood that once us boys were 18 and had employment, half of our wages would go to the family until we turned 21. I wanted to go to college and I asked Mom if she would let me keep all the money I made from that point on. I told her that I wanted to go to college and the only way I knew how, was to put all the money I earned towards paying for it. She agreed to this. Up to this time I never saw any of the money I had earned from Mom hiring me out. I had worked every summer since I was in the third grade of elementary school, and many other times. All my money went directly to Mom or to the Mennonite School up to this point. I just accepted this as my responsibility to Mom and to the family. I had no regrets for this and still don’t to this day. Sure, I wished for things along the way and wanted to take part in things at school sometimes, but I felt it my responsibility to work.’

Surprisingly, in reading my uncle’s memoir there is an absence of resentment or bitterness for a childhood that was mostly missed. I read of no lazy summer days traipsing up and down the local creek fishing nor did I read of a child lying on his back watching a kite fly high against a bright blue sky. But, I did notice the deep loss and pain that reflected from his words over the loss of the father he never had. Bewilderment as to how his father could care nothing about him was evidenced by the lack of even a single simple note, card or phone call throughout his growing up years.

Uncle H married in 1956, at age 20. He sang to his bride as she walked down the aisle, I Love You Truly. Uncle H did a lot of singing during his two years of college and still sings for churches, weddings and social groups to this day. He moved to Arizona where he worked a production job at the Pope Lime Company a fruit juice company.

'After a couple years with Pope Lime Company, I decided that I needed to find a better vocation. I always liked working with my hands, and my brother P was working in a woodworking shop, which gave me the idea of becoming an Industrial Arts Teacher. I also remembered the shop classes I had taken and I always enjoyed them.

I enrolled at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. In order to attend classes during the day, I needed a job at night. So before quitting my job at Pope Lime Company I found a new one with Safeway Produce Warehouse. I went to work at 4:00 p.m. and worked until 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. loading trucks. The trucks were backed up to a loading dock and a ramp was used to get from the dock to the truck bed, which was about 18 inches higher than the dock. We loaded produce, milk products, bread and eggs onto the various trucks that would go throughout the valley and surrounding towns. We were to stack our loads for the hand carts as high as possible, hopefully as high as we could reach up and hold in place with one hand while we guided the hand cart with the other up the ramp and into the truck. Right off I dumped my very first load off the side of the ramp and onto the ground below. That first night was the hardest job I had ever had in my life. When I got home that night, I told my wife that I really didn’t think I could continue this job. I was so sore that I thought I couldn’t hurt in that many places. I went back the next night expecting the worst. Believe it or not, I got through another night. Each night got easier and after a while it became a routine.

Our house was about 10 miles north of the warehouse. I had to drive home after work, get a few hours of sleep and then drive the 20 miles to Tempe, where I went to school. Some of my classes started at 7:45 in the morning so I didn’t get much sleep. I learned to sleep between classes and also to speed read. None of my term papers were very long. I did pay a lot of attention in class and took good notes. I was able to get through school this way and graduate from Arizona State in 1962 with a Bachelor Degree in Secondary Education.’

During these same years his family grew to five with the addition of a son and two daughters. He was recruited to teach at a Technical school in Nevada, where he moved his small family. He began teaching metal shop and welding. Even though he never welded, he had done a fair amount of sheet metal work in a past job. That summer before starting his new teaching job he took a course and learned how to weld. When I read this part I thought, who is this guy who takes a job, to teach something he has to go learn, so he can teach it? This is an example of an innate confidence he had in himself that I saw throughout his writings. I have to believe that much of this confidence came from the many tasks he did as a boy. I guess he figured he learned how to do all those other jobs, so how hard could it be to learn something else, which of course, is exactly what he did.

‘When I first got to Reno High to begin my teaching, I found that they were offering three years in Sheet Metal and Welding. I had students in a third year program and a lot of the equipment was foreign to me. My third year class only had about 10 students in it so I divided them up and assigned each pair or group a specific piece of equipment to hook up, test it out, and then demonstrate it to the rest of the class. I told the third year students, that if they were using the equipment for the third year, they should know by now how to use it and would prove it by demonstrating it to the rest of us. Yes, I mean us. I was the best listener in the class. Like I say, I learned a lot the first year.’

To be continued…


Arkansas Patti said...

I always get a lift when I see that "H" in you title. What a guy.
Amazing how he made such a great life for him self with such a ragged start. Not a whine anywhere in that man.
I got tickled how he used older students as unwitting teachers. I have been guilty of that myself when I was a camp counslor.
Thanks GQ for another entertaining post.

sm said...

thanks for sharing
life story

Grayquill said...

Arkansas Patti: Thanks - camp counslor huh? I must have missed those posts. Take care and I hope you have a great Christmas.

SM: Thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you again!

Pat said...

I really enjoy reading these stories, of truly the greatest generation. The words Quit and I can't didn't seem to be in him. He has a spirit that the world can't defeat..a true inspiraton. He is really a wise, wise man, the teacher learning from his students. How did that old commercial go? Never let 'em see you sweat?..that's Uncle H.

Wendy said...

Those days were hard. Imagine if our ancestors came back today and saw teens glued to gameboys and such? What a shock!

I like the way you write.

Holly Kay said...

WOW! That's a great new header! Also such an inspirational story about Uncle H. Just amazing how he accomplished all that.

Hilary said...

Enjoying the ongoing stories of Uncle H and looking forward to more.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

Grayquill said...

Pat: You noticed everything a had hoped! Yes, I agree the greatest generation.

Wendy: You like the way I write? You can stop by anytime if you continue to say such nice things about me. Thanks.
What’s a game boy :O

Holly: Thanks for noticing. My Uncle H says, half of doing anything is deciding you are going to do it. I kind of like that quote.

Hillary: Merry Christmas to you – thanks. It is always a pleasure when you come for a visit.

Mustbe Gettingold said...

Hello. I just found you today. Love this story! As the overeducated mother of a young child, and an occasional adjunct instructor, I find myself continuously frustrated with the educational systems' ideas about teaching. Essentially, they want a warm body to stand up and spout out a paint-by-numbers-type experience for their learners. What a waste!Good teachers can just TEACH, little matter the content. And the reason they can teach is they know how to LEARN. Uncle H had that down. I think I have a new hero!