Dad’s shirt bore proof of hard work,
and so did his hands.
NOTES: Dad was a son of the Great Depression, accustomed to hard work. He didn’t have the chance to finish high school due to the need to find work to contribute to the family. The work available was farm hand labor at a dollar a day. Hoeing beans, putting up hay, stripping blue grass. Good money if you could get it.
Too young for World War I, he got a pass for World War II because by that time he was the only adult male on his own farm. The idea was to keep all the farms operating to provide for the war effort. So while all 4 of his brothers-in-law went off to fight, Dad stayed home growing corn and soybeans and producing eggs and milk.
In the post-war prosperity, Dad prospered and saved his money. Finally, in the late 1950s, he made the one big entrepreneurial move of his life, sold the farm, and went into the farm implement business.
We moved from the farm to the farm town of Marshall, got a house with indoor plumbing and central heat.
Things went fine for a few years, but then something happened. I was young and didn’t get the full story. But either through some poor marketing decisions, or through some financial shenanigans by a partner, the business went into debt and had to be sold.
It was a defeat for Dad, but he didn’t let it defeat him. He landed a job in the shop at Reeder Auto Parts. It had to be tough going from the boss to being an employee again, but Dad never complained.
He just showed up everyday and kept chopping wood to do what it took to pay the mortgage and keep hamburger on the table. I recall a time when I was whining about needing a few dollars to buy some knickknack or the other.
My older brother Larry took me aside and gave me the older brother admonishment. “Shut up and quit bothering Dad,” he said. “Don’t you realize we could lose the house?”
I had no idea.
But, Dad kept working away. Mom got a job baking pies at the MFA Grocery Story and we didn’t lose the house.
Let it be said that Dad was a master mechanic. He made things work. He also was perpetually marinated in grease and gasoline.
He would clean his hands with Goop grease cutter and then wash his hands with Lava soap. But they never really got truly clean.
When I hung out with him I usually got the job of cleaning parts in gasoline. I grew to hate the smell, and my mechanical ability has suffered accordingly.
He eventually went on to establish a freelance mechanic business. He primarily served the farmers around Marshall, making house calls to repair balky tractors, combines, corn pickers, and hay balers right where they died out in the fields.
His services were in demand, and he had all the work he wanted. Sometime the farmers would pay him in produce. Like the old German farmer Ludwig who sent Dad home with a quart jar of canned horseradish.
As the family story went, brother Larry returned home late one night scrounging around in the refrigerator for something to eat. Seeing a jar of something that looked like gravy, he unscrewed the lid and took a big snort.
Farmer Ludwig’s horseradish nearly blew the top of his head off.
I’d love to have some of that horseradish today.