…a couple of years ago, I was home for his last week in this life. He had lived alone for a year and did a commendable job with clearing-out Mom’s things; she having passed away a year before. Having always said he loved life, it was now Dad’s turn to leave us. I think, as circumstances were, he was confused, sad, frustrated and scared that last week.
Once, the minister was there doing his job; seeing if he could be of help. I overheard him saying that things will be all right and Dad replying in a very horse voice, “I truly hope so”.
Thinking back, Dad had lived a hard life. Beaten as a child by a dominant father, struggling as a boy through the Great Depression and being bullied, having barely gotten through school. The last year, as I would call him every week, he would talk about things. Things that was personal and fond to him. Like being on the Gerber Farm.
Dad talked about being at the Gerber Farm and how much he enjoyed it. John and Ida Gerber owned the farm and had one son, Frank. The farm was somewhere near Alliance, Oh. Dad was there between 12 and 16 years of age (during the 1930’s) and would live several weeks during the year with the Gerbers, sort of to ease the situation at his own home. As he talked, he seemed to think of them as second parents. He was just like a member of the family, went to church with them, had dinners and it was a get-away for him and, perhaps, a pleasant alternative from his life with his real family.
Sometimes, he would be with them even on holidays and school breaks but most of the time it was summers and as a helper. He would take a trolley or train from Massillon to Alliance or that Dad’s father, Albertum (Burt), would arrange alternate ways.
As he spoke of the Gerbers, he had a nice sparkle in his eye, one of remembrance. He said he would really want to go back up there to see what the place looked like, just one more time.
He had a good relationship with these people, except Frank who would play tricks on this “helper”. John and Ida would give Dad clothes to wear and, as Dad said, they took the time to teach him important things, both with being a farm helper and about life in general. Dad was responsible with keeping the barn clean and keeping things straight. John had often told Dad that he did a good job and was a very good worker.
Once, when Dad arrived to the farm, John Gerber had bought 100 baby chicks, or “peeps” for one dollar. He gave these to Dad to do with, as he wanted. Well, Dad liked the peeps and had no idea about what to do with them. People nearby knew about his peeps and asked Dad what he was going to do with them? Dad didn’t know other than that he had to take care of them, and that’s what he was going to do.
Because of his other chores, Ida said she could take care of them for Dad but would want pay for her work. Dad said that was O.K. and laughed at this, because he didn’t have any money and so the deal wouldn’t be any problem.
Ida took care of the chicks as they grew. She fed them. After a time, when the chicks were older, she killed them, picked the feathers off, sold some but prepared the rest as meals for themselves. She sat down with Dad and, in black and white, showed him all the costs. She tallied the initial investment, her labour, the cost of feed and a pen for them as well as what she had sold. Dad got a very good lesson in business economy from this.
When it was all counted up after expenditures, Dad had made a profit of four and a half dollars. Dad smiled and said, “it was a chunk of money for those times.”
As a father with a family, Dad always had his heart “ out in the country”. Whether it was the houses we lived in, the baling of hay as boys at “the old farmhouse”, Kidron auctions, tomato gardens, new mown hay or smell of manure being spread on the fields at springtime, the country never left Dad. It was that single sparkle that fathers keep in their shirt pockets, when real life can be cruel; when life doesn’t turn out like one wishes.
For myself, I miss Dad! I miss chatting with him over the phone. I miss listening to him reminisce. I miss his subtle humor. I miss his postcards; his Christmas cards, his letters, his bundles of paper, his awkward handwriting. I miss…
He’s resting with Mom at Stanwood cemetery now. But, more so, I truly hope things “became all right” for him and he’s elsewhere…on a farm…enjoying it…and finally living his dream.
PS– Written because we watched a cow give birth to its calf on a farm in Quendale today! The familiar smell of spring work in the air, too.