Friday, June 13, 2008

September Beginnings: Chapter 2 Part 2

Chapter 2
Part 2
I also think about Dad coming into the tiny kitchen-eating area from the barns or the fields or the shop, leaving his irrigation boots or muddy and often manure-covered Wolverine work shoes on the porch, hoping a mouse would not take refuge in them during a break.  We knew he was back in the house because he would lighten up the air with a Great Caesar's Ghost," a "Holy Moses," a "Judas Priest," or a "Man oh Mystery."
I think he liked the Caesar's Ghost expression the best, with great emphasis on the Caesar part.  I never did learn the origins of the "Man oh Mystery" bit.

Then I think about him getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. to go change the irrigation water, shoveling dirt and coaxing water down countless furrows, struggling for years against the overwhelming pain of a stubborn hernia.  Sometimes he would come home in excruciating agony after trying to push his stomach back together, his anatomy defying the assistance of the miserable truss he often wore.  He neither thought he could afford to have his hernia fixed nor that he had the time to do it and besides was probably afraid of the operation.  Later, as an older man, he had his repairs made and wished he had taken care of things years earlier.

I can still see Dad poring over the veneer and shop tools catalogues, carefully working out an order for a few more pieces of bird's-eye maple, cherry, walnut, or other beautiful kinds of wood that were like wonderful friends to him.  His passion for wood and for making beautiful inlaid pictures enabled him to find energy and time to pursue his woodworking skills until the end of his life.  A familiar memory is one of Dad sitting on an old white stool as he cut the intricate pieces of veneer on a Delta scroll saw.  This stool had been in our family forever and had only recently been cast aside without due regard for all the bottoms it had supported during its long and uncomplaining service.

Whether Dad wanted to be a farmer or not, he loved the outdoors and the peace and quiet that Penrose offered, the smells of plants and animals and the sounds of livestock and poultry in the barnyard.  He pursued his farm work with unrelenting energy, never giving up on his hopes for a better sugar beet crop, a larger milk check, more hay to last the winter, more heifer calves, and the possibility that he could skunk the grasshoppers.

Dad hated to kill animals.  He used his .22 rifle only as a last resort to put suffering animals out of their misery.  But no amount of betting from me would ever persuade him to teach me how to shoot a gun or learn how to hunt.  Similarly, Dad had little use for dogs which he alternately called pothounds or potlikkers, explaining that a pothound was a large dog and a potlikker a small one.  We had two when I was a child, and I do not know whether they were pothounds or potlikkers.  The fate of one remains a total mystery.  The other tangled with a skunk and I never did learn what happened to it either, so we had two unresolved dog mystery.  Dad had a love-hate relationship with his dairy cows.  The gentle ones were long-standing members of the family, cows like Blackie and Blondie.  But his relationship with Old Red was much like that of Captain Ahab and the Great White Whale.  They both approached each other with extreme wariness.  Our milk stools were "T"-shaped, made by nailing two short pieces of 2 x 4s together.  I usually made an extra one, just in case Old Red demolished another one.

Dad provided the leavening in my relationship with my mother who always expected more perfection than I was willing to display and greater speed in attaining it than I often demonstrated.  Mom and I had a continual contest of wills which did not diminish the typically unspoken affection we both had one for the other.  But when things in the house were a little on edge, I could always escape to the fields or the cowbarn with Dad, and there we could manufacture rewritten songs we dared not sing in the house, and discuss the affairs of the day.  I could listen to his favorite stories of devilment and mischief he had perpetrated as a youngster, convincing me I was not half bad after all.

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