Dad

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I like this photo of my Dad.

He always hated having his picture taken, so this seems less an invasion of his privacy than most.

The picture was taken here on Beaver Island.

Dad is on the left, heading into the old woodshed. His friend, Peter “Doney” Gallagher is next, and then his sister, Katherine, who is my Aunt Katie.

They were  on a mission, as usual. Maybe pulling out nets for fishing, gathering tools for a repair job, getting a few logs for the wood stove or bringing out the lawn mower. Dad always had a project. A vacation was always a working vacation. Socializing with friends and family was not sitting around commiserating; it was working on something together.

That’s the way Dad raised his family, too.

Mom was great – with incentives, deadlines and guilt – at inducing us to get to work.

Dad had a way of making work fun.

Often, with him, it was so well disguised, we didn’t even recognize it as a job!

In the Spring, we’d ride with him to the pig farm. Usually we stopped at the Eagles tavern on the way, for a bit of fortification. That was a small Coca Cola for each of us children, and a beer for Dad. At the farm, we got a little tour. We’d follow along as the grown-ups talked business, pointing and laughing and head-shaking at the travails of farm life. Our own pigs were chosen: usually two, newly weaned, mostly pink with course, pale hair. We could touch them through the fence.

“Okay, let’s load ’em up, kids! Get ready!”

We’d jump into the back of the station wagon, secure our places, determine our finger-holds and safety’s, and wait.

Soon Dad and the farmer would come. They carried loosely secured, wild and wriggling burlap bags, each one containing a frightened, squealing and extremely strong pig.

They loaded the bags into the back with us, shook hands and parted. Dad took the driver’s seat. The pigs were our job, now, for the long ride home. The goal was to keep them contained, to sooth them if possible, to make sure they stayed in the back of the car and not to let them get hurt.

We kept them surrounded. We giggled and scolded. We told one another what to do and how to do it, only to be foiled by the unpredictable antics of our small bundles. We squealed, too, and yelled out in disgust, and laughed out loud.

Dad, perfectly calm, kept his twinkling eyes on the road ahead.

By the time we got home, we were covered in sweat and pig excrement, exhausted and filthy.

“Well, you did a fine job,” Dad told us as he relieved most of us of our duties, “How’d you get so dirty?”

With that, he’d send his daughters in to tell Mom we were back, and to get cleaned up. My brother, Ted, would help him get the pigs into their pen.

Summertime, if Dad had a Sunday off work, he’d take us out on the pontoon boat.

Lake Nepessing was just across the road and down the hill from our house. It was generously filled with seaweed that Dad liked for mulching his pumpkins, winter squash and tomato plants. He had welded together a giant gathering fork that hung down into the water from the front of the boat. As we trolled, the fork gathered the weeds. When it was full, we hoisted it up by chains attached to either side, and emptied it onto the deck. Down into the water again, and on for more. When the boat was listing dangerously in the water from the weight of our harvest, it was time to call it a day.

Back to the dock; secure the boat. We’d unload seaweed with a rake, a pitchfork and even by our bare armloads onto the dock, and from there into bags and boxes and burlap sacks that we then hauled up the steep hill and across the road and into the garden…

This, we called “Going boating with Dad.”

In the Fall of the year, Dad was in his glory. Every day there was something to harvest. Mom’s eyes would hold a look of fear, knowing that whenever he left the house, he’d come back with several bushel of fruits or vegetables that needed to be processed for winter storage.

This was the time of year to start storing food for the pigs, too, to carry them through until butchering time. For that, Dad made arrangements with farmers to go through their cornfields after the mechanical picking machines. We’d gather the corn that had been left behind.

Our day started with a lecture about riding in the back of the pick-up truck, who’s in charge, which big kid will take care of which little one, and who is responsible for making sure nobody gets lost or falls out of the truck. We all piled in, then, and headed out. We sat on our gathering sacks, to soften the bumps. Dad would drive right onto the field, unload his “workers” and direct us up and down the rows. We’d empty our bags into the bed of the truck. When an area was cleared, we’ve move to a different section, and continue. When the truck was full, we were done for the day. The ride home was on top of a full load of corn. We kept tight hold of our charges and shivered in the open air. The productive trip and safe ride home was rewarded with a stop at the Hotel Bar, just a quarter mile from home. Glasses of pop and dimes for the juke box finished another day working hard with Dad.

Dad had a way of making every season of the year important, every job associated with it, crucial.

Every child participating in that work was a necessary and valuable contributor.

The old woodshed is gone now. It was replaced with a modern pole barn several years ago. Dad passed away in 1998. Peter “Doney” has been gone a few years, too. Aunt Katie turned eighty-five years old on her birthday last week.

In my memories, they live on as they always did.

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19 responses »

    • Sometimes the memories are so vivid, I feel like he’s still here. It is a wonderful way of keeping our “dearly departed”s close by, I think. Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

  1. Such wonderful memories! I so enjoy reading your girlhood stories and imagining your life so different from mine, yet happening at the same time! As city people, we knew absolutely NOTHING of farming and crops and I’m thoroughly enjoying experiencing your days albeit in retrospect. Keep this wonderful writing coming, Cindy…it’s absolutely brilliant!

    • Karen, you always have the kindest things to say…thank you! Dad grew up on a farm, of course, here on Beaver Island. We had a nice acre of property in lower Michigan where I grew up, on a fishing lake, across from a bar and a string of lake houses. It wasn’t exactly farm land…but Dad eked all the farm out of it that he could! It seemed like punishment, as a child, but now I treasure those memories, and the knowledge and rhythms of nature. Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

  2. How wonderful that your dad could make work seem like fun. What a gift to have received a blessing/teaching like that when growing up. Lovely tribute, Cindy.

    • He was more special than I ever realized when I was living those childhood times. When one gets out in the world, it comes clearer how unique each family is. Mine was crazy wonderful. Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

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