Tag Archives: corn

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.

Father’s Day

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If I am a good communicator, and I’ve been told that I am, it comes from struggling to hold a conversation with my father. He wasn’t an easy man to talk to. He would announce without hesitation that my opinion was “bullshit” if he thought so. He would often loudly support a contrary viewpoint just for sport. He was quick to anger if he thought we were agreeing with him just to be compliant. Few subjects were worthy of his time and attention.

If I have a work ethic (I’m not always sure that I do!), I got it from my Dad.

Dad was a worker.

He was a good husband and father. He enjoyed all children, and was like a big kid at heart. He loved to tease and he enjoyed a good argument. He had a great memory, and was brilliant at card games because of it. He loved good food, simply prepared. He loved watching things grow. Dad liked John F. Kennedy, Cassius Clay, cowboy shows and Big Time Wrestling. He enjoyed a nap on a Sunday afternoon.

Dad did not like meanness, stupidity, dishonesty or laziness. He didn’t like long hair on boys. He didn’t like music if he couldn’t understand the lyrics, but he made us late to church one Sunday while he listened, with a grin, to “Harper Valley P.T.A.” on the radio. He never learned to swim, so was not especially fond of the water.

My father hated having his picture taken. At Dad’s funeral, my three-year-old grandson, Brandon, looked over the picture board. The only way his photo could be taken without him bellowing was to catch him when he was asleep… so there he was, dozing in his comfortable chair, or stretched out on the sofa, napping with my baby sister, Amy, or snoozing under the apple tree after driving all night to bring us up north. “Papa was dead?”, Brandon asked, as he pointed to one photo after another.

The truest statement I can make about my father, though, is that he was a worker.

He went to work and – when the job demanded it – would work seven days a week, twelve hours a day. On top of that, he’d plow up an acre or so of land and plant a big garden. He raised pigs, and chickens…and an occasional duck or rabbit as well.

Dad often took on extra jobs, for pay or not. He processed deer for hunters. He widened our road to make a shoulder for the children to walk on, on the way to the bus stop. He back-filled the swamp near our house, to keep the mosquito population down. I don’t believe my father ever took a vacation that wasn’t a working vacation. We’d go north to visit his parents on Beaver Island, but his week would be spent painting the farmhouse or tearing down the old barn.

His children were never left out. From their toddling years, the boys were charged with clearing stones and branches from the yard ahead of the mower. Not a stranger to housework, Dad often demonstrated the “correct” way to clean a window or polish the table, then would sit back and watch, to make sure we’d been paying attention.

Springtime was spent preparing the soil and planting the garden. In the summer, we were herded out to the garden to pull weeds out of the stubborn clay soil. In the fall, he’d load us all into the back of his truck with a huge pile of burlap sacks. Arrangements had been made for us to hand pick cob corn from the farmer’s fields, after the mechanical picker had gone through. We’d use the corn to feed our pigs through the winter. It was a long day in the fields, but the ride home was atop mounds of full sacks of corn, and punctuated by a stop at the local tavern, where we’d each be rewarded with a coca cola and a dime for the jukebox. In the winter, Dad would – for lack of anything better to do – build elaborate, icy sledding ramps in our backyard.

As adults, we often disagreed with Dad’s methods and moods but if we needed help with a move, a repair or a remodel, he was on the task.

It’s hard to believe he’s been gone almost fourteen years! If a frost comes late, or I see a coyote, or I count six deer on my way to town, Dad is still the one I want to share that with.

Happy Father’s Day!