It was probably over twenty years ago that I had the idea of collecting stories from my father of his youth. My plan was to write a book.
Now, two decades later the story is changing. I never recorded those stories and the time has gone by. My Dad turned 90 this past March. His memories are leaving him. I got to see him this weekend. I made the trip home, almost 500 miles, for our family reunion and just to spend a little father-daughter time.
It’s a new time. I remember when I was a little girl watching Dad tossing the seed corn bags over his shoulder, throwing hay bales, working on farm machines, doing all the work that needed to be done. I remember him sitting in the recliner reading his Sunday paper, sitting in the hospital room watching Mom die, taking up his place in the kitchen after she was gone.
My Dad never graduated from high school. He wasn’t meant for the classroom. He’s always thought that because he struggled in school that he failed, that he was somehow dumb. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Dad’s journey started on a farm in Port Washington, Wisconsin the second of four children. His father died when Dad was seven. Within a few years the family had to move to town and Dad was working for neighboring farmers to make a little money and follow his passion as it became clear that school would never be the place for him.
When he grew up he joined the Navy where he served for several years before marrying my mom and starting a family. He eventually started farming with his father-in-law and went on to continue farming for over forty years while he also worked full time at a power plant and, for many years, sold seed corn.
He knew the fields like the back of his hand. He knew every road in the county. This weekend he and I went out for a ride. We went to visiting and stopped at a couple cemeteries. We talked about the fields. He confused the soybeans and the corn. We drove the roads he’s ridden for nearly a century. He told me that he didn’t recognize where we were.
But still, we traveled and we talked. When it was time for me to leave to return to my current home, he held my hand and looked my eyes and smiled. It was a smile I remembered. I saw it before. I saw it on his aunt’s face. Sr. Christine was in her 90’s when she held my hands for the last time and smiled with such sweetness and love, that combination of wisdom and childlike beauty that age creates.
My being is divided. I would both love to see my Dad again, to hold his hands, to hug him, to take another drive, to talk some more and I am mostly ready to say goodbye. He’s been and continues to be my hero. That never changes. The question remains what to do about that book?