He was a man of the earth, specifically this piece of earth. He had always lived on this farm, in this house. Walked this lane and this woods; worked these fields.
When he first took over the farm from his father, the work was done with horses. Eventually that changed to a tractor, but not much else changed.
He and his wife did farm chores the same way generations before them had. They milked cows, raised chickens and hogs, tended an apple orchard and had a huge vegetable garden.
He plowed, planted, cultivated, fertilized and harvested the fields, milked and tended the cows and raised chickens and hogs for meat. The rest of his long days were taken up with maintenance of the buildings and equipment, culling the hedge rows to keep them from infringing on the fields, and hauling and selling his crops.
When his sons were very young, they began helping in any way small hands could. As they grew they learned about farming, but they also learned about how to be a man. Not as much by what he said, because he was a man of few words, but by how he conducted himself.
When he stood up to speak in a church meeting, others listened because he didn’t speak often and only when he had something important to say.
He was a man whose handshake was as good as his word.
His wife tended the house, the children and the garden and collected and sold the eggs, and cooked, baked and canned practically everything they ate. She made quilts, darned socks, did laundry. The daughters helped her in the house, and like her husband, they learned from her actions more than words, what it meant to be a good, Christian wife and mother.
Together, they tended their childrens’ souls. The family prayed the Common Table Prayer at the beginning of a meal and “O, Give Thanks Unto the Lord for He is Good and His Mercy Endureth Forever.” at the end of a meal. At the evening meal, he read a Bible passage and the daily devotional. They attended the church that his family had attended for generations.
He sang in the church choir for many years. He had a strong baritone voice. Not a solo voice, but one of the ones that is the glue that brings beautiful rich harmony to a group of voices.
He had no formal music training, but he played first the piano and then the organ by ear. No lessons — just the music in his soul coming out through his fingers. He would often sit at the organ in the evening and relax by filling the house with music.
In 1983, after 41 years of marriage, his wife died. They had enjoyed their life in simple ways — family celebrations with a large extended family, church potlucks, card parties (always Euchre), and, of course, time spent with their children and grandchildren who all lived close-by. No big regrets, lots of memories, and a homesickness for the other half that never goes away.
He was lonely, but stayed active by volunteering at the hospital (behind the scenes, in the maintenance department — none of that red-jacket-wheel-the-patients-to-the-car stuff for him), visiting with his family and attending his grandchildrens’ sporting events.
It was hard for him to keep the big old house for himself — that had always been her realm, but he really didn’t want to have to move to a senior community. He wanted to continue to live in the only home he had ever known for as long as he could.
So, he plugged along. He worked at keeping busy by puttering around the farm, even though he left the actual farming to others now, and enjoying time with his family. All the while, patiently waiting for God’s decision for how the rest of his life would play out, accepting that it would probably mean eventually moving to a smaller place…
Sometimes in winter there will occasionally be a beautiful sunny day that seems almost balmy. The first Saturday in January, 1985 was one of those days.
Gunny-to-be, in a “young driver moment,” had backed into a snow bank and collapsed the tailpipe on the car. Hubby went down the road to his Dad’s farm to use the barn and the tools in it to jack the car up and see what he could do to fix the tailpipe. Of course, his Dad came out to watch and visit. Then his Dad made a suggestion. He had a tool that had been used to stretch wagon wheels when they became out of round — he thought that might work on the tailpipe. He went and got it immediately and amazed Hubby that not only he still had it, but that he knew where it was, because surely it had been many years since it had been used. It worked perfectly. After visiting for a few minutes, Hubby came home.
Later in the day, we drove past the farm and there was a trail of smoke coming from the woods. Hubby commented that his Dad must have taken advantage of this beautiful winter day to work in the woods. One of his favorite pasttimes was cleaning the woods; cutting down dead trees and clearing and burning undergrowth.
The next morning, we got up a little late to make it to early church, so Hubby called his Dad to tell him we would pick him up for late church instead. No answer. He’s probably in the shower. About 10 minutes later, Hubby tried him again. No answer. He said he would go over to check on his Dad.
When Hubby drove in the lane, he saw the barn door was open, and the tractor wasn’t in the barn. He immediately remembered seeing the smoke in the woods yesterday, and felt dread. As he drove down the lane to the woods, he said it was the longest drive of his life. He was afraid that his Dad had been injured and had been unable to get help, spending the frigid night in the woods injured.
Just a short distance into the woods Hubby came upon him. Dad was laying peacefully on his back, with his glasses pushed up on his forehead. There was a light dusting of snow on him. He had been using a chain saw to cut down a tree and the saw was still in the tree having continued to run until it ran out of gas.
We will never know exactly what happened, but he had had a few heart problems, and our guess is that he felt chest pains and decided to lay down until they eased, and then he could go to the house to call for help. That wasn’t to be, and he passed away right there. But, how wonderful that he went so quickly, while doing something he enjoyed so much, on a beautiful January day. And, on the land he loved that, by God’s grace, he never had to leave.