Eastern New Mexico is a desolate plain. Wind whistling through the northwest corner of my paternal grandmother’s house left me with memories of nights when “lonely” seemed the only fitting word to describe a place. As a child, I loved to visit my grandparents by myself. The family of four kids and two adults provided little in solitude, and I enjoyed being able to explore the farm buildings, with their (seemingly) ancient books and relics of years gone by. At my paternal grandparent’s house, nightfall brought amazing skies, and my taciturn grandfather wasn’t much for conversation. Occasionally the wind would make the old house wheeze and groan, and I would lay there and listen, and think of my ancestors living in “half-dugouts” and houses that today wouldn’t be acceptable for hay sheds.
From that world, came my father. Skills wrought from necessity, talent that was both innate and developed, gave him a uniqueness that few men have matched in my life.
Life out far from “town” required that men develop the ability to “handle things”. From rebuilding engines (Dad patiently spent one winter “unfreezing” a motor that had been left for dead), to welding up farm equipment that had broken (if you’re 30 plus miles from town, you don’t just toss the part into the pickup and go get it fixed in half an hour), to caring for farm animals and people (I was 12 years old before I really realized that my dad wasn’t a “real doctor”…after all, he’d been a medic in the Army), multiple skills were required. Dad learned them, and practiced them.
My own bizarre combinations of interests were always a conundrum for me. As time has gone by, I realize my father cut the same wide swath of varied pursuits. Incredibly talented with wood working, I’ve wondered many times what he would have created had he had a fully equipped wood working shop. To this day one of my most prized possessions is a cabinet he built out of scrap wood (carefully picked from the trash pile at a local cabinet shop) in which to hold my radio tubes. Mechanically gifted, I’ve seen him repair what others would call “trash” into fully functioning equipment. One of our mutually enjoyable conversations usually centers around something that we “fixed”…his latest description of repairing his table saw is a fond conversation in my mind. At 87, he still “has it”. He took the motor apart, obtained brushes, made a bushing for the shaft end, and it “works better than it has in years”. He patiently listens to my tales of what I did, and enjoys hearing the description…and understands.
Deep within his soul, he heard the call to preach. Devoting time each day to Bible study, he has become a walking concordance. Want to know where a particular passage is? Call Dad. He’ll know. More importantly, he has done his best to “live out” what he believes. Of all the men I know, he is the least likely to say one thing, and do another.
Dad took a chance on helping me pursue my dream of flying. Looking back, I don’t know what possessed him to co-sign a note on a 1947 flying machine for a boy of 17 (can you imagine a 17 year old walking into a bank and asking for a loan to buy a plane?). He did, the note was paid (on time), and that has lead to a life of flying for me. It is even more remarkable when you consider that he doesn’t particularly enjoy flying…he’s gone up with me a few times in the past 42 years, and on one of those flights 40 plus years ago saved me from a gear up at night in Idaho.
Engines were no mystery to Dad. We rebuilt the engine of our Ford Falcon twice, both times a great learning experience, despite the cold of the garage, and my own ineptitude. (I remember, not so fondly, personally breaking off a bolt in the engine during reassembly. Twice.) We changed the oil on the cars. We fixed what broke. One of my particular lapses in judgement brought forth “son, you could make a preacher cuss”. A boat motor came into our life when my uncle had one that had been disassembled, never put back together, and was in pieces in a box. Dad patiently reassembled it, and it ran…for years. My first motorcycle came the same way….torn down by someone else, bought cheaply, and reassembled into a running machine. I will never forget that night when it ran for the first time, and we rode it around.
Dad never said “you’re too little”, or “you’re not old enough”. From as early as I can remember, i helped him work on things. At about age 7 or so, he was rebuilding the trailer that would become our family camper. We spent time at my grandparents’ farm, and he’d work all day on welding up the trailer. At night, I was allowed to go down to the shop (a wood building!!), and fire up the welder on my own, and practice welding. The next day he’d look at what I did, offer critique, and coaching…and let me try again. During the re-construction of that trailer, I learned a lot about accurate measurement. (I held the tape measure with the “end tab” folded down, throwing off the measurement. When he did a trial tow of the frame, it didn’t tow “true”. Had to be re-done. I learned.)
Drive a tractor? Okay, here’s how. By age 8 or 9 I was driving one by myself. Drive a truck? Okay, let me help you learn how to shift a two speed axle. By age 12 I was getting paid to drive one for a local farmer. Want to build a radio? Okay, here’s a shop, tools, books, and I’ll help you.
As I stretched my intellectual wings, I confounded him at times. However, he never quit. He would continue to discuss, disagree, and hold fast to his knowledge. Sometimes he would shake his head at my ambitions, but he never let me believe I was unable to work through it.
A thousand stories, each a tale in it’s own right, could be told. Hunting, fishing, camping…we had laughter, a few tears, more than one night running a “trot-line”. (You’ve never lived until you’ve run a trot-line in a boat at night with wet seats so many times you get diaper rash). The common thread, however, was that he never quit believing in us.
As much as we kids loved going to the New Mexico plains, Dad saw that life would be better for his family if he moved us to Texas. The years have shown the wisdom of that move. He was always willing to do what was right for his family. He quit smoking the day I was born. As a multi-pack-a-day smoker, I’m sure that was extraordinarily difficult. I’ve seen many patients over the years struggle…and each time remember that my dad won that struggle. As a college student, with a young family, when the grounds-keeping crew was given a “smoke break”, he’d go work on another task rather than be tempted.
He has made an indelible impression on my life.