In my mind’s eye, I can hear the wind whistle through the poorly built bunkhouse. Christian sat all alone on his bed, staring blankly at the rough cut board wall. His mind was far from this farm in Barshaw Alta, Canada, where he was a hired hand.
Sunday was his only time off from work. No one else was around the farm now. And he still had several hours of daylight to kill. He picked up the weathered envelop which had been addressed to him, and reread the letter inside. His son, Oliver, laboring as a missionary, had sent it to him months earlier. Like Christian, Oliver was now living away from family and loved ones in his field of labor.
Christian set the letter down, and pick up his own pen and a blank post card to make his reply. Ever so carefully, to write clearly but small. He has a lot to say in such a small space.
April 28, 1918 – Dear son, I recieved your welcome letter some time ago and should have answered before but something always comes in the way. Hope you will excuse me. Am glad to hear from you and to here you are getting along all right. Can say I am well I am working on a big farm. We have got in over 300 acres wheat all ready but that is only the beginning. I am running a gang plow every day. We are having fine time. I still have to wear cap and overshoes. My bed fellow got sore at the boss and quit last week so now I have to sleep alone again. I see by your letter that you are a stranger in a strange land. Well I have been that many times so I know about how it is. We have to feel our way like I call it for a while. But you have a good home to go to. That is more than I can say. I don’t supose I will have a home till I get a little room under the ground. I intend to try and get along as best I can. I had a letter from Eleanor the other day. They are well but I understand Reuben in not very well. That is too bad. I supose he works too hard. I get a letter from your Aunt Mary once in a while that is about all. Here is a fine lake close to the ranch but I don’t know how long I will stay here. I may stay all summer and I may not. Hope you and companion are getting allong fine and doing some good. I find good and bad people wherever I go and I supose you do the same. I have left my trunk with all my best clothes in Edmonton over 100 miles north of here and I can’t go anywhere on Sunday and it gets kind of lonesome for me sometime. I don’t know of anything particular to write about and am allways a fraid I shal write any thing that would make you feel bad. Hope you will excuse these few lines with best wishes to you and Elder Spencer. I remain your Father…C.J. Haroldsen… Please write a little when you have the time.
This letter, written on a postcard 90 years ago has a haunting tone for me. Some of the phrases whisper from the past to me when I feel those same emotions. “… a stranger in a strange land… it gets kind of lonesome for me sometime… am allways a fraid I shal write any thing that would make you feel bad…”
I watch people. I try to read their thoughts, their feelings. I believe we all have similar feelings at some time or another in our lives.
My work gives me lots of opportunity for lonely introspection. Late at night after the processing crew is gone, my paper work is complete, and the cleaning and maintenance crews are busy doing their thing, I try to write. Often the work on my family history novel is slow and frustrating as I struggle to really understand how my ancestors felt so I can put it into the words of my novel. In this contemplative state, I often give up for the night and go to bed. There, all alone like my Great Grandpa, I lay waiting for another hard day of work to come to once again occupy my mind. The wind howls around the buildings. I can hear a dog bark, or maybe it’s a coyote. The dust kicks up as a storm front moves through the desert waste land I call home at work. And somewhere in the darkness of the night, I can feel Christian’s emotions as he waited for another day to put him back on the gang plow. That’s when I need to get up and write his story. But I’m fearful of having enough strength to make it through the next day on MY OWN gang plow. As I plow through my day, I think of my family, past and present. I watch those I work with. Not everyone sleeps alone in a far away bunkhouse. Most have family and associates around almost all the time. But I am learning that if I see someone who doesn’t suffer from loneliness to some degree, I just don’t know that person well enough to see it. I am learning that it is a rare and precious gift to find someone who understands me. They don’t have to think like me, but someone who truly understands and respects me in spite of my flaws, is the ultimate friend.
To me, the most heart breaking line Christian penned that day was, “I don’t supose I will have a home till I get a little room under the ground.” I don’t believe Christian was really thinking of a physical place as his imagery suggests. In his subconscious, home was a place where he wanted to be, where he was understood, and accepted in spite of his flaws. The more I think about this, the more I want to be that haven, that home… for my family, my loved ones… those who have passed on, as well as those presently around me. And if I can truly feel that way toward those I know, then I will never be all alone either.
My 6 year old fingers held the nickel at the coin slot of the school’s candy machine. I wanted so badly to release it and pull the lever for the candy bar. I knew that I shouldn’t do it, because the coin was a refund from over paid milk money that my 1st grade teacher had given me to take home. I wasn’t really going to put the money into the machine. It was just my way of drooling over the candy while waiting for the school bus to take me home.
Suddenly my friend, Austin, smacked my hand and the coin tinkled down into the machine. I was frozen in shock as he pulled the lever which dispensed the candy bar. I couldn’t have felt worse if I had just robbed the local bank at gun point. I knew that the money should have gone back to my parents. They were the ones who had provided the milk money in the first place. As I stood and held that candy bar, I wanted nothing else but to put it back into the machine and to get my nickel back… my parent’s nickel. I wouldn’t let Austin have any of the candy bar. I didn’t eat it either. I didn’t want it anymore. I just stood and tried to figure out how to get my money back.
I had a long wait for the bus because first grade got out much earlier than the older kids but we all rode the same bus home. I was still sitting next to that candy machine when a man came and opened it up to refill it. He thought my glum demeanor was because I wanted a candy. So he offered to give me one for free. As I held up my own candy bar, I told him that I didn’t want the candy, I wanted my money back. I think he thought I was greedy and unthankful. He was obviously disgusted with me. I didn’t care. I was still feeling full remorse for stealing that nickel from my parents. Clearly, they had done a wonderful job teaching me honesty by the time I was 6 years old and going to school.
In spite of my parent’s policy of strict honesty, over the years we had seen many examples of dishonesty on our small farm. One of my earlier memories of it was when one of Dad’s loyal employees, Wanda, came to him and warned him about some of the other ladies who worked on our egg candling crew. Dad had made it an employee benefit to “just take the eggs you need for your family, home.” Wanda told Dad, “They’re robbing ya blind. They must be taking eggs for every relative they have.” But Dad seemed more concerned with honoring his promised “egg benefit” than he was about some of the employees taking advantage of him.
In our little farm egg store, we had an old (even back then in the 60’s it was considered old) cash register. This cast iron monster must have weighed 200 pounds. At night the till was locked, but I guess at least sometimes the money was left in it. One night, the whole cash register was stolen. Investigation showed that the thief walked in the half mile through the back fields leaving light foot prints in the snow. The foot prints back out through the fields sank into the snow much deeper as he carried his loot to his waiting get away car. The thief made off with several hundred dollars. Several weeks later, the sheriff found our broken open cash register where it had been dumped off along with some checks. Of course, all of the cash was gone.
Once a farm employee, Greg – a college student who worked for us part-time, reported that one of our egg delivery money bags had been stolen. In the ensuing investigation he finally admitted that he had taken the money. Dad got the money back, and he didn’t press charges. In fact, he even let Greg continue to work for us, just not around any of the money. Dad wasn’t in a hurry to condemn someone who had made a mistake.
Another employee was one of many who ran home delivery routes for us. She had worked for years when there was a disagreement over loading her delivery van in the morning for the day’s route. I was too young to know the details of what her grievance was, but when she quit, we started getting calls from customers that we had no record of. She had many cash only customers on her routes who were delivered our eggs as she pocketed the full amount of the payment.
Our little farm store also sold a few other things along with the eggs. Milk and other dairy including ice cream was a logical tie in. We also had a nice display of candy, which was popular with the neighborhood kids. Once we discovered that certain candies were disappearing along with the coin in our cash register. (We now pulled all the currency out of the cash register every night, but left maybe 5 or 10 dollars of coin in the open drawer. Dad said if someone broke in to steal the cash, he wanted the drawer open so they wouldn’t destroy the cash register trying to get to the few dollars that might be inside. So we always left it open at night.) So we tried to stake out the farm at night to catch our thief, but he had been so inconsistent that it took a week or two to get any good leads. One night while out on patrol, we found a neighbor kid in our yard. Allen would hang around a lot anyway, so when he said he was just out for a walk (1/2 mile from his house and in our farmyard at 10:30pm) we were suspicious but didn’t have any real evidence that he was our “cat burglar.” Then finally, we found where he must have been getting through our “Fort Knox” nightly lock-up. Our egg processing building had a small freight door rather high up on one wall. This 2 foot square door was our obvious “Achilles heal.” We took great pleasure in blocking the door from the inside including a sign that Allen would read by flashlight when he tried to enter. “Ha, Ha, Ha Allen. No more free candy.”
Down inside, Allen was a good kid who finally got it right. He actually came to my Dad several years later with an admission of guilt, an apology, and several hundred dollars in restitution.
My dad had been burned so many times that you’d wonder if his occupation was firefighting. I was once using an old shovel to clean the floor in one of our chicken coops. Dad was there helping with a push broom. He said to me, “Be careful with that shovel. I paid $1300.00 for it. I look down at the old rusty shovel in shock. He then told me that he had loaned a friend the money and had received the shovel as collateral. Obviously, he knew he’d never see the money again.
Dad learned from these experiences and made adjustments. One thing I remember him always saying was to keep the temptation for people to be dishonest to a minimum. “Keep it out of sight. Lock the doors. Help keep the honest people honest.”
As I reflect back on my childhood days on our farm, I want nothing more than to continue the legacy my parents perpetuated from their parents. We always had enough money to meet our needs and once in awhile even a little extra for some fun, but we were never considered wealthy. But the wealth of learning how to live honestly in spite of dishonesty all around me is a great treasured gem I received as a child. It’s what made a six year old recognize whose nickel it really belonged to at the candy machine so many years ago. My subconscious rings with maxims like, “An honest days work for an honest day’s wage.” Like my dad, if I say I am going to do something, my honor is at stake. So, “My word is my bond.”
Truly, I have inherited a great wealth from my family. The best part of this wealth is that no matter how trusting or gullible I am with other people who might want to steal my treasures, they can’t steal this one from me. If I lose it, it’s my fault only. More than money, land, or jewels, I want to be able to pass this treasure on to my children, and theirs.
My Thankful List
In this traditional season of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about how thankful I am for my Beautiful Wife. Then the thought occurred to me that in all my years of researching and studying the lives of my ancestors, I’ve read very little of them recounting what they were thankful for. To me, their “Thankful Lists” would be fascinating to read.
Verbally, my parents freely express to me their gratitude for their many blessings. And my sister, known in Spaces as Mitchowl, makes her “Thankful List” a regular monthly feature on her space. So I thought it was time that I take a stab at making a thankful list.
I don’t know if it were how the stars were aligned back in September of 1981, or if Cupid was on vacation in Southeastern Idaho when his bow slipped and the arrow struck an unsuspecting Ricks College coed, or what… Actually I do know, it was a wonderful, gracious, gift… straight from God to me. Nothing else could have enamored such a beautiful, fabulous, dame, to the all time socially klutzy guy. But I am ever so thankful that it happened. I’ve been continually thankful for this blessing for over 26 years now.
My childhood home was a charmed setting for my growing years. Our big family living on our small farm, near our small town, has left me with big wonderful memories and higher values. I am thankful for the life I lived as a child. I could write volumes of stories of the character building experiences I learned in my youth. I am also thankful that our small town college brought a Beautiful Redhead from Southern California into my life.
I am thankful for the nine stunning children that my Beautiful Wife gave me. Each one, bright, unique, talented, with a touch of my Beautiful Wife radiating from them. The next generation, now two strong, have shown me that being a grandpa is also a wonderful experience. Having my Beautiful Wife beside me as the Grandma makes it even better… our two little girls really, really love their Beautiful Grandma. I rate pretty high just by association.
Over the years, I have always had good enough work opportunities to support my growing family. Even though it wasn’t always exactly what I loved doing, I am very thankful that I’ve always had work and the associated income to provide for my family. But I am afraid that my work has come home with me too much, and even worse, I have brought my home to the work too much. My Beautiful Wife has had to deal with many of my work problems and many times she has had to live where she didn’t want to live, because of my work. I am thankful that she has been willing to do this for me… for us… for our family. She is as Beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
I have taken good health for granted for most of my life. Even today, I can work guys half my age into the ground with no problem. Most of them have no idea that I’m twice as old as they are. But my secret to such good health and strength is who’s been taking such good care of me with her always healthy lifestyle for the last quarter century. I am thankful for my Beautiful Wife.
Music… I love all kinds of music (since rap isn’t really music) I even learned to love country when Sammy Kershaw came out with his song, “She don’t know she’s beautiful” – guess who I think of when that song is playing?
I’m thankful for today’s communication. With my cell phone, I can talk to my parents daily no matter where I am. Emails keep me in touch with friends and family and the internet connects me to family I am meeting all over the world. Someday I might even try texting so I can talk to my teenaged daughters again. My favorite communication blessing lately is my Beautiful Wife’s space. When I am away at work, I am her most faithful visitor to read her diary style entries, watch her video blogs, and to look at her beautiful pictures.
Food… no one likes, or is as thankful for good food as I am. But then no one gets to eat my Beautiful Wife’s cooking as I do.
Home… I’ve lived in many, many houses in the past. No matter what the circumstances, my Beautiful Wife has made each one a home, and a place I wanted to be. But our new home is more special to me because it is where she wants to live. I am very thankful for it.
This essay style list is very incomplete but already too long. Next time I’ll try to just do a simple list like my sister Mitchowl does. Did I mention that I am thankful for my Beautiful Wife?
Dreams – An Introspective
Prussian born John Everett started out as a sailor at the age of 13. He loved traveling by sea and had plans of visiting every major sea port in the world. At the age of 28, he had almost accomplished this dream. The United States West Coast contained the only major sea port he hadn’t yet visited. This was now 1849, in the middle of the California Gold Rush days. There was no hotter destination for any ship then was San Francisco. But then John got distracted by a pretty face. Helen Tanser was on the ship, traveling from Liverpool to New Orleans. That was John Everett’s last voyage.
Johann Tillack was also Prussian born. His family had worked the same small farm for many years. 32 year old Johann, along with his mother and three brothers, set their sights on the Australian Gold Rush, which was in full swing in 1855. Johann had high hopes for this new dream. And to some degree, he was successful. He told of picking small gold nuggets right out of the stream with his pocket knife. But Johann liked to spend his free time in the saloon. The combination of drinking and gambling had soon left Johann as broke as a poor Prussian farmer.
Not long after emigrating from England to Eastern Canada, 16 year old Frank Rubbra and his brother set out looking for adventure. Soon, they were both down in South Africa, fighting for Great Britain in the Boar War. His adventure was cut short when he contracted Yellow Fever. He lived about 8 years longer, but he never really recuperated from his illness.
These three men, all of whom are my ancestors a few generations back, were then young and full of anticipation as they pursued their dreams of adventure and success. As I have studied their lives along with my other ancestors, preparing to tell their life stories in a historical novel for my children, I have seen the pattern repeatedly. The youth have ambitious dreams for the future. Then they find interruptions and obstacles to those dreams, postponing their fulfillment. Then subtly, compromises creep in, stealing away the original dreams and offering something else. Eventually, realization dawns that life isn’t happening as was anticipated when young.
The lives of these three men, all of whom are my grandfathers a few generations back, have become a symbol of my own failures and disappointment. Like John Everett, the sailor, I had goals when I was young that probably won’t be realized. There are other things, more important, that now require my limited time and money. Johann Tillack, the gold miner who lost it all in the saloon reminds me of my own weaknesses and of the many mistakes I have made (and do make). If I could do it all over, I would be so much closer to realized dreams. And Frank Rubbra’s lingering sickness which eventually took his life makes me think of the obstacles in my life that I have no control over. Circumstances in the past and present that seem to dictate the future.
Now I’m watching my own children maturing as they enter this same phase in their lives. I hear of some of the dreams and plans that they are formulating. I watch their successes and set backs. I give advice when I can. I want them to find their dreams more than I want my own. When I hear of their successes it makes my day. And when I learn of problems, I think it troubles me more than them.
I think my father said it all, when he told me at my latest visit, “When it comes down to it, the only thing that really matters in this life is our relationships and family.” I have pondered that statement a lot.
When John gave up seeing San Francisco Bay to marry Helen, I think he thought it was a pretty good trade. Then when their children came along, his “sea legs” grew roots even further down into terra firma.
Amidst all his mistakes, Johann did one thing very right. He found the love of his life, Mary Sophia. Anything to do with drinking and gambling became a thing of the past, as they raised a large family. When Johann died in 1904 at the age of 81, he was surrounded by a large circle of family and friends who loved him. That was worth far more to him than all the gold in Australia. He died a very rich man in what really matters.
Even Frank Rubbra, returned to Canada, found the love of his life and started his own family before his untimely death. He called his little girl, who was my grandma, his “Little Blue Bell.” His sickness robbed him of much, but it didn’t rob him of what my dad says really matters in this life, family and friends… loved ones who will always remember and miss.
I have thought about my Beautiful Wife and my own children. My Dad’s words ring true to me there as well. I would trade any of my own goals and dreams in a heartbeat if it would help them realize theirs. But the truth is my big wonderful family is the realization of my fondest dream. It’s is no wonder to me, that some of my less important dreams of yesteryear have been put on the eternal back burner. I guess from that perspective, in some ways, I might even be part of the fulfillment of John’s, Johann’s, and Frank’s best dreams.
A childhood memory from back in the 1960’s has resurfaced to the front of my mind today. At the time, I had just learned about the Lewis and Clark Expedition in my grade school class. Partly because of the continuous responsibility we had with our egg farm, it wasn’t often that we as a family would travel very far from home. So even an over night trip from our home in Rexburg down the six or seven hours it took back then to travel to Salt Lake City or Provo, where my Uncle Ed lived, was memorable to me.
This particular visit was made in the cold of winter. I can remember that because we traveled in what we later called our old blue van. It was cold in the back of that van. An animal cracker box looked very close to its actual shape, and the motor was under metal lid literally between the driver’s seat and front passengers seat. At the time, this was our best home delivery egg van. We could bolt in bench seats (which more resembled benches than seats) to accommodate all us kids. To a nine year old, a 6 or 7 hour car ride seems more like days long. I remember lying on the cold floor of that van, the only place where I could stretch out, and stare out the windows at the mountain range as we slowly made our way back home.
As I lay there, I remembered the story of Sacagawea, who as a small Indian girl who lived in the Pacific Northwest, was stolen by another warring Indian tribe and was taken by them to their homeland back to the east. As she traveled with her captors, Sacagawea looked for and memorized landmarks so she could eventually find her way back home. Of course that is why she was so valuable to Lewis and Clark as their Indian guide into the Pacific Northwest.
So while thinking about this story, my nine year old mind wondered if I would be able to find my way back home. As I stared at the Wasatch Mountain Range, I studied the shapes and tried to memorize landmarks so I could find my way back home too.
Today, we traveled along this same place to attend a family reunion for my Beautiful Wife’s family being held North of Salt Lake. As I drove, I looked at those same landmarks of the mountain range and remembered my childhood thoughts when I had first studied them. Those landmarks have become some what of a symbol to me showing me the way back to my childhood home. Tomorrow morning I’ll travel that same path, only this time all the way to my hometown of Rexburg. As I ride along, I’ll be looking at those mountains and I be wondering about other landmarks which can lead me back home. I’m looking forward to a great visit with my parents and other family who still live there.
But besides the contour of those mountain ranges which I memorized years ago, I wonder what other landmarks are leading me back home. Certainly, number 1 on my addenda is to get lots of quality visiting in with my parents and other family. But something else draws me. I’m not sure what. Memories… reminiscing… walking the streets and traveling the roads I grew up around. Maybe I be visiting the remnants of our old egg farm. Maybe I need to secure more landmarks back to my past… to my memories… so I will never forget… so I can accurately write about the wonderful family I descend from.
A Moving Story
These past several months have sapped all my extra time and strength, energy and interest, in what it takes to move. Of course prior to even listing our old house for sale, an inordinate amount of energy went into the spruce it up preparations. Then came the keep it up routine needed for showing it to potential buyers. After we made a deal and our old house went under contract, our lives revolved around the pack’em up, move’em out responsibility. Incidentally, finding our new home, the perfect one for us in the perfect place for us, was absolutely the easiest part of the whole move.
Well, now that I am mostly unpacked and organized with the things that I have sole responsibility for (my Beautiful Wife was unpacked and fully organized with EVERYTHING ELSE within hours of unloading the moving truck.) my thinking time has been spent marveling at what a big job this moving thing really is. You’d think I’d already know what I’m in for. We’ve moved ten times just since my Beautiful Wife and I were married. But somehow each move is it’s own experience and has it’s own personality. Now that I can stand back , sigh, and wipe the sweat from my eye brow, I have taken time to wonder and ponder about some other moving stories.
Oh, the tales that could be told, if they were still here. For example, my two greats grandpa, Jock Smith. Generations of Smiths had lived in the same Scottish village of Dumfermline, in the parish of Perth. It had been the law for generations, no one who lived there could move away from the mines. Back then, the continent of Europe didn’t have a monopoly on the use of serfs. But the law was finally changed. Jock first moved about twenty miles, further up the Forth of Firth, to Alloa. After marrying and beginning his own family, in 1849 they brought what little they had and came to America. It took three years of work in St Louis before he could outfit for the trek west. Once in the untamed west of what is now Utah, Jock moved his family four more times that I know of, maybe more. Some of these moves were hundreds of miles apart.
My two greats grand father, Samuel Webster, did something similar. Only difference was, he left his wife and children back in England while he went ahead and earned enough to bring them to join him. Later, Samuel decided that new opportunities awaited up in Canada, and my great grandma, Sarah, told of walking along side the narrow rail train, which moved them up north, because the train moved so slow that she could just walk along side it.
As far as a life time of moving goes, I think the grand champion of all my progenitors were my two greats grandparents, Johann and Mary Sophia Tillack. Both were born in what is now Germany. Johann’s family had farmed for generations in Prussia. But Johann and his family wanted no part of Otto Bismark’s ambitious plan to conquer Europe, so their only other option was to leave. In 1855, the Australian Gold Rush was in full swing, and Johann caught the fever. It was in the region of Melbourne that Johann met Mary Sophia and they had their large family. Life was good as the family fruit farm prospered, but the itch to migrate once again came this time from their new found religious faith. Life in Utah was good in the 1890’s. It would have been a nice place to settle for Johann’s declining years, but because their children had mostly moved on again, Johann and Mary Sophia made the additional trek up north to live their final years in Canada with their children. Back in the 1800’s, not many simple farmers traveled the world, but Johann not only traveled but established himself and lived on three continents and in four different countries.
We are now happily settled in our new home in our new community. My Beautiful Wife is happy, and I am happy. So as I reestablish some of my normal routines, including telling my ancestor’s life stories in the novel I’m working on, I have a renewed appreciation for what they went through to make life better for themselves and for their children, and ultimately for me.
“Dad, I want to be just like you!”
They already had their family, three sons and a daughter. Then six years later, another son was born. The Great Depression was in full swing for Norman’s earliest memories. But the optimism of the late 1920’s, when he was born, seemed to embed his personality for life. This characteristic optimism in the face of hardship still carries him through life.
Lost for hours. Asleep on the bank of a ditch. Two year old Norman was feared drowned as the frantic search intensified. He thought he was in trouble when he heard his name intently and repeatedly called. Then he saw the tears in the eyes of his panicked family. Instead of reprimands, the small boy, Norman, received the hugs of rejoicing. Today we are rejoicing that we can still hug him, in spite of his battle with a devastating illness since last fall.
Norman’s innovative mind started with little things, like a string stretched tightly across the driveway of his childhood home. Earl, Norman’s oldest brother, had to run quickly back to the house for something he had forgotten. His littlest brother’s innocent prank got under his skin (or was it just the cement finish of the driveway, which flayed certain parts of his face, hands, elbows, and knees that got under his skin?) Throughout the years, Norman’s innovations improved as he developed a successful family business specializing in the production and distribution of eggs in the much of southeastern Idaho, and parts of Wyoming and Montana. Norman’s people skills blossomed from the snot nosed little brother, who brought down his towering big brother in the driveway, to a man who is beloved by all who know him. (The staff of oncology lights up with happy smiles and greetings when they see him coming.)
Norman’s sense of adventure took him far. Too far for his other brother’s liking. His next older brother, George, was the inventor of the family. George had built a bicycle with an out-rigger to fit on the railroad tracks. This allowed the 1930’s rural bike rider to experience the unbelievably smooth and fast ride to distant places. Norman tried it out, but he went too fast, and too far. When he finally returned from his adventures in Ucon (a neighboring village), he found his concerned father and distraught brother standing at the farm railroad crossing, waiting for his return. His dad said the railroad bike was too dangerous. It was broken up. But his interest in the world wasn’t broken up. And on numerous trips, Norman has seen much of the world. He always planned and traveled independently and never part of a tour group’s agenda. This is one area where his people skills are legendary. Many stories could be told of how good he is at making the world his friend, one person at a time, but then this would be a book instead of a blog.
A life long love of learning for Norman began in a two room school house. Grades 1-4 were in one room. And grades 5-8 were in the other. Norman’s cousin Ray, was almost like a brother to him. After 8th grade graduation from from St. Leon, Ray describes how and why the Haroldsens became involved in high school band. Norman loved band, and even became a band officer when his City Girl opponent campaigned against him by saying, “We don’t want our band run by a bunch of country hicks do we?” Thanks to the backlash from her speech, Norman was a shoe-in for the position. From band music, Norman’s inventor brother, George, introduced him to Classical, which has become a life long love.
One damper in his high school experience was an explosion in Chemistry class. Though the resultant eye injury has left life long effects, it didn’t blur his vision of the future. And it didn’t stunt his zeal for learning and life. Norman graduated college with a bachelors’ degree in agriculture, but through out his life, including today, he continues to read, learn, and study. He was always the speller that I am not. And he knows world geography like no one else I know. (Of course he does, he’s been to most of those places.)
After college, newly wed Norman passed up other opportunities to come home and run the family farm. His dad, though, seemed to only be interested in a free hand. So after eight years of free servitude, and with his father’s critical word’s still ringing in his ears, “All you care about is chickens and church”, Norman struck out on his own, and started his egg business. This phrase illustrates what ever his present focus is. It could be repeated for everything he does in life. “All you care about is politics.” “All you care about is helping other people.” “All you care about is home and family.” “All you care about is visiting and getting to know other people.” The list could go on and on.
I love and look forward to my daily phone calls with my mom and dad. My conversations with them inspire me to want to be a better person. Often, I hear humors stories of their day. Because of his illness, I also hear of his frustration and feebleness, of his struggles and sorrow.
As I contemplate who my father really is, on this coming Father’s Day, one phrase I’ve heard him say more than once in these past months of illness will ring in my ears.
“Shame on me.”
Yes, anytime he has actually gotten emotional or expressed his weariness from enduring, he always follows up with “Shame on me.” He feels that with all he is blessed with, he has no right to allow himself to feel down about his troubles. I wonder what a great world we would live in, if everyone’s shame was comparable to my dad’s self imposed shame of ingratitude when he is feeling a little down.
So this Father’s Day, I’d like to borrow another phrase from my memory. This one came from my two year old son, Joshua, about twenty years ago. He had spent the day riding along with me as I delivered eggs up around West Yellowstone, Montana. We were just finishing up the last delivery before the hour plus drive back home in the delivery truck. I had decided to buy some soda pop for the ride home. After making my selection, I asked Joshua, what kind of pop do you want? Bubbling with the enthusiasm that happy two year olds can possess, Josh said, “I’ll have what you have. I want to be just like you.” That was a contemplative ride home for me. Do I want my son to really be “Just like me?” That comment inspired me to strive to be better than I was.
I think if I could go back home to visit my dad for Fathers Day, I’d bring his favorite soda pop, and another of the same kind for me. As we sipped our drinks, I’d try to muster Joshua’s two-year-old enthusiasm and say, “Dad, I want to be just like you.”
Memorial Day Haroldsen Style
I have devoted all my free time and energy to our premoving preparations. So right now my blogs and visits are few and far between. However, this weekend is an exception. I have taken a break from my storting and packing duties to go with my Beautiful Wife and children to visit our other children (who have preceded us in moving to Provo.) This visit, of course is tied into our celebration festivities of Memorial Day weekend.
It all started with a very spoiling birthday dinner (for me) on Friday. Saturday morning, we got up early and headed to Provo. The Pirates movie was fun, because of my wonderful companions. The picnic dinner, which followed was great, because all the food was prepared by my Beautiful Wife and by my daughters (who learned to cook from my Beautiful Wife.) I gained ten pounds this weekend. Visiting with old friends at a wedding reception that evening was icing on the cake. My daily phone call to see how my dad is doing and our attendance at church and visit with My Beautiful wife’s mother and husband rounded out our weekend of family visits and family associations.
However, all thorough this weekend of family and friends, the magic of movies, and of food and festivities, I have been thinking of Memorial Day proper. My understanding is that Memorial Day was conceived as a time to remember the fallen soldiers of the American Civil War. By World War I, May 30 was designated as a day to remember all of our fallen soldiers. From those beginnings, Memorial Day has come to include all of our loved ones who have passed on, and is now celebrated on the last Monday of May.
So this weekend, in my idle moments when my mind can wander (mostly while driving the 400-500 miles of our travels), I was thinking of the diverse places many of my loved ones are buried. I have visited the graves of loved ones in Canada, Idaho, Utah, and California. I know of others far away which I haven’t visited. My parents are visiting our Idaho Cemeteries today, decorating the graves and remembering with fondness. I wish I lived closer so I could participate. My children grew up far from where any of our loved ones were buried. So they don’t know of our family tradition. I wish we could have passed on this tradition to them, but it didn’t happen.
So today, I am mentally back in my childhood home observing Memorial Day, "Haroldsen style”.
Memorial Day wasn’t always observed on a Monday. Traditionally it was on May 30th, no matter what day of the week it fell on.
When I was growing up, our Memorial Day routine was always the same. We only did the bare necessities on the farm, which would take us until about 11:00 am. By that time, we had feed everywhere it should be and all the eggs gathered that we could by then. While Dad and us boys were doing the farm work, Mom and the girls were packing away a first class picnic lunch.
As quickly as possible, we would come in from work, get cleaned up and head for Idaho Falls. Our first stop was always at Rose Hill Cemetery. Although I wasn’t even born when he died, Gary Kent was the main thing on my mind. As I stood looking at his grave marker, I could learn little bits and pieces about his life and how he died as I listened to Mom and Dad make comments. But Mom was always very emotional and Dad unusually quiet as we visited Gary Kent’s grave, so I didn’t ask too many questions. Even though I didn’t ever know him in this life, I missed Gary Kent and have always felt an empty spot deep inside, caused by his absence. I always thought of the fact that Gary Kent’s birthday was the day after mine, and that Memorial Day (when we went to visit his grave) was only four days later.
After our visit at the Cemetery, we would go to Tautphaus Park, for our picnic. Tautphaus Park almost adjoins Rose Hill Cemetery. So it was kind of like spending the day with our loved ones who had died.
No one could do a first class picnic like my Mom. There was always more food and more variety than even a hungry boy could possibly hope to conquer. Besides first class picnic areas, Tautphaus Park also had a nice playground area, a carnival ride area and a small zoo. So we had plenty to do, even as kids, for the rest of the day. Even though we would have to pay for our playtime by how early our next morning of chores on the farm would start, our Memorial Day picnics were always a highlight for me as I grew up.
So now I’m here at home, reminiscing about all those good Memorial Day memories and wishing that my children could have the same experience. We live hundreds of miles away from Rose Hill Cemetery or any other cemetery where family members are buried, so with the distance and my immediate family responsibilities, it won’t happen. Maybe next year. We’ll live a hundred mile closer to my childhood roots. Yes, next year I’m going home for Memorial Day. Children! Next year would you like to come along and help me celebrate Memorial Day Haroldsen Style?