The old man was a tough task master for me while growing up. The longer I live, the more I can look back on the lessons and realize his mentoring was just what I needed to become respectable and self-sufficient. I learned to have confidence and survive under adverse conditions.
Growing up, I never really worried about his providing for us because, well, he always did. We lacked money and luxury, but I never thought we were undernourished or without plenty of entertainment. The word bored was not one I can recall using when describing my day to day life. My father was a man who had an overabundance of suggestions to keep me busy as he was himself always on the task of something. If we were low on food he would know where to go in the woods to get meat. The main staple vegetables like potatoes were around at farms within several miles from our house. The farmer down the road wasn’t what I’d describe as generous. They charged for every little thing, even if it was only a half a quart of milk, which was too bad because Dad offered them plenty of free help. When they got into a bind and needed the hay brought in before a rainstorm, or when the deer were ruining their crops, Dad was first to offer his aid.
My father was always there for people who needed help, and there were a lot of people who knew they could call on him. Some of them would offer him a few bucks to keep an eye on their summer homes to keep the burglars away. Some called to ask him to cut some trees out of their way or to make sure the driveway was clear for their arrival on a winter weekend. Several families were what you might call good to us. It wasn’t unappreciated, nor were the people themselves ever disrespected. Dad taught me to be equally respectful of people, whether they had money or didn’t. He also said not to ever think of myself as a know it all, but rather to listen to others and learn to be a decent person. His words were often, “Listen boy, and you might learn something.”
There was a man in the near-by town of Ludlow that appeared to drink a lot but was someone Dad always said hello to, and spent a few minutes talking to him whenever he came over to our car as we parked on the street to go to one of the stores there. I remember when he walked away one time I said to Dad, “That guy is messy looking all the time.”
Dad looked over to me and said, “Don’t make fun of him. He may be messy, but that is one smart man. He’s forgotten more about electronics than I’ll ever learn.” I never forgot that day and those words. Dad wasn’t conceited, or one to look down on anyone’s knowledge, especially if they were honest and humble themselves.
Besides being a truck driver, Dad worked in talc mines, delivered coal, and he did some logging. He once had his own business of delivering small items to gas stations and convenience stores. He’d buy the inventory and pedal it around the state then stay up late at night doing paperwork to figure out the sales and what to pack for the next day. He did lots of worrying, and spent a lot of time away from home. He also worked in a machine shop for years and studied the tools of the trade with a neighbor who worked in a different shop. Someone suggested he run for town constable, which he did, and was elected for a number of years. He was paid a small stipend, and put in a good many hours. The check he received would barely cover his gas money, but he was dedicated to making sure the people of the town were taken care of. One year, when he was very ill and unsure if he could live up to his own standards, he didn’t run, but won by write-in vote, because the people of the town knew he’d do a good job anyway.
My father was a very resourceful man. There were several occasions in my youth I can remember him coming home early on a week day, having lost his job, or quit. My mother would get a look of despair on her face. “Why are you home so early?” she’d say, and before he could answer she would continue in protest, “What are we going to do about getting groceries this week? The kids are out of milk!”
Within several seconds of her desperate questioning he’d say, “Calm yourself, I’ll have a new job by Monday. I stopped off on my way home to ask “so and so” if they needed a truck driver. They said they’d call me tonight and let me know which route I’m driving.” He’d smile and my mother would sigh.
“Thank God for that,” she’d say while shaking her head.
I had been a casual observer of these traits of my father’s, and picked up some of the same patterns as my life moved through the years. I too have had many jobs and get an urge to use a variety of my learned skills to make a living. Life is always interesting and I don’t allow myself to get in a rut. Thank God for that.
(c) Rick Wyman