Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Dad's Memories


I have spoken with my father over the past month about the positive feedback I had received regarding my blog.  I explained that I had written a few stories about my childhood days, and in return had received nice comments from friends as well as strangers from as far away as England.  Over the past several years my father has become more and more willing to share his story with others, so I guess it should not have been a surprise when a few weeks ago Dad walked over and tore a page from a legal pad and handed it to me.  In his unique and slightly sloppy handwriting were notes regarding his early life.   There were only a couple entries, but as he held out the paper Dad said, “Here, maybe you can write a blog about this.”  I must admit, it was not much, so I do not know how well I can flesh this out, but I’ll do my best.
Young Walter posing with his big brother Earl and his sister Nell

Dad is 3rd from right.  Notice the bare feet in October.
Let me begin by briefly introducing you to the most important person in my life.   Walter Fifer was born in 1922, cutting his teeth during the roaring 20’s, spending his formative years during the Great Depression and reaching manhood huddled in a cold B-24 Liberator in the skies above Germany and France in WWII.  His family was just an average Midwest family farming in an area known as Chicken Bristle in west central Illinois.  In the early days their home lacked both electricity and water, and it wasn’t until the 1930’s that Dad ever knew of such luxuries.  He escaped disaster as a young boy when he and his older brother were given the job of disking the farm field.  Dad would sit up front and slap the horses to keep them moving while his brother Earl kept control of the reins.  On this particular occasion, Dad slipped and fell beneath the equipment.  Earl stopped the horses, but Dad was “disked” into the soil and trapped.  In a panic, Earl ran back to the house to get their mother, but somehow Dad had dug himself out by the time they returned.  Dad watched his father work hard to buy his dream Waterloo tractor, only to lose it a short time later to bankruptcy during the Depression.  Those lean years instilled in my father a strict sense of thrift.  Dad has always been conscious of cost and ever throws anything away.  To this day, if you need anything from a tool to building material, Dad can walk into his basement or garage and find it for you.  Despite earning a scholarship, Dad never went to college.  In his day hard work was generally valued above education, and that is what he chose to do upon returning home from the war.  He worked simultaneously for the post office during the day and a steel company at night, before realizing his family needed him, too.  He settled on a career with the postal service and retired as postmaster of the Southport branch post office.  He was married to my mother for 62 years until her passing last August.  In her final years, Dad nursed Mom through physical disabilities and severe dementia, until her care became just too difficult for him to handle alone.  Reluctantly and with great sadness, he put Mom in a nursing home the last year of her life, but he was there every day to share lunch and dinner with her and brought her home each week for her hair appointment and to spend a night in her own home.  He was the epitome of devotion. I am happy to say that as he approaches 89 years of existence he is still a strong man and the rock of our family.
Dad on the left

Dad jotted down his notes during the heat of Wisconsin’s grand dispute regarding labor unions and finances.  So it is not surprising that Dad’s first recollection was of one of his early jobs.  As a teen, Dad worked at Weaver’s Grocery in Tuscola.  Weaver’s was both a grocery and a meat market.  In those days patrons would come to the store and tell the clerk what they wanted.  The job would then fall to my father to round up the requested.  If they wanted chicken, Dad would dress the roasting hens or dress and cut up the fryers.  Farmers would bring in their slabs of bacon for curing, and it fell to Dad to ready them for the smoke house out back.  His least favorite part of the job was scraping down the butcher block late on Saturday night as the butcher was very strict.  And what was Dad’s pay for this job?  My father worked 65 hours a week and earned a total of $12.  Now people will sometimes refuse a job that pays $12 an hour.

Dad with his dog, Teddy
Dad’s final note was about an early lesson in manners.  One day while working at the grocery store, Harvey Bassett came in.  Harvey was the owner of the local tobacco store.  Dad upon seeing the older gentleman chimed out, “Hi, Harve!”  In that day and age elders demanded respect, and Harvey bristled at the comment.  “Young man, I’m Mr. Bassett to you.”  My father learned his lesson and appreciated the sentiment.  From that point on Dad always treated his elders with the utmost respect, and that is something that was driven home to us, as well.  

And so I have fulfilled my father’s request.  It is certainly not my typical entry, but I felt I owed it to Dad.  I hope you enjoyed his memories, and perhaps you gained a little more appreciation of your own life through his.

2 comments:

  1. Like yours, my father 'reached manhood' in a similar way, different aircraft, same huddled position. Looking back, I suppose I feel a little sorry for him; living with him at the time was often horrible. He drank too much, could be verbally cruel to both myself and my mother. I think he found it hard to love people, maybe due to his upbringing, maybe due to wartime experiences... his aircraft was shot down into the North Sea, he was terribly young like so many others, it was bound to have an effect. But with age (on my part) comes wisdom and hindsight. Looking back, I can see reasons, make excuses for his behaviour. At the time it just alienated me further. He died aged 55, at which time he and my mother had long since gone their separate ways, for the better on her part. There were times when he and I were close, but they were fleeting. He was never around, his work took him away for 90% of the time; he was never there for celebratory times either. Through his own choice I might add. I would have loved to have been a daddy's girl, but daddy wasn't willing most of the time. It saddens me, but nothing to be done about it now.
    Your post, as usual, brought forth memories of my own, sad ones. But still, yours were more positive and I loved reading them, again.

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  2. You did Good! Mr. Fifer would be very proud.
    An amazing story of an amazing man. No wonder you are so proud.
    Oh Scott~ I wanted to share another Blog I ran across last night that made me think of you. It is titled, "Those Who Have Gone", & can be found here: http://ancestorhistories.blogspot.com/
    It is a wonderful ancestor recall and very lovely written. If you find the time, go check it out. I think you would appreciate this one.
    Have a lovely week.

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