Sunday, November 08, 2009

Never Another Like Him

My grandfather was born on a farm outside of Kokomo, Indiana, in 1896. The family moved from there to central California about 12 years later. By that time my grandfather was an adult. He was through with school and had been for a few years. He was the oldest of three sons and a daughter, the hardest worker and never complained. This sealed his fate. He worked for his father until he was almost fifty. His father said he needed him to. That was that.

My great grandfather would buy distressed and foreclosed farm properties, the cheapest available. My grandfather would fix them up and put them on a paying basis. There was no property too remote or mean, no ground too hard, that my grandfather could not put it right. He decided on the improvements needed, the order in which they were needed, the type of agriculture that would be most profitable and the cheapest way to make it happen. Then he set to work, one man, before dawn to after dusk, seven days a week. Machinery cost money. He used hand tools, cast offs mostly, repaired in his own forge. For work too heavy for a man, he had a mule. He made rundown outbuildings right and weatherproof. He put up fencing, laid out, dug and plumbed irrigation ditches, planted, cultivated and harvested crops, put down silage for winter fodder, milked the cows twice a day and put the milk out for pickup.

My grandmother tended the house, raised the children, kept the chickens and books. She produced or made almost everything the household needed. She canned fruit and vegetables and made soap. From cast off rag bags donated in the church basement, rugs were weaved and clothes were sewn. Good times or bad, didn't matter, not an unnecessary penny was spent.

The last thing my grandparents did before a farm was sold, was fix up the house so it would look as nice as possible and bring a better price. Houses with dirt floors would get jacked up and foundation and floors added, plumbing and electricity brought in, glazed windows, weatherproofing and paint. No use in having a nice house when they were the only ones living there. Didn't add to the bottom line.

The farms my grandfather tended brought good prices and a nice profit, even better during the Depression than before. To people watching their savings dwindle away, a small farm seemed like the way to go. My great grandfather prospered. People that bought his rehabbed farms were often bankrupt and foreclosed on in a year. Small farms, as a rule, don't pay out. They never did and never will. Not one in a thousand farmers is anything like my grandfather was and even if they were, that kind of farming isn't worth the effort. It's a man killer.

My grandfather was not a handsome or impressive looking man. He was short, with a face like a bulldog and had no discernible neck. In his overalls he looked fat. Never was even an ounce on him, though he weighed two hundred and forty pounds. You never see hands like his anymore. They were naturally small but hugely swollen with muscle. His fingers were as big around as polish sausage links. Tens of thousands of hours, working with a pick and shovel, over the course of forty years is what did it. He could crack walnuts between the tips of his thumb and fore finger. Try it sometime.

There never were many men like my grandfather. No one should be nostalgic for those days or that kind of life. It wasn't the kind of life anyone would choose, not him, most of all. His father said he needed him and it was true. If it was me, I'd a told the old man to go fuck himself and signed on a freighter to China.

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