My dad was born in a tiny dot on the map in Kansas, on September 7, 1924. Happy Birthday, Daddy! He’s the baby in this photo – one of the very few pictures from his childhood. Looks like the big brothers are propping the Humpty Dumpty baby up.

His family’s life wasn’t exactly Little House on the Prairie. Unlike the all-girl Ingalls clan, his mom was a mother of 4 brothers and 2 sisters. Those 6 children were born in a 7-year span. And they were bottle fed. Like the Ingalls, this was a family of pioneer stock. Landing in Maryland from England in the early 1700s, their forebears fought in the Revolution and in the Civil War, had moved to Kentucky, then Illinois, Missouri, and finally Kansas. Life was hard in the 1920s, and about to get a lot harder, as The Dust Bowl and The Great Depression loomed.

My dad grew up, went to college (the first in his family), ran a Kansas country store/filling station for a while, ended up owning his own telephone communications company, had a great marriage and four relatively great kids, and traveled the world. He heroically and stoically cared for my mom during her long, difficult decline. In his 60s, he became a domestic engineer as well as a telephone one, learning to shop, cook, clean, make applesauce and chicken barley soup and pecan pie from scratch, and run all aspects of my mom’s life. Always a hard worker, he now had to master a whole new set of challenges.

When my mom was gone, he sat down and started writing the story of his life. Last fall, he emailed the document to me and I read it out loud to the boys, as an alternative to the usual bedtime stories. It helped them see their grandfather as a kid their age.

Favorite excerpts:

“I did learn to smoke at an early age, probably when I was 4 or 5. We would steal Dad’s Bull Durham and roll our own. It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the place down because we would crawl under the washouse/garage/grain bin and smoke. When I was around 10, I started playing basketball on the grade school team and that was when I gave up smoking because the coach said that and eating candy would cut down on our wind.

Once I fell out of the family car on the way to Eudora. Mom was driving and a neighbor, Dollie Hill, was along. The road was rutted and in order to see I was standing up in the back seat when the car fell into a rut. Suddenly, Dollie told Mom that Billie had fallen out. Mom looked back and this muddy kid was running up the road after the car. They stopped at a farm and after a bath I was put into a much too big pair of overalls.

My first grade in school was not a good one because of our teacher. Her name was Mrs. Melville and we thought that she favored the children of the school board members. I was the first to memorize my ABC’s and she had offered a prize of a new pencil box to the first one to do so. I have always felt that she gave that pencil box to me very reluctantly.

One time another boy and I mooned the girls. One of my siblings squealed on me. I can recall the exact spot where I was standing, and that I had a hen in my arms, when the Old Man found out.

I learned to swim in Nine Mile Creek north of the farm and in ponds. We would go out to hoe corn and then slip off to the swimming hole.”

This autobiography isn’t yet finished (we’re only up to the early 1960s…ahem) but it is a treasure trove of memories from long ago and far away, a memoir to remember. We eagerly await the next installment.

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