As I was saying, one of the worst parts
of growing old is watching your memory slip away--
bit by bit at first, then in greater and greater chunks as time passes.
| For instance, I have
absolutely no recollection of the first day that strange man came to live
with us on the farm. I don't even remember the first time we ever
spoke to each other. Yet, he turned out to be a very important
part of my life.
the sweet potato patch!!
| He was slightly past middle age
and more than slightly overweight. His toes pointed outward just a bit,
and he almost always had a self-satisfied grin on his face. The
unused part of his belt hanging down from the buckle made it pretty
obvious that he had once been even heavier. His name was "Parker."
I don't know if that was his first name or his last name. I forgot
to ask. I also forgot to ask if he had ever been married or had any
children. I guess I was just never curious. I never knew where
he was from, how far he went in school, what he did for a
living, what his religion was or anything else!
| My Uncle George showed up with
him one Sunday afternoon. Uncle George was some kind of big shot at the
Leesburg State Prison Farm. Parker was an inmate there.
He had been convicted of selling motor oil as Quaker State Oil when it was
really some cheap inferior oil.
He had been paroled to serve out the rest of his sentence at our farm.
He didn't receive any pay. All he
got was food and a place to sleep. He was really much better off on
the prison farm, but maybe he didn't like living there.
| Right up until I left for
military service, we worked together seven days a week. Every
morning at five we started work together in the dairy barn. I milked
the seven cows [by hand] and Parker did everything else. We talked
to the rhythm of the milk going into the pail. We talked about
things I wanted to talk to my father about. We talked about the
depression, about socialism, about life on the prison farm,
about poverty, about President Roosevelt, about Henry Wallace,
and about the little ditch that ran through our farm. His job
after I went to school was cleaning out that damned ditch every day.
[ The old farm is a luxury housing development now. Mae and I go out there
to walk around and cry occasionally. That quiet little ditch is
still running! ]
| I never got to know my father
very well. I don't think we ever had an actual conversation about
anything. He would just tell me what to do and how to do it.
Sometimes he would check in later to see if I had done it and to tell me
that I hadn't done it correctly. He wasn't a bad person.
That's just pretty much the way things were "back then." In many
respects I admired him very much. He was very intelligent, but
he left school after third grade and never read very much. He felt
very threatened by anyone who knew things that he had never learned about.
| Several evenings a week we all
played pinochle. Mom and Dad were always partners. Parker and
I were always partners. Little Jimmy ran around peeking at people's
hands and squealing about what we had. Pinochle is nice because you
can carry on a full conversation about anything without messing up the
game. Dad always seemed to avoid subjects that would reveal how
little he knew about so many things.
| I asked Parker one
day how he knew so much. He told me about a friend of his in
prison who had been a professor before he got locked up for killing his
wife. Every time my parents went to visit my uncle in Leesburg,
I had them drop me off at the prison farm. They had an outstanding
herd of purebred cows there, and I used to help them register the newborn
calves. So, I made it a point to find Parker's friend.
What a nice man! He was the smartest man I had ever met. He
helped me write my PAD paper for high school. It was about the
failure of the League of Nations after first world war. I never did
find out why he killed his wife, but I'm sure she deserved it.
| Parker and I went
into the trapping business together. I bought the traps and he did
all the trapping and skinning. We did quite well. We also
raised a field of corn together. I ended up buying his half of the
corn because I was raising 17 pigs at the time. The only money he
ever had the whole time he lived with us was the money we made together.
He spent it all on warm clothes and "roll your own" tobacco. He
slept in an unheated room attached to our kitchen. He used the old
outside toilet. He liked a little
sip of brandy before he went to sleep. My parents were Methodists
and didn't approve of alcohol, so I had a friend pick up a pint for
him once in a while. He hid it under his bunk.
When I came back from the army, I didn't
even ask what ever happened to Parker.
I could have asked my parents or my
uncle, but I didn't.
I'm truly sorry.
I really miss him.
He certainly deserved better.