An ode to dad

(I am Joe Wollam and I used to live near Calcutta. My mother taught school in the Beaver Local School District for several decades and retired as Dean of Women there. Dad was a staunch Republican until the Nixon years. He had a farm on the Old Fredericktown Road during all of his working life. He retired to Florida and lived there for about 10 years until his death. Many people in the area knew him well. His brother, Don, also lived on the same road, and he had another brother, Jay, who lived north of Fredericktown on state Route 170. After I wrote this “ode,” I felt many of his younger, old friends would enjoy reading it. He had no enemies that could be offended.)

Yes, an “ode,” but without stanza or rhyme. It’s a reflection that I have earned the right to use however I choose. I’ve entered my 82nd year of life and have many memories, but none are more profound than the ones I have about my dad. He was a farm-boy as most people were back in those days. His formal education ended when he was 14 years old, as was common then. But time and years have proven that there are many educated fools and that wisdom can be found anywhere.

He had black, curly hair that he parted in the middle of his head. His blue eyes danced with orneriness and humor. He was never employed by anyone except for when he did custom farming for the neighbors that lacked his skill and equipment. He married Alice, probably in 1923. She was a school teacher when she was only 18 years old. He would have been 22 and she was 21. She was very pretty even at her death of 83. They suffered the loss of a still-born son back in 1925, but then had a daughter in 1926, and another in 1932. I was their only son, born in 1936, and had the privilege of working at his side for nearly 20 years. Dad aged very slowly and claimed he was 39 for most of his life. When he was in his 80s, he finally admitted he was 60.

His language was spiked with colorful vernacular that my mother told me was the result of his lack of formal education. He loved colorful jokes and giggled about everything. Once I recall coming home from grade school and finding him and my “uncle” Bob on the roof of a shed they had built for housing machinery. (Nothing he owned ever sat outside in the weather). As I walked across the roof, he turned and held up his thumb that was splurting blood and said, “look at that d—, stupid thing, it got right in front of my hammer.” He enjoyed dirty jokes, but displayed a wonderful attitude about editing them when women were present. He was always kind to his animals, and only whipped me once — I had lied.

His ability to predict rainfall several days in advance was nearly uncanny. He would look at the sky, take deep breaths, and rub his hands together, then share his decision with me about how many days we had to make hay before the next rain. He was seldom mistaken!

His wisdom about spiritual things still amazes me. He would never go to church. He always said that it housed the biggest hypocrites in the community. Since I had become the choir director there, it always hurt my feelings that he refused to come hear the choir sing (which I thought was very good).

A few years after our marriage (1959), Carol and I were having deep studies about the veracity of the Bible and its various interpretations with various denominations. I had returned to OSU to gain qualifications to work as an animal nutritionist and selected electives to learn more about the Bible technically. It was a shock to both of us, when what we learned to be factual, came from door-to-door preachers that didn’t want money! Dad had been right all along. Many years later, he told me that I had done a “good thing” by leaving the churches and learning the real truth too!

When Dad was 65, he tore all the fingers off his left hand in a corn-picker and lived his remaining 24 years with a stub. He never complained about it — ever. When I visited him in a Pittsburgh hospital where he had plastic surgery done, he was still in ICU. I told him I had no sympathy at all for him since I knew that he knew better than to stick his hand in a running husking bed of a corn picker! Then I reminded him that he always had to “top” me (I had cut three fingers off my right hand when I was eight). We had a good laugh and the nurses came rushing in too see why his monitors had gone crazy.

This man was a great man. He taught me how to think and be deductive in my reasoning. He was kind to everyone, even the drunks who came to “borrow” money.

He walked me through the responsibilities of having a driver’s license with an unedited description about wrecks, girls and who would pay the damages.

I was delighted to finally read John 5:28-29. I’ll get to be with him again!

(Joe Wollam resides in Minerva.)