Friday, December 16, 2011

Middle-Aged Women Don't Bounce: Part 4

While I was in school that day, my father was working busily behind the scenes scouting out a car for me.  I can't tell you what a shock this was to me because my father was a tough character.  He and Miss H had a lot of the same personality traits except Dad didn't wear bright red lipstick, dye his hair black or wear pantsuits with proper foot attire. 

I had come along late in life for my folks, my dad was 45 when I was born, and by this time, he was 63 years old and still farming with no end in sight.  He was born on the farm he was still working, and though this sounds Abe Lincoln-ish, he was born in a log cabin.  The doctor who finally arrived to attend his debut to the world was a bit tipsy and forgot to fill out the paperwork, so it was some time later my grandparents remembered they'd never gotten a birth certificate for their sixth child.  Then they couldn't remember when he'd actually been born, so there was some debate back and forth until they finally settled on September 20-27, 1913.  The general consensus was it was around that time, anyway.  Dad finally picked the 24th when he had to send away for a birth certificate at age 62.  He said it sounded as good as any other day.

To put it mildly, there was no molly-coddling going on in my father's childhood, and there would be none in my late brother's or mine, either.  Dad was raised Old School, children are to be seen and not heard, and should at all times make themselves useful.  He had a love of reading and arithmetic and dreamed of going on to school past the eighth grade, but there was no money to buy better clothes and shoes, and his father had a farm to run.    Dad ended up staying on the farm he'd been born on for the rest of his life and though he was a good farmer, he was not a happy one.  I think his dreams (though he never spoke of them) were always for a different life, one away from blood, sweat and cow manure. 

My brother, Bob, was thirteen years older than me and had left home at nineteen to join the Army during the Viet Nam war.  Other kids were running to Canada or signing up for college in droves to escape the draft, but my brother went right down and enlisted.  I think it had more to do with his dislike of both higher education and farming than anything else, so off he went.

Bob had to go to the barn in the morning to milk cows before school with my parents.  When he left for basic training, I was six years old and we really didn't know (or like) each other very much.  He felt I was spoiled, and seeing our circumstances through his eyes, I'm sure it did look that way.   While he was gone, I became my father's right-hand man out of necessity.  Our farm was only 98 acres, but all Dad had left to help him run it was my mother and me. My father did not want me to milk cows in the morning before school, though.  I'm not sure why, but suspect it was because he didn't want me to be picked on for smelling like a farmer.   Back in those days, you didn't jump in the shower (we didn't have one) every day; you simply changed your clothes and washed up as fastidiously as you could in the kitchen sink.  Bath days were Saturday night.  I did, however, milk every night and helped with any and all field work I was capable of handling.

 When Bob's two year hitch was up, he came home a very different man than the farm boy who had left.  He was only home about a month and burning the late night oil and doing a little carousing. His girlfriend had taken up with someone else in his absence and he was restless.  And angry.  There was only room for one angry man under our roof, so Dad took matters into his own hands and said if Bob was going to live at home, he was going to keep decent hours and help with the farm work.  Bob hated farming and refused.  Dad said he'd then have to pay $50 a month rent.  This incensed my brother no end.  Ironically, with Dad's help, he got himself a car, a job (in the same town I was now headed for) and an apartment all in quick succession.  My mother never got over it, to this day she still feels she should have stuck up for her son, but that was that.  Being his sister, and now being a mother myself of a 21 year old man, I can see it now from two different angles; I think it was the right thing to do in some regards.  He was much happier on his own.  For awhile.  

Anyway, while I was in school that fateful day attempting to wrap my head around my future, my father was out trying to buy me a car.  A new car.  I didn't know this was the plan.  I hadn't asked for a car, either.  Ever.  I realize how spoiled this makes me sound, but trust me, Dad was not a push-over in any way.  He had dropped me off at the school door that morning and at some point after breakfast gone to another little town eight miles away to haggle with a car dealer on a brand-spanking new 1976 Chevy Nova.  (Alison, if you're reading this, quit laughing!) 

I didn't know anything about this when I stepped off the school bus that night.  Mom was baking again, the woman was a tireless worker even though her day had started at 5AM and wouldn't be over to well after 10PM, being a farm wife she had unending chores in the barn and the house.  I still don't know how she did it, but then, being a teenager, I took her for granted.  Ingrate that I was.

Turns out, Mom hadn't known about Dad's adventure, either.  My getting a job so suddenly was such an unsettling thing that we were all sort of spinning in circles.  Dad was always a 'take the bull by the horns' kinda guy and he'd gone off on a car hunt alone unbeknownst to either of us.  We didn't find his absence unusual, he frequented a few bars in our little town and would often come home when we were already in the barn doing the evening milking. 

That Monday night, though, he came home with Big News.  I was to wait for him after school on Tuesday and we were going to go to the Chevy (my folks always pronounced it 'shivy') garage and see what price the dealer in town would give us.  He already had a number on a little business card in the front pocket of his bib overalls but he wanted to see if he could get the guys in town to squeak under it.  I took all this in with amazement, having to finally sit down on a milk stool before I fell down in the alley.  I was going to get a new car?  And who was going to pay for it?

Well, he had that all worked out.  In his slightly inebriated state, he sternly told me that he would pay for this new car in cash, but I was going to pay him back in installments.  Now that I was employed, I should be able to make car payments of $200 or more a month and still set some aside for savings.  As long as I kept working on the farm at night after working in the office, I could live at home for free and he would not charge me any rent or interest on the car loan.  However, if I reneged on the deal, the car would be his.  End of story.

In the space of less than twelve hours I had gone from an 18 year old kid to a woman of the world with a car loan and payments hanging over my head.  This grown-up world was not all that great.  I got up off the milk stool on wobbly legs and took the milker off the poor cow who was by now, bone dry.  I agreed to his terms, because they were fantastically fair. 

I never felt I'd grown up 'poor' because by the time I came along, we always had plenty to eat and a roof over our heads.  Like just about everyone else, we always had to be careful with money, though.  Always.  My father had grown up poor and never forgot what it was like to go to bed hungry as a kid, and though my mother was eight years younger, she had also come through some unbelievably tough times, including the Great Depression.  They knew the value of a penny.  And a penny saved was truly a penny earned in those times.    That's why my father buying me a new car was such a stunning development.  I don't think he could have shocked me any more if he'd come home wearing Miss H's curly black hair.  I went to bed that night and tossed and turned.  How was this all going to work out?


Alison said...

Wow! It's interesting how much we have in common (and I have by now stopped laughing at the Nova). I also grew up with an older dad who wavered between depression and anger (he didn't drink, but his two older brothers were alcoholics and his father had been one too). I had more or less the same deal with him on my first car. No brother, but two sisters, one of whom definitely resented me for being (in her eyes) the spoiled youngest child. She was a hell-raiser too.

Looking forward to reading the rest of the story. I can feel your fear and excitement at having that first job in the big smelly town.

Anonymous said...


Toni - Signature Gardens said...

I had to laugh about the Saturday bath time. That's how we did it, too....and my 3 sisters and I had to share bath water! Eeeewww! We had to take turns on who got to go first and who got the dregs of bath water! Ha! (This is when we were little, mind you). Obviously your dad had a soft side, too. Can't wait to read on...I think Sharon got lost in the shuffle somewhere...and there's a bruised coccyx out there, too. I'm sure it will all come together...I'm hooked on the story now!