Tag Archives: fathers

Father’s Day

My father, ca. 1970

Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes. ~Gloria Naylor

Memories of my father have reached that hazy, mythical point where the things I remember are only fractions of moments, pieces of time, out of context. He has been gone from my physical life for far longer than he was ever in it. I lost him right before Christmas, my senior year of high school, when I was barely seventeen. He’s been gone for almost thirty. His birthday next month would have been his ninety-ninth.

My father in his mother's arms, April 1913



I can’t truly say that I knew him all that well when he was alive, to be honest. I mean, how well does any child, or teenager, really “know” their parent. I know the things he taught me — a sense of self, a respect for history, a love of family, a comfort with patience, a faith in things greater than myself.

I know the facts of his life. He was born, grew up, lived, and died in the same town. History shaped his life, his views. Young during World War I, he came of age during the Great Depression

High school senior picture, 1930

and was excused from military duty during World War II because he was a farmer. After war’s end, he spent his days farming, his Sunday mornings in church. He lived in a tiny house next to a portion of the land he farmed, with his mother (widowed in 1951) and one of his sisters, who had been tragically widowed just prior to her twentieth birthday, after a marriage of less than a year. His sister never remarried. They traveled occasionally, including a trip to the Rose Parade, Disneyland, and Pike’s Peak. That trip had to be around 1953 or 1954, because in one of the slides, my father is at Disneyland, standing next to a sign that reads “Coming soon: Tomorrowland” which opened in July 1955. He once described life then as simple, quiet, and one where he did a lot of reading and thinking.

Mom and Dad's wedding, Nov 1963

The quiet and simple part certainly changed when he got together with my mother. There are many ways to tell the story of my mother and father, but, without question, my favorite version is the one my mother wrote in her memoirs:
On November 3, 1963, I married Richard E. Phillips, one of Kenneth’s closest friends and co-workers in our last church. Dick was a fifty year old bachelor, an elder in our church, and a rather quiet, shy person. I’m sure it was rough on him though, marrying a thirty-eight year old woman with children eight, nine, and eleven. I kept asking him for years after we were married, “Oh, Dick, wouldn’t you really love to go back over home and read a book in peace and quiet?”

But he always answered, “No, Bonnalee, you can’t imagine what it was like. To have a really good day, or as a farmer would say, a really good year, and no one to share the pleasure with.”

I must tell you about Dick, really a great man. I noticed him looking at me in church one Sunday, and I suddenly kind of liked “that look.” I knew he would never approach me. One day, I needed a slide projector and knew he had one. I called him and asked to borrow his. He said, “Yes, do you know how to run it?”

Being a wise woman, I said, “No. Would you mind bringing your’s over and showing me how?”

That night he came with it and brought his pictures of Disneyland to show the children while he was showing me how to run the machine. When he started to leave, he said, “Bonnalee, I’d like to take you and the children out to dinner sometime. Would you go?”

I said, “Yes, Dick, that might be good for all of us. But not just yet.” He sighed, rather heavily. I asked what was the matter, that I really would go with him, but just wasn’t ready to date yet.

He said, “I’m just glad that’s over. That’s the first time I’ve ever asked a girl for a date.” Several days later, he called and asked if I could come visit for the evening and this began our beautiful relationship. Dick used to call before he’d come over to the house to see me. He was always a man to respect me in every way, including my time, my friends, my thoughts. He was always right beside me but never interfered. I was always very careful to include Dick in everything, because he only came into a situation when invited, out of respect and a sense of shyness, but really rather old-fashioned and lonely. But Dick and I were always able to laugh together so easily and many times at ourselves.

He was fifty-three when I was born. Although my mother came as a package deal with three children whom he loved deeply, I was without question his baby girl. Even I will freely admit I had the man wrapped around my little finger. Like my mother, I seemed to be able to talk him into things that he probably would not have done on his own. Like, for example, learning how to turn a jump rope

A typical Sunday afternoon

or towing his daughter around in a wagon behind the mower. Many of my habits and interests come directly from his influence, including my love of gardening and watching things grow as well as my love of history and good books.

Most of what I remember about him though is much like how our pastor described him in the eulogy he delivered at my father’s funeral that cold December morning. They’d been good friends, and my father had been a member of that church his entire life. I think he captured him perfectly: He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, his words showed profound insights. His remarks were often of the kind to be turned over and over in the mind and examined for more and more shades of meaning — understatements that held attention long after the conversation had ended. To me as friend and pastor, his remarks were always expressions of support and encouragement. His quiet and faithful support of his church, and his profound faith, are well-known to all here who knew him. He did not demand perfection of himself or of other people. Instead, he did his best as he understood it, and trusted in God. He died as he had lived — quietly and peacefully. What is left for us is to find the strength for today’s sorrow, and the strength for tomorrow’s tasks, in the very kind of faith in God and love shared between people that Richard Phillips demonstrated to us.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Me and my Dad

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Farm Girl Meets Farmville

John Deere tractor

It took civilization thousands of years to get us off the farm, & Facebook just one year to send us back. ~ George Takei

I resisted for at least a week.  Maybe two, or even three.  Come “farm with your friends,” the banner taunted.  Every time I launched Facebook and read the updates from my friends, their farming progress would dot my screen, luring me to join them.  Like a lemming over the cliff, I shortly thereafter planted my first crop.  I don’t remember exactly when.  Farmville, the Facebook farming application that has swept more than seventy-four million fans into its grasp, launched in June 2009, so it was sometime shortly after that.  Probably July.  Since then, I have been a faithful part of a daily farm bureau reaching around the globe who log on, at the rate of twenty-eight million times per day, to farm their little piece of digital Zynga earth.  At last count, I have planted 152,673 crops.  I am addicted.

My addiction comes naturally; farming is in my blood, no matter how much I wanted to leave it behind me.  I grew up in a small farm town in the middle of Illinois, where my dad was a farmer as was his father before him.  The farm was strictly crops–corn, wheat, and beans, planted with predictable regularity.  We never raised traditional farm animals, like cows or pigs, though I had friends who did. Occasionally, my father seemed quietly disappointed in not having a son, so that he could pass along the farm to another generation.  Like his name, that legacy would stop with me.

My father taught me tasks when he needed my help.  For my third birthday, he gave me a long magic wand which he claimed would search out elusive buried treasure.  For hours, I swept it back and forth across the gravel floor of the barn, just like he showed me.  Occasionally, pieces of pirate booty, encased in ordinary dirt and grime to hide it from riff-raff and thieves, would fly up from the gravel to latch, with magnetic magic, to the end of my wand.  A night soaking in a barrel of used oil revealed a shiny piece of silver to my young pirate glee.  Years later, lurking in the nuts and bolts aisle, I learned that pirate silver could be purchased for pennies a piece at the local hardware store.  As I grew older, the tasks grew in responsibility.  After I was taller than the soybeans in May, I learned to handle a hoe and walk the half-mile rows, taking out weeds and stray corn so his fields wouldn’t look like succotash from the highway.  I had to be that tall so as not to disappear among the waist-high soybeans.  That first summer, I was just a hat and a hoe to those driving by on the highway.  My non-farm friends thought I was talking about my dog when I told them I spent the summer “walking beans.”  Later, but still long before I got a learner’s permit, let alone a driver’s license, I handled a tractor with skill, if not grace.  The various levers and pedals fascinated me, but I was mystified by the changing of gears.  One early attempt was only a few inches shy of disaster when I nearly took out the farm’s propane tank.  “Try not to hit anything you can’t replace,” was my dad’s sage advice.  “Or that explodes.”

Raised in a household where John Deere green was a decorative color scheme, I once asked my father why he always bought Deere tractors.  He shrugged, “Dutch sells Deeres.”  “Dutch” graduated high school in the same class as my father in 1930, at the start of the Great Depression.  He also happened to own the local Deere dealership, two villages to the north.  My father’s simple statement explained a lifelong brand loyalty as well as a friendship.  The same logic applied to the family cars; his classmate “Pony” owned the hometown Ford dealership and was certainly more trustworthy than the “Class of ’52 kid” who ran the Chevy place.  Recently, I purchased some equipment in Farmville, so that I could plow, plant, and harvest my digital dirt with greater efficiency.  At the time, the only tractor choices were girly pink or International Harvester red.  I felt an immediate sense of disloyalty, as though purchasing non-green farm equipment somehow violated the family honor.  I bought a John Deere coffee cup and a tractor-a-day calendar to keep next to the computer, just in case.

I don’t remember the moment I decided to leave the farm behind me.  I doubt there was a single moment, probably more a combination of things.  It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy farm life.  I love the rhythm and flow of the seasons, watching plants grow and mature in nature’s own time.  I remember spending hours driving a tractor up and down the field, living many lives in my head as I daydreamed of things yet to be.  I remember the kindness of friends and small-town neighbors, people you spent your entire life living beside.  Sharing local news over coffee at the local restaurant or in line at the grocery store.  Knowing who was on vacation because their pew was empty on Sunday morning.  But there were many things I didn’t like about farm life, too.  The hard scrabble for money when it was a bad year for the crops, the daily unpredictability of Mother Nature.  The long hard days spent putting in crops in the spring and harvesting them in the fall.  The solitude, the loneliness, the knowledge that most often my father was by himself, working under his own tightly run organization and by his own rules, and the responsibilities he carried because of that.  Perhaps that is why his shoulders were so broad, and so bowed.

I return to my digital farm more regularly than I care to admit.  Part of the reason is, like the seventy-plus million other players, I respond to the competitive aspects of the game.  I work hard to earn my ribbons and awards.  I spend time building my farm so that it looks like something that could function in the world outside the computer, trying not to mix my soybeans with my morning glories or my pigs with my chickens.  At least the beans don’t need to be digitally walked.  I can tell a lot about my Farmville neighbors by looking at their farms.  Some of my old high school friends, who grew up like me with farming all around them, rotate their crops with skill and have digital acreage that looks, well,  like an actual farm.  Others, I suspect, have never set foot on a farm.  Their fields are put together like a can of Veg-All, and their animals lined up like boot-camp soldiers for inspection.

And it is during moments like that when, just for second, I’m back on the farm with my father, walking row after row of beans and learning all he has to teach me.  As I click to plant another row of digital crops, the faintest trace of wet, loamy earth teases my nostrils and I feel my feet sink into the evenly turned dirt between the rows.  When I select my un-green digital tractor, I hear the distinctive and almost musical thwump-thump of a John Deere tractor firing up in the distance.  As I survey my portion of the Zyngian world of Farmville, I imagine my father looking over my shoulder, wondering how on earth his daughter ended up a farmer.

[Note: This post is #6 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge.  Please see the button at the lower left of the page for more information.]

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