Monday, August 27, 2012

Memories of a Good Man

In 1944, my grandfather hired a young man to work as a farm hand on the land he had inherited from an elderly cousin. At the time, my grandfather was working for the Southern Pacific railroad, and was planning to move to the farm full time upon his retirement three years hence. The young man was 32 years old in 1944, the same age as my father. He was paid a small salary plus given a small house to live in down the lane on the farm.

When my grandfather died in 1961, my father inherited the farm, and our family spent the hot summer months at the farm.

The young man continued to work for my father and live in that little house. He was easy to spot as we drove down the mile long lane. He was tall and lanky, with a long face, a quick smile, and a sparkle in his eyes. He would look up from whatever he was doing and give a wave.

He  married and had some children. All told, he and his wife raised fourteen children in that small house on my grandfather's farm. During those summers, our family would sit outside as the evening cooled. The distance between the two houses was probably a half mile as the crow flies. We would hear the laughter of children, and sometimes the crack of a baseball bat, from the little house down the lane.

My father eventually stopped growing tobacco after the dangers of smoking became known, and both he and my mother had quit the habit. But during the 1940s and through to the mid 1960s, the main crop of the farm was tobacco, and harvesting tobacco has to be done by hand. I learned from my father a little about the process of harvesting it.

Without going into detail, it's a labor intensive process.

I guess, back in the day, if you wanted to make any money, you had to grow lots of the stuff. And you needed to hire extra people during the process of the picking, sorting, and hanging it to dry. The young man's children provided much of that labor.

One time, when I was visiting my parents, one of the young man's children drove the taxicab that delivered me to the airport. He told me about working summers harvesting the tobacco. Hard, hot work, but he spoke of it as a gift. I felt humbled riding in the back of the cab.

When my father died in 2001, he was 91. The young man and his wife were still living in the little house. Our family sold the land, but the young man and his wife stayed on, until age and financial concerns made it more practical to move into a retirement home.

The young died earlier this year at the age of 99 years and seven months. His family memorialized him as being the cornerstone of a house full of love and laughter. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the crack of bat on balls and the sound of children's laughter across the hot summer field.

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