Dad was one of 13 children. I know they didn’t have much in the way of material things and I’m not sure how much affection was shown while Dad and his brothers and sisters were growing up. I would guess, based on things I remember about Dad while I was growing up, that there weren’t a lot of hugs and kisses.
I think my grandparents probably had to work so hard just to survive that there was only time and energy for the bare basics. What was yours was yours as long as you could hold on to it. I’m no psychologist but I know those growing years and the events that happened helped shape Dad’s character and personality. Looking back now as an adult and remembering bits of conversation between Dad and his siblings I can understand how he came to be who he was.
I remember one time when Dad and a couple of his brothers were target practicing using shotguns and he decided I was old enough to learn to shoot. He handed me a 12 gauge, showed me how to load it, told me to tuck it in tight to my shoulder and aim; if I didn’t it would kick and knock me on my rear. I didn’t tuck it in and down I went on my rear just like Dad said. I think he knew that was going to happen and that they would all laugh, including Dad. I didn’t like being laughed at and I didn’t want to do it anymore, but Dad told me to get up and try again. He had me keep at it until I could handle that shotgun and hit the target with accuracy. I learned not to give up.
Bills were always paid first, a little set aside for savings, and groceries bought with what was left. Dad called the bit of savings his “tuck”. If you wanted something and couldn’t afford it, you saved for it or went without until you could pay for it. More often than not it was go without. As far as Dad’s “tuck” went, that was generally his to use for what he wanted, be it a new gun or coon dog. While we lived in the city, Mom would sometimes work outside the home at part-time jobs for extra money. Once we moved to the country, however, having only one car meant Mom worked in the home exclusively so she had to work within Dad’s budget and manage with whatever money he gave her.
I applied for my first job the day I turned 16, was hired and started work that weekend. I worked 5:00 am to 2:30 pm every weekend, on holidays and summer vacations. If needed, I worked double shifts. I also paid room and board. I did not mind one bit. I was becoming an adult and learning to provide for myself, and the money went to Mom. I learned that nothing is free. If you want something you work for it.
Whining didn’t get you out of doing something you didn’t like. There were lots of things my sisters and I hated doing like picking rocks to clear an overgrown yard so grass seed could be planted. It didn’t matter to Dad. If he said pick rocks we picked rocks or whatever else needed to be done until it was finished. You don’t give up or do it half-assed (Dad’s words). There was no such thing as “I can’t” or “I don’t want to”. You did what needed to be done and you did it the best you could.
There was one exception that I can remember. Dad would butcher chickens and we kids had to help clean them. He’d butcher the birds outside but the worse part was the cleaning of the birds was done at the kitchen table. A large pot of water was brought to boil on the kitchen stove. Dad would dip the birds in the boiling water and then we plucked the feathers. Dad would then burn the pin feathers off over the flame of the kitchen stove. The stench of burnt feathers and chicken entrails is not pleasant and the odor would linger for a while in the kitchen after we were done. At some point I decided I wasn’t going to do this again. Dad told me “If you don’t help with this you don’t get to eat chicken”. That was fine with me. “I won’t eat chicken” I told him and after that I didn’t help with cleaning chickens again. Dad’s rule about not eating if you didn’t help held and I was alright with that. I learned about choices and consequences.
Sometimes Dad would take us with him when he’d run his coon hound at night. We always looked forward to going with him even though he’d stay out for hours at a time. That is probably why we were only able to go with him on weekends. Often one or more of his brothers would join us. One night in particular stands still stands out in my memory so many years later.
We were at another Uncle’s farm; Dad, Uncle Nick, myself and another sister but I don’t remember which one. We were all together in an open field surrounded by woods on both sides and there was enough moonlight that we could see the valley below us as the mists started slowing forming.
It was late Summer/early Autumn and in my mind I can still see that night sky. It was so clear and the stars so bright you felt you could reach up and touch them. The night air was a mix of warm and cool breezes and carried the sound of Dad’s dog baying in the distance. I can remember the chirping sound of peepers all around us, and the earthy scent of the surrounding woods and the fresh-cut hay from the field we were in.
I remember how we sat together on the ground in that field just being there in the moment. Dad and Uncle Nick were talking, sometimes in Russian, and it felt so comforting to be there with them. I wish I had the right words so anyone reading this would be able to feel that moment the way we did and I still do. I remember laying down on the ground, looking up at the night sky and eventually falling asleep to the sound of Dad’s and Uncle Nick’s low voices.
I learned that it’s the simple moments in life that make the best memories.
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