Father’s Day is a reminder of years far in the past, when we sang “Faith of Our Fathers” from the Broadman Hymnal at the little country church in the northeast section of Johnson County in middle Georgia. Church was central to our lives.
There was no television, and movies were bad for you unless they featured Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Johnny Mack Brown in big white hats, making miscreants pay for their misdeeds.
We sang “Faith of Our Fathers” slowly, almost funereal, which allowed for reflection. I always looked down front to see my father, tanned and weather-beaten from long hours in the sun, singing along reverently.
He made a living, but life was a no-frills challenge for him and my mother. His assets were hard work, good health and faith. He didn’t want any handouts. Suggest welfare to him and he would have spit in your eye. He would have been embarrassed to accept a transfer payment.
All he wanted was his health and a shower of rain when the crops needed it. There was no health insurance, which influenced his view that football was bad for me and my brother. A broken leg and the resulting medical bills would put stress on the family budget. He simply could not afford the cost of “fixing” a broken bone.
A good crop, and we are talking about cotton, would mean that he could pay off what he had borrowed in the spring to fund his annual operation. He could buy a few clothes for the kids, make an extra payment or two on our Chevrolet pickup and put a few dollars in the bank. He paid rent on the farm where we lived and owned his own piece of land after I had finished college.
We never went out to dinner. My parents never took a vacation. Their goal was to see their children enroll in college and enjoy a better life than they had lived.
The early life I experienced was austere, but we were never destitute. The rest of the family, his brothers and sisters and their families, along with our neighbors, experienced the same lifestyle – work, church and radio. Eddy Arnold and Hank Williams were our best friends, at least emotionally.
It was important to listen to the weather forecast early in the morning. The weatherman might bring good news or bad. When the crops needed rain, there was always hope that he would say precipitation might be on the way.
You kept your hopes up for rain all during the growing season. Then when it was harvest time in the fall, you worried that the weather man might bring the bad news that a hurricane was likely to come up from Florida and ruin our cotton harvest. There was always great urgency to get the cotton picked before the weather brought abundant rain we prayed for in the spring and summer.
A prolonged drought never insulted my father. His faith was such that he believed every day of his 92 years on earth that he had no quarrel with God’s will.
If He didn’t want it to rain, we would suffer without out contempt. But when a thunderhead came up and moved across our acreage, there was rejoicing in the form of humility that our prayers had been answered.
At dinner, as we enjoyed peas, corn and butter beans from the garden, which he had grown with tender loving care, everybody bowed their head as my father offered thanks for the rain. Rain showers were showers of blessings. It was appropriate to give thanks for our good fortune.
On this day each June, I often think about my father and how he could make do. He gloried in putting up for the winter.
First it was the mason jars, which were sealed with painstaking care. One spoiled jar was a loss to be taken seriously. Then community canning came about, and finally, the glorious deep freezer.
The freezer enriched our lives. You could fill the freezer in the summer and it sustained us all winter.
There were always fences to mend, firewood to cut and something to repair. Hogs to slop and cows to milk. Martin gourds to hang and traps to set for any unwelcome varmint that might come sneaking around our chicken house.
When the day came that he owned his own farm, it was a signature moment in his life. Never a day went by that he didn’t think of his property as a gift from above. Life was hard for him, but, in his mind, life was good.
My father always gave thanks for the blessings in his life, however small, and I give thanks for him and the lessons his example taught me.