Where Dad Is

The wind blows sticks off trees to be picked up

This is my dad. He is almost 90 years old. Doctors often tell him now that he doesn’t need routine medical tests that older people get, because of his age.

It is a strange thing if you live to be old.

My dad grew up in Kansas during the Great Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. He was very poor. He had a brother and two sisters. I remember when his mom died.

When he was a kid, there were no jobs. People were starving. My dad says most kids were very skinny and had those big bellies like you see on kinds in starving African pictures.

When he was 10 he managed to get some work at a farm where they paid him with some food. He said that as he worked on the farm he started to fill out.

He said that Republicans took surplus farm food, bought it up, and dumped it in the ocean in an effort to raise prices so that profits could come back from scarcity. He also became a Republican later.

Dad’s family

He was happy when Roosevelt became President because the extra food that got bought up was instead sent to warehouses in cities instead of being thrown away in the ocean, and that food was distributed to starving people.

It was nice when you could get pork belly fat for meat. It spoiled quickly though. Nobody had refrigerators. But you could melt the fat into lard and it would keep longer and then you could eat the lard.

Trains came through town all the time loaded with men who left their homes looking for work. A man would hear a story about there being work in some town, and people would start flocking there, only to find nothing.

Eventually he started getting paid money for working on a farm in addition to food.

All the dirt roads that the farmers needed to use were never maintained by the rich farmers. They were too busy. It was the poor people who kept up and fixed the roads for no pay. Sometimes a poorer farmer might bring out a mule to help.

When the New Deal happened from Roosevelt, the roads really started to get fixed and so did the railroad.

My dad got married to my mom when they were teenagers in Dodge City, Kansas. He joined up with the Army. When his stint was done he got a job on the railroad between Kansas and New Mexico.

Mom and dad in Dodge City in the 50’s

They wanted to get out of Dodge. They heard rumors about a place called Seattle. They came here with a friend who had got a job at a military base.

My dad saw an ad in the Seattle paper from a company called Boeing who built airplanes. The ad said you didn’t need know anything, just come on down if you want a job.

Dad got hired and they taught him math and trigonometry. He wasn’t used to learning anything, but they were paying him a lot of money and he didn’t want to mess that up. He worked for Boeing the rest of his life until retiring.

He and my mom found some property here for a good price out away from the city. He could buy it with his wages and a bank loan. There was only one store nearby out here. You could take things from the store, and when you got your paycheck, you could cash it at that store and they would just take out what you owed for the things you took.

He built a house here with the help of friends from work. He also helped them build their houses. He sold a lot of his property to friends from work over the years. All of them are gone now and their property has been resold.

I came into the picture much later as an adopted child when they were in their 40’s.

My dad is lucky because he gets a pension that the aerospace union got for him and that gets added to his social security payments. This lets him buy food and pay property tax and his mortgage. He would have lost everything at his age, if he was back in the US of his childhood.

But property taxes go up and the prices of food and utilities keep going up. And he has lived longer than most people do. So his pension and social security could no longer easily cover the expenses.

When my mom was dying over several days I promised her that I would take care of him. She died that night.

I paid off his mortgage and bought the property and house from him and now he has extra money each month. But he insists on being the one to buy the food.

He tells me stories a lot. Most of the time I have heard the story already. He also shares ideas for inventions he’s imagined. I try to get him to write them down so I can help him follow through. But there are always sticks in the yard needing picked up. Or the jittery birds fed.

It’s a peculiar thing, a life. Just a single one. How and where a life starts. What you do and learn. And how the world changes around you.

The ego. The humility. The happenstance and the design.

My dad always wanted me to learn. And my mom, even more so. Our whole country has learned. So many things during all those years he’s been alive. The whole world.

He’d like some fried potatoes and onions right now. I get to make it. It’s comfort food on a cold day. Only for him, now, a still peculiar luxury: an olive oil base and hint of rosemary seasoning.