I didn't know him very well. My grandmother, his wife, had an untreated mental illness and for most of her life made me happy to be living several states away - truly my only memory of her is of her shouting at my mother while I cried in the family dinning room. So we stayed away, mostly, until after she passed when I was away in college the first time. It was then that my mom had the opportunity to really have a relationship with her father, and me through her a little bit. But it's not easy to start those things as an adult when I'm pretty self-involved (such is the route to adulthood, no matter what anyone says), and by the time I realized how cool he was, he wasn't in a position to communicate in the ways that I did (say over the phone - he never wore his hearing aids, and email was a foreign entity, and me and letters is a laughable combination).
So let me tell you what I do know about him.
His mother was ill with rubella when she gave birth to him on the family farm, and he was originally thought to be stillborn. They put him in a pan on the back porch to take care of his mother, and one of his aunts heard a strange sound. She went to look and found him not only alive, but crying, and they made a home-made incubator out of a washbin filled with water set next to the stove, and those were his first days of life. Born at the end of the Great War in 1917, he grew up during the depression and the way they made it through was by going hungry, and canning everything they could get their hands on. But he had a pony he rode to school - they were able to feed it because a relative or a friend down the road gave them the horse feed. He did trick riding too. He started high school but had to take a year off to go work on the farm, and finished a few years later in the 1930s. I don't know what his first paying job was, but I know he was working the farm at 14 years old.
I know he was a self-taught mechanic. But the kind of mechanic who didn't just work on motorcycles (though my mom does remember waking up on a Saturday morning to a row of motorcycles lined up in front of their house because all his friends who had them brought them to him to be fixed). Give him something with moving parts and he would make it work. He worked on grain refineries and manufacturing machines and consulted all over the county helping people fix their tractors and their farm equipment. More than that though, he was a mechanical genus. When one of the companies that had automated had trouble with a machine they'd bought that was supposed to actually machine *parts* but wasn't working right. They brought my grandfather in and rather than look at the plans he sat down and watched this machine for a while... and eventually he created a part to fix the machine -- just from observing it. He'd even built a giant garage to be able to do all this repairing, and in addition collected antique tools (if you watch the slideshow you'll see him with his tools). After he retired he lent his skills to the Historical Society that had a functioning steam-run carousel, and even in his last years when he wasn't strong enough to go out without a wheelchair, when my Aunt and Uncle took him to one of the Historical Days celebrations and he found the carousel not working, he got up out of the chair, repaired the machine, and sat back down.
Though I don't think he was a demonstrative man brining up his children, he took them outside everywhere - hunting for fossils and on picnics, to the family farm and then later to the farmland he leased to grow things on. Mom remembers riding on the back of the tractor and the machines that tilled the land --in ways that would definitely be considered unsafe now-- learning how to till and grow. It's not really a surprise she has a green thumb, though I think she's the only one of his children to really take up that mantle. His children also remember being forced to sell the extra corn and potatoes on the roadside when there was a bumper crop. He raised my cousin as one of his own daughters as my Aunt had her pretty early, and she remembers him as a man of great regularity who took joy in taking them to museums and zoos.
Apparently while he was walking out with my grandmother, her father finally blocked the door one night and asked my grandfather if he was ever going to marry her - and made it pretty clear that it was marry her or stop seeing her all together. Clearly my grandfather committed right then, and if you watch the slideshow below it begins with his wedding photograph, and you can see the two of them as cute grinning newlyweds about halfway through. It's clear they were pleased as punch that day, both of them with the biggest smiles and my grandmother looking like she's about to laugh. She was 18 and he was 22, which was maybe a little older (and possibly why my great-grandfather forced the issue? who knows).
He was also a self taught musician, and loved everything from guitars to mandolins. His friendship with the Pastor that did his eulogy began when the Pastor brought him an un-repairable 12-string guitar to repair. Surprise, surprise, Grandpa took on the task and gave him back a repaired instrument. He wrote poetry and song about the history of Kansas and in particular about Abilene, about his life and his pony and about cowboys and his family, and performed in little places in Abilene. My cousin, who he raised, remembers him playing his harmonica with his band (made up, of course, of his friends) in their basement.
In his later years he loved bolo ties and he was always dapper in hats. Every photograph of him, even in his last year, he's looking into the camera grinning, and it's clear that he took pleasure in his family and his world until the end.
want to see a slideshow about his life? click me
(a poem by my Grandfather Lee F. Page)
The big percherons go with patient tread
Along the corn row with bobbing head
With mighty strength they walk all day
I feed them well with corn, oats, and hay
No puffing and blowing for our big teams
To me they are a part of the finest of scenes.
I remember how to hitch a double span
With check-rein and jockey-stick on either hand
There was evener, single and double tree.
As I sit and dream it comes back to me
A two ton team was mighty big
They had a brechen harness with a western rig.
I dream of a land of plenty not so long ago
I smell the fresh scent of the green corn row
Early in the morning before day light
I threw down the hay by the lantern bright
Their breath I remember was sweet to me
Back at the old barn is where I long to be.
There was Pat and Queen, Dan and Jack
Oh to sit once again on that broad back
The big and mighty grey, gentle as a lamb
And his big team mate, old black Sam
Plenty of good oats and clean prairie hay
Was all they asked to work all day.
My old friends, they seemed to know
Where to step and where to go
Hour after hour with the reins in my hand
In patient harmony we worked the land
There was the sweat of honest toil
The pleasant smell of new turned soil.
There was tug and chain, ring and neck yoke,
Collar and hame, bridle and bit, and tongue of oak
I remember how to make a hackamore yet
How to use the thumb to put in the bit
Oh say friend could you still throw a harness on?
Do you still recall those days that are gone?
I remember our saddler, a beautiful mare
The queen of the corral, the smartest one there
She could run like the wind and turn on a dime.
We brought in the cattle many a time
Without any rein, just the touch of a hand
She knew more about a cow than most any man.
I treasure those memories of another day
Man's most faithful slave, I would say
And cursed be he who a horse would strike
Trading anger for faithfulness wouldn't be right
So let's give honor to one of the best
Who gave us horsepower to win the west?
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