Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My dad...

My Dad is one in a million.

When I was growing up, my dad was a County Extension Agent. He worked with farmers to find ways to grow better crops, and with the townsfolk to find ways to grow better flowers and lawns.  Another part of his job, was working with the 4-H program. I was highly involved in 4-H.  4-H was honestly a whole family deal; we all pledged our heads, hands, heart and health to our community, our country, and our world! J

One of the things he was most proud of was that he started a “Corn Shucking” contest in Oakley, Kansas which was the first town I lived in. It’s a town of about 1200 people and it is still home in a way. That shucking contest grew into a national competition and he was always very proud of that.

Never been to a corn shucking contest? Really?! LOL!! Well, people walk alongside an old fashioned horse drawn wagon and they use a hook attached to a glove and they shuck as many ear of corn as they can and throw it into the wagon by a certain time. The person who shucks the most, wins.

I still remember walking the corn fields after the contest and picking up ears of corn that had been thrown but had not met their intended target so I could feed them to my horses as a treat.

Occasionally, he went to conferences out of town and each time he took a trip, he always brought home the travel soaps and shampoos for me! I could not wait to see what it was going to be each time. He always brought some little trinket from the place he had visited.  Many times it was a pen or notepad from the meeting spot. It was rarely anything that cost money; we didn’t have a ton of that but it we always had enough. The one thing I remember the most was an ink pen he brought home from Houston that had an astronaut land-rover inside it and as you tipped the pen, the rover moved up and down the length of the pen. It was awesome and was a prized possession, I think I still have it somewhere.

Dad is the only person in the world who may love chocolate more than me. He always had a little dish of York Peppermint Patties beside his recliner (mom and dad has his and her recliners). He ate a few patties each day. I wasn’t supposed to eat his peppermint patties, but if I looked at him and gave him just the right smile, he would hand me one on the sly. Mom always said it would spoil my appetite.  And it usually did but I was okay with that!

There was one time that we shared an entire bag of chocolate chips, mom was not pleased when we both were sick later from all of that chocolate, but it was soo worth it! Dad and I had a lot of chocolate snacking secret adventures that mom never knew about.  :)

Every night after I got into bed, dad would bring me a glass of kitchen water (yes…I could taste the difference and would send him back if it was bathroom water) and he would lie down on the other side of my bed until I fell asleep. He would always cover his eyes with his forearm. I remember asking him why he did that and he said it was habit from being in the army. Apparently it wasn’t dark when he wanted to sleep and that “turned off the lights”.

My dad even played dolls and Barbies with me. Okay, not for very long, but he did occasionally which was pretty cool.

He bought me my first horse, Peanuts, who was a Shetland Pony. They are notoriously stubborn little beasts. He told me that if I could ride a Shetland, I could ride anything. And later, at about the age of 5, he bought me my first big horse, Flick. He was a beautiful palomino who was as sweet and gentle as could be.

Dad and I used to play tag on horses all the time. We would run our horses as fast as we could and try to avoid “it”.  Sometimes we would just race and I usually won. I tried to convince myself that I had actually earned those victories.

There was only one time that Flick got away from me. I was probably in kindergarten or first grade.  We were just riding along, not racing, and Flick decided he was going home. He bolted, headed home full speed, and I could not stop him even though I tried repeatedly. I could hear dad behind me, running his horse as hard as he could telling me to just hold on and that he was coming. It’s the only time I have ever been scared while riding a horse.  Flick got right up to the gate by the barn and stopped as fast as he had started. I flew straight up over the top of him and fortunately landed in a big pile of haybales.

I had never seen my dad mad, but boy was Flick in trouble. He rode him for a long time and I think they had a few lessons, although I don’t really know how that went because I was much too busy crying while mom checked me out to make sure nothing was broken. Then dad brought Flick back over and made me get back on him and ride again. He said if you get thrown off, you have to get right back on.

Turns out that is a pretty good lesson in life too!

Dad taught me how to drive. It began when I was really little, probably about 4 or 5. (yes, really) He used to let me sit on his lap in the pickup and steer the wheel and shift the gears when he pushed in the clutch pedal.  Then I graduated to using the clutch and brake to move the pickup along while he and my brother threw bales of hay in the back. It didn't matter that I couldn't see where we were going because they would tell me left or right. :)  When I was tall enough, I got to drive him and my brother on their hunting trips. As long as we were on dirt roads, I was allowed.  I was probably about 10.  It was a different world back then.  We even cut the seatbelts out of the truck because they got in the way of the door with the gun-rack in the rear window. LOL!! Yup…I’m a redneck!

Ross Nelson had more patience than any person I have ever met. He never visibly got rattled or upset, no matter what I did. THAT was pretty amazing.

Dad was the one who got sent out to bring my brothers home when they missed curfew.  With my mom, if you were five minutes late, he was sent to retrieve you. He never had to come for me though…that’s the advantage of being the little sister. It didn’t seem like it was a really good idea to have dad bring you home to mom. So I was on time, always! ;) 

And he was even the person who taught me how to parallel park. He used mom’s car, a tractor, and a fence rail became the curb. I had to maneuver the pickup between them and each time I was successful, he would move them closer together until I could park perfectly in between the smallest of spaces.

He taught me how to dig post holes and build a fence, he taught me how to test electric fence to make sure it was still working, I learned how to burn tumbleweeds that were caught in the fence row, we burned pasture fields to return the nitrogen to the soil, he taught me how to shoot a gun, and he even taught me how to destroy prairie dog towns that popped up in our pastures. To city people, prairie dogs are pretty cute but when they are in your pasture or field and you have horses, they are the enemy.  If a horse catches a leg in a hole and breaks their leg, you have to put them down. So, we used to get a big tank of diesel fuel, pour a bunch into the prairie dog holes, cover the holes and enjoy a quiet prairie dog setting for a long time. We weren't really very environmentally friendly in the 70's. And...I told ya’ I was a redneck! Let’s add Tomboy to the list too! LOL!

I learned how to drive a tractor and a combine from my dad.  I learned how to operate the tractor about the same time I learned how to drive the pickup. I loved the throttle lever that you slid up and down to increase or decrease your speed depending on how many bumps were in the path. He used to sit on the wheel cover and bounce all around while I sped back and forth for hours.

When I got older, probably fourth grade, I got to take the tractor out on my own. I’m pretty sure dad was glad to have me go solo.

I think my dad is the one who taught me to be fearless. We were always careful but I was never afraid to try anything!

He came to every piano recital, flute solo, band concert, cheerleading opportunity, horse show, vocal solo, musical, every single thing I ever did. I don’t remember either of my parents missing anything.  It was the same for my brothers and their activities.

My dad has always been a very soft-spoken, gentle soul. My dad never yelled or spanked, he would just wrinkle his forehead when he was upset. And you cooled it! :)

He worked hard and provided for all of our needs. He congratulated me when I did well and never criticized when I didn’t.  He got me out of a lot of pickles with my mom (who was like me...very vocal, LOL). I would tell him my side and he would go talk to mom. Usually, they came back with a lesser consequence.

My dad was always the voice of calm and reason.

He took great care of mom while she was dying. It was a really rough time and he never faltered. Between the two of us, we did the best we could in that situation.

Dad remarried after mom died and moved back to his childhood hometown. He lives there still with my step-mom.  My dad became the Emergency Preparedness Director for his county and then he retired a second time a few years later.

His new retirement career was “coffee groups”. I think at one point, he had like three a day. That was what his generation did, they met at a spot, drank coffee, and told tall tales for a few hours and then went home. Dad loves to go to his coffee groups.
A few years ago, dad was diagnosed with Alzheimers and Parkinson’s.  I talked to him just the other day and he sounded just like my dad. He does most days.  I cherish these times because I know that someday it won’t be that way.

I got a phone call from him a few months ago asking me if I would come to his house to help him and my brothers plan his funeral. He wanted to have it taken care of so no one would have to worry about it when he died.  I went with them and we made the arrangements.

It sucked.

He asked me to pick out music for his funeral. That was NOT an easy task.  I am really glad to have it done though. Not talking about it and not thinking about it won’t stop it from happening, but it still sucked.

I love my dad very much and he really is one in a million. He is a simple man, a good man and the world is a brighter place because of him.

I’m pretty lucky God picked him for me!