Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Father-In-Law

My father-in-law was Irish. Because of that all his children and grandchildren consider themselves to be Irish. I know little about his life before I met him.

What I do know is that he had brothers and sisters. I met his brother and two of his sisters before my husband and I married. By then they were older. They all lived together and were quiet.

Dad was a character. He was quiet too. He would sit in his chair with a wicked little smile on his face and act like he was oblivious to the world. But he was so much more.

It was tough when he married my mother-in-law. The economy was terrible. Dad worked hard to make sure that his family was fed. He was not ashamed to take any kind of work that would feed his children.

Dad and his brother were both strong from doing hard work all their lives. And both were boxers. When a famous prize fighter came to town he needed sparring partners. Dad and his brother were chosen.

And of course there were stories of brawls they were in. I always thought they were tall tales told by old men trying to prove that they had at least been vital once upon a time. But my mother-in-law told me that many of them were true. She did not lie so I know the stories were true.

One time Dad and his brothers were in a bar. I can't remember details well but I'll try. A fight broke out. Dad and his brother took turns tossing one man after another at each other. As a man came at them they would punch him senseless then toss him out the door. Eventually the fight was over because Dad and his brother were the only ones left.

He worked at the meat packing houses there in town. Those were wild times and they were not too far removed from what had once been a "Wold West" attitude. Often when employees would get out of line, management would come to Dad to settle things.

So he would settle things. He would knock a few heads together and toss the offenders out of the plant. Occasionally that would be by way of an upper window.

He hurt his leg working at the packing house. It caused him to have problems for the rest of his life. Some days he would be in terrific pain. But he kept working until the packing plants closed and moved to bigger cities.

Sometimes to supplement his income, Dad would go into a cave there in the Loess Hills and make a barrel of whiskey. He would trade whiskey for things his family needed.

He and my mother-in-law were admired in the area. It was a tough time for everyone. If someone needed food, Mom and Dad got others together and they were fed.

There were a lot of community get togethers. Everybody would contribute what they could. It was a social life that included the whole family. In those days people did not use babysitters. If you could not take the children, you did not go.

Dad loved politics. He was a strong supporter of John F. Kennedy. Until the day he died he had wonderful things to say about our president. Of course he hated Communists. They were they boogey man of the time. Everything wrong with the world was their fault.

What I did not know was the extent of his political passions. When he died there were so many people who visited the funeral home to pay tribute. Many of them I did not know.

The night before the funeral was the time for individuals to pay tribute to Dad. One man stood. He gave his name. He was a senator to the state. He told of the gatherings that he remembered from childhood. His father, like most people in the area, was a believer in one political party. Dad believed in the other party.

The man said he remembered Dad getting up on a stump and giving his views and his arguments about why his views were the right ones. He was a persuasive speaker. As a matter of fact, this state senator had abandoned his father's party and was a member of Dad's party. He said he would never have become interested in politics and run for office if it had not been for my father-in-law. I felt so proud.

Dad was well known for his driving too. He never gave an inch and he always had the right of way. People just gave in and got out of his way.

Once my husband and I were riding with him in his pickup truck. We were in the downtown area of the city. Now I will have to clean this up a bit so quotes are not necessarily the words he used.

Dad turned onto a street and immediately had a near head-on collision with another vehicle. He said, "Gosh darn sons of dogs. Can't they see this is a one-way street?!?" It was a one-way street. We were going the wrong way. Of course I laughed.

The snow can get very deep in this part of the country.  Often after a heavy snow it can take a long time for snow plows to clean the roads. What you do is find the rut made by previous drivers and follow it. You have to hope that you do not tear your muffler off in the process but it helps to keep you from getting stuck.

One year my brother-in-law and his family went back to visit Mom and Dad in the winter. The snow was deep but there was a good rut leading out of town to the farm. Then my brother-in-law looked and said, "Oh, expletive! Here comes the old man." He knew better than to try to jockey for road space. He just drove right into the ditch.

Dad boldly drove up in his truck and stopped. "Gol-durned city people." He got out and just shook his head when he saw that it was his very own son. Then he went back to the farm and got his tractor to pull his wayward son out of the ditch.

When my mother-in-law was told that my husband and I wanted to get married, she told us not to "tell Dad". She was worried that he would be terribly upset.

Dad worked at the same hospital I worked in. I was in the food services department and he was in the janitorial department. What Mom did not know was that Dad was telling anyone who would listen that I was going to be his daughter-in-law.

As I said Dad was quiet. Mom often told the grandchildren not to bother him because he could not hear. (He could hear just fine. He had selective response.) She also said he was "childish" meaning that his mind was going.

My children treated him like Grandpa. They would talk to him and wanted to do things with him. He was only too happy to oblige. When my youngest son was still in diapers we were visiting the farm. Dad smoked little cigars. My son was fascinated. He found a small piece of a stick that he thought looked like Grandpa's cigar. So my son followed Grandpa around with his own cigar. Grandpa loved it.

Dad hated houseflies. In the summer he had a fly swatter in his hand at all times. My daughter and her cousin had gone to visit. They took my niece's two children.. So my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law who lived there on the farm, my daughter, my niece, and my father-in-law were all sitting in the living room talking.

My niece's children had been in and out all day. Every time they went through the door it would slam and make a lot of noise. Someone unhooked the spring so it would not make so much noise. Then the door did not close and flies would come in. Dad was not happy.

The kids ran out yet again. Dad had enough. My daughter saw an evil look cross his face. He just hauled off and hit my niece on top of her head with his fly swatter. Mom and my sister-in-law both started to yell at him. My daughter looked at him and said, "There was a fly there wasn't there, Grandpa?" He merely smiled at her and nodded his head.

After a while my darling daughter looked at Grandpa. She said, "Look , Grandpa. I think there is another fly there." Mom and my sister-in-law jumped up waving their arms and screaming, "No, Dad, no!" Dad just smiled a wicked smile. My daughter laughed. I guess she got something from me.

Dad had moved his family around a lot from place to place. When they finally bought that farm Mom put her foot down and refused to move any more. He always talked about picking up and moving to Minnesota.

Dad developed dementia as he got older. Mom was older too and not well. My sister-in-law had always lived there on the farm. She was also ill. Dad got to be too much to handle.

He had occasional violent spells. Once they had to get a man from down the road to help get him off his tractor (which he was not supposed to drive) in order to keep him from running over the propane tank in an effort to blow up the house.

Another time the same man stopped by for a visit. Dad was sitting in front of the house. The house was on fire. He just said, "Let 'er burn, Dickie, let 'er burn." Dickie put out the fire before any major damage was done.

Dad would get up in the middle of the night and wander. Once he went out and sat in the middle of the road during a rainstorm. It is a busy highway. Mom and my sister-in-law tried to coax him into the house. Every time they would go after him he would run. Luckily they got him into the house before any cars came speeding down the road. He would have been hard to see in the dark.

Eventually it was just too dangerous to have him in a place where there was no one who could deal with him. It broke Mom's heart but she had to put him in a home. They went to visit him every day if they were able.

My daughter and her family went back for a visit. My oldest son went with them. When they went to the hospital to visit Grandpa, he had fallen and broke his leg. He was confined to bed.

Before  they entered his room Grandma warned them that he might not recognize them. When they walked in his face brightened and he greeted them by name. He was happy to see them. My daughter's little boy was walking and Grandpa thought he was a fine boy. He whined a bit to have my sister-in-law wait on him a little.

The sad thing is that from the day he was placed in the home until the day he died he never spoke to his wife again. It broke her heart but I know she had no other options.

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