Sunday, June 17, 2018

Honoring my dad, a good egg

I have had an old book gathering dust on my bedside table for so long, something I inherited when my dad passed away a dozen years ago. It was my grandfather’s log book of his purchases on his farm a century ago. It’s called “National Diary 1918.” 

It was clearly precious to my dad, because it contains his dad’s handwriting throughout, his daily activities on a particular date (“Thursday, June 6: finished shocking barley”) and purchases (“nails for new room, $2.35, dinner, $.30.”)

I’ve flipped through the pages before, but not really inspected it closely. On this Fathers Day, I decided to finally take a deeper look at my grandfather’s world. It is a glimpse into a time in which movies were silent and horse carriages were just giving way to cars on city streets. A world in which Grandpa and Grandma were raising six children, with two more waiting in the wings. 

My grandpa, who died more than 30 years before I was born, farmed fruit and vegetables in Pomona, so his diary is full of the produce he sold and supplies he bought. He was also a devout Christian, a director of his church choir. Programs from church services are stuck throughout the book on just about every Sunday.

What is most precious are the notes Grandpa wrote in the book about his family. The Great War was still raging in the early part of the year. My father, Arthur, was four years old. On January 9, 1918, Grandpa notes the following exchange:

Arthur: “I would not go to war.”
Grandma: “Yes you would, if bad men came and began to kill all of us and hurt our baby, wouldn’t you?”
Arthur: “Yes.”
Doris, my dad’s older sister, maybe eight years old, chimed in: “Will Arthur have to go to war, Mama?”
Grandma: “No, I hope not. I think the war will be over before he is big enough.”
Arthur: “Then me won’t get to fight the Germans?”

On February 2, Arthur comments on his baby sister Helen: “Our baby is as good as God can make.”

Sunday, Feb. 3: “Fine sermon. Doris laughed out loud during prayer.”

Feb. 18: “Harriet (dad’s sister, maybe age 10) said she had the headache. Arthur said ‘I have the headache too, but I ain’t going to talk about it.’”

Feb. 22: Apparently at breakfast, my dad was not happy with his rations: “My head is biggest. Can’t I have two eggs?”

March 30: “Arthur got mad at Harriet. He said, “I don’t see why God made Harriet. He makes only good things, so I don’t see why he made Harriet.”

July 19: “We had sliced peaches raw for supper. Arthur says the hard ones are not any good but the easy ones are.”

August 5: 

Doris: “Arthur pinched my sore arms.” 
Arthur: “Well, she hit me and I don’t see the use of that.”
Doris: “He hit me first.”
Papa: “Arthur, who hit first?”
Arthur: “Dawdie said I did.”
Papa: “Well, what do YOU say?”
Arthur: “I say I did.”

As the summer ends and the year progresses, there are no more anecdotes. No mention, either, of the Armistice on November 11, just the work Grandpa did around the farm. On Nov. 18, there is this ominous note: “Children sent home account of flu. Schools closed until further notice.”

On the heels of the World War, the flu pandemic of 1918 is estimated to have killed possibly 5% of the entire world’s population. This is why I sigh when people moan we are going through the toughest time our country has ever seen. 

Writing down the price of apples in his book, Grandpa could not have known he would die just 10 years later of a sudden illness, leaving Grandma behind to raise Doris and Harriet and their six siblings, just a year before the Great Depression.

My dad and his seven siblings lived through that, and another World War, and it made them more empathetic toward their fellow man, not less. All of them are gone now. 

When I think of Grandpa, it’s a photo of him sitting in the sunshine, carefree, beaming at someone off to the side. And when I think of my dad, it’s the shot of him in the ocean, head and shoulders only, with a blazing smile that says how can I not live forever? 

This morning I had two eggs for breakfast in honor of four year old dad. They were delicious.