The thunder is rumbling as I pen this, awash in memories, thinking of Dad and all those humid summer storms down on the farm. The liquid sunshine, as my Dad used to call rain, is running down the outside of my windows, and the skies are rumbling like Thor is arriving for a visit any moment.
The lights flicker off and on.
Back at home, on the farm, we’d lose power with storms often, and it might just stay off for days. That was just kind of normal.
We had the old hand pump outside for water for the house, and one at the barn, too, to water the livestock, plus the stream, of course.
We usually kept the lights off anyway because they generated heat, and Heaven knows, we certainly didn’t need any more of that.
By the time Father’s Day rolled around, we had celebrated our romance with the arrival of summer three weeks earlier, over Memorial Day, and it had probably been over 90 and maybe over 100 degrees at least once.
Worse yet, it had probably not dropped below 80 with someplace around 110% humidity for several nights in a row. You woke up sweating.
Yea, we were tired of the heat of summer already, and summer was just beginning. Actually, technically, it wasn’t even summer yet.
On Father’s Day morning, just like every other morning, Dad would get up at the crack of dawn – and I mean exactly that. The earlier you went out to do chores, the cooler it was, but you couldn’t do chores in the dark.
Every farmer wore overalls and muck boots, no matter how hot it was, along with a farm cap from the seed store or grain mill to keep the sweat from running into their eyes.
I’m sure air conditioning had been invented, but we didn’t know anyone who had AC. Our version of AC was going to the basement, barefoot, so your feet could touch the cool concrete.
Maybe we’d fill up the bucket with water from the pump that was cool coming out of the ground and stick our feet in there. That always felt good too. So did a cold shower or just a shower from the hose outside.
The guys always shaved their heads, and us females, we either had very short hair or hair long enough to pull up in a ponytail. I think my hair still has permanent rubber band lines.
Mom always tried to drag us to church on Father’s Day Sunday, but the only thing hotter than staying home was dressing up and going to church.
She’d always say that it was “cool enough” because we could roll the windows in the car down on the way home, but not on the way because you didn’t want to mess your hair up. We used to call that 455 air conditioning, a pun on a Chevy 455 engine. Roll all four windows down and drive 55. Mom just rolled her eyes at us.
Mom wasn’t terribly pleased that I loved to work on cars and, um, race them. Not pleased at all, actually. It wasn’t “ladylike.” Truth be told, I could outrun and outdrive my brother and pretty much anyone else too, but that’s a different story. My Dad, on the other hand, was always quite helpful and glad that at least ONE of his children was useful with tools. I loved working at the barn with my Dad on anything that needed fixing.
And that’s what saved us from those sweltering Sundays praying for church to be over because it was literally as hot as Hades in there with no windows open.
The church came equipped with those “funeral fans” as we called them.
We called them funeral fans because the funeral homes would print ads on one side about how lovingly they would treat your dearly departed family members, like anyone was going to say – “Hey someone, run up to the church and see whose ad is on the back of that fan.” I guess they hoped that if you waved it in front of your face for an hour every week, you might remember their name. Generally, the church required a religious picture on the other side and of course the funeral homes paid for the fans and all the printing for the privilege of placing them in the pews.
Truthfully, no one cared what was on them, on either side, and when it was hot, there were enough fans whirring to power a spaceship.
Dad hated to dress up, and so did I, but I think Mom thought we’d be eternally damned to Hell if we missed one Sunday. Occasionally though, the farm and earning a living took precedence. We’d just have to ask forgiveness.
You know, sometimes that pesky old, antiquated tractor we had broke on Father’s Day. Dad needed help fixing it. I know just how much Dad hated to miss church, and of course, being the good daughter that I was, I sacrificed and stayed home to help him.
Generally, after Mom left, we’d have a cup of coffee to prepare ourselves for the ordeal.
Well, officially, he had a cup of coffee because I was not supposed to have coffee. I wasn’t old enough. Mom’s rules. So my “coffee” was mostly milk and sugar – pretty much what we call a Latte today.
But you know, since it was Father’s Day and all, I couldn’t let Dad drink coffee alone😊
Mom was never as hot as we were either, so we’d adjust the fan and turn it on full speed if we stayed inside for our coffee.
Often, especially when it was really hot, we went outside and sat in the peaceful shade of the old tree on the glider and matching metal chair.
Well, if you count rust as a matching decorative element.
I think we communed more with God on the farm, under the tree, watching the corn, soybeans, ferns, and iris grow than we ever did in church, but that’s just me.
As the sun rose halfway up the sky, we’d comment about how hot it was getting to be. One of us would squint and try to see the thermometer nailed to the side of the house by the window. We’d wonder out loud if one or the other of us thought it was going to rain.
If so, it wouldn’t be in the morning and generally not at noon either.
We often had violent storms in the afternoon and evening. No weather forecasts back then. We just expected that it might happen.
Tornados. Those were nothing to mess with. I remember watching those wall clouds approach from the west and the worried look on Dad’s brow. Every now and again, he’d be staring at the west sky and quietly say, “Bobbi, get the dog,” and I knew EXACTLY what that meant. He didn’t want to panic Mom just yet, but we were preparing, just in case.
Farm families welcomed soft, gentle morning summertime rains. Those violent drenchers, not so much. They washed out seeds, ruined crops, sometimes laying them flat, and the hail associated with those storm cells stripped the leaves right off the plants.
Sometime around 10:30 or 11 on Father’s Day morning, Dad would say, “Well, Bobbi, let’s go work on that tractor.” We’d both grin at each other, then get up and wander down the path to the barn.
The tractor was wherever it broke, so Dad would get some tools out of his old toolbox that he made out of scrap lumber and a wrench or two, and we’d go out and pound and twist on some things. I’d climb up in the seat and pull on a couple of handles, one of which was the choke.
Sometimes the tractor needed a tune-up.
Dad would tell me to try to start it. Then he’d pound on something else, trying not to smash a finger.
“Try again,” he’d say.
Sometimes adding extra fuel helped too.
Eventually, we’d get old Bessie running again, and I’d drive that temperamental old red tractor with almost no paint into the barn. Dad had been making his own parts and patching that tractor together for so many years that it was old when I was young, and it was just as old after Dad passed away. It never seemed to get any older, nor did it ever really run right.
Dad never saw any benefit to buying a newfangled tractor because he knew how to fix the old one, and besides, he had me to help him.
After the tractor was fixed, Dad and I would head up to the house and start the charcoal grill. That’s back in the days when you had to light the charcoal and let it burn down for at least half an hour or 45 minutes. It was true charcoal, not propane, and you wanted it to be hot but not actually burning. Hot enough to have a grey ash coating.
We always asked Dad what he wanted for Father’s Day dinner, since he didn’t get to have any of whatever they were serving at church, and his answer was always the same.
And he meant on the grill. That was a given.
We grilled a lot in the summer to keep the kitchen cool. Hamburgers weren’t nearly as good in the winter.
So, Dad started the charcoal, and I went inside to wash up and make nice thick hamburger patties by rolling hamburger into balls, then smooshing it between the palms of my hands. I often chopped some onion first, and Dad would slice about a quarter inch of butter off the stick – we only ever had real butter back then – and stuck it inside the hamburger patty in the center.
“Don’t tell your Mom,” he’d say, and we’d chuckle. It was always our secret, even when Mom wondered aloud why his burgers were always better than hers. She wouldn’t have wanted the extra fat. The only time we ever had extra butter in our burgers was when the tractor broke on Sunday.
That’s why we always started dinner, as lunch was called on the farm, while she was at church on Sundays when that old tractor broke, needed fixing, and we had to work on it.
By the time Mom got home, the patties were prepared and ready to go on the grill, the fire was ready, and as soon as we heard the car slow down on the road and the crunch of gravel in the driveway, we’d start them grilling.
Mom would tell us how hot it was at church, and how miserable it had been, then go inside to change out of those sweaty clothes, including “nylons.” You never went to church back then without wearing a nice dress, makeup, and nylon stockings. Some Sundays you also wore white gloves but not in the summer because you were sweating too much to get them off and on.
Dad and I were still in our work clothes.
When Mom came out after changing clothes, she said she hoped it wasn’t too hot and miserable down in the barn where we had to work.
Nope, Mom, it was wonderful, actually.
Just the perfect Father’s Day, helping Dad on the farm.
We grilled the burgers, sliced fresh tomatoes from the garden, made iced tea, ate, and laughed together. Then we gave Dad his gifts which were usually handmade and sometimes humorous. He always told us we shouldn’t. We did anyway, of course.
Later, we made ice cream in the old crank ice-cream maker.
After dinner, Dad, the dog, and his rescued three-legged cat, Frosty, would take a nap while Mom and I redded up the dishes.
Sometimes, looking out the kitchen window over the fields as I methodically washed the dishes, my mind wandered, and I wondered what the future held. It never occurred to me, at least not yet, that my life would one day be very different someplace else, and very far away. I couldn’t imagine leaving Dad, the tractor, and the farm, but he could. He saw a horizon that I couldn’t see. He was preparing me, even though I didn’t realize it.
I knew how much I loved Dad – probably even extra because he was my stepfather and chose me as his daughter – but I didn’t understand the depths of his love for me.
On those Father’s Days, we honored and appreciated Dad, but not nearly enough. I wouldn’t realize quite how wise and wonderful he was until after those storm clouds had gathered, descended upon us, and whisked him away.
When you’re making memories, you often don’t realize it in the moment. You’re just doing what you’re doing. The memories make themselves.
The sweaty summer days fixing tractors and the mundane life of yesterday became the precious memories we long to touch just one more time.
Just one more Sunday.
One more Father’s Day.
One more broken tractor to fix.
One more cup of coffee.
One more smile, Dad.
Just one more.
Just a few more minutes.
I love and miss you, Dad.
I always will.
It was only decades later, with those early days having faded into long-ago misty memories, that I realized just how exquisitely perfect they were.
And that Dad got EXACTLY what he wanted for Father’s Day, which had absolutely nothing to do with a broken tractor.