By Eve W. Engle

The dogs rule in our house. They are fed first, allowed in our bed, have their own bed in the guest room and sneak up onto the sofas when we aren't looking. Maxie, short for Maximus, is a Golden Retriever/Great Pyrenes mix, Sammy is a Black Lab/Border Collie mix. His full name is Samuel L. Jackson after one of my favorite actors. Both were abused and rescued from their former owners. They get cookies every morning.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100 - Brotherly Love and the Black Sheep of the Family

My dad had three brothers, two older and one younger, Norman, Lee, and Morris. Norman, the eldest, was born on April 13, 1912 in Illinois. He completed the 8th grade and went on to a career in sales, marriage and raising a family (two sons and two daughters) in Alexandria, Indiana. He reached about 5' 9", which made his the second tallest of the boys. He passed away May of 1987 at age 75. Walter Lee Jr. was born June 12, 1914 in Indiana. Like his namesake, he was tall (6') and lanky. He was only 18 when he died of "Lockjaw" (Tetanus) in 1932 after a cut he had became infected. There is no record of his last year of formal schooling, but he didn't finish high school. Morris E. was born April 10, 1918 in Indiana. He made it through his first year of high school (9th grade), married and had two sons and a daughter. The shortest at about 5' 6", Morris passed away in 2010, at age 92. My dad was number three, between Lee and Morris. At his tallest he was about 5'7". Since their mom only reached 4'11" at her tallest it was no wonder Norman, Morris, and my dad never shopped in the "big and tall" stores.

Considering the lack of means and the family educational history, it is amazing to think that my dad not only finished high school but was able to find a way into college and eventually make a career as a university professor, even being honored for his distinguished career. No one else had a talent quite like his. His mom, Nina, was a seamstress. His dad had a varied career from sharecropper to machinist. But Frank was able to put his talent and intellect to good use, and the artist was born.

Before that though, there was a family of four tough boys keeping in trouble as the mood hit them. When one messed up they were all punished by their "Pop" who spared the rod and used the palm of his hand to set them all straight if  any one of them went down the wrong path or smarted off. He would line them up and whack them all in one fell swoop. He was a hard father, but he loved his boys. One Christmas during the depression he spent time whittling a ball and bat for them. That Christmas Day he took all four boys down to the yard of the local two room school in Marion, Indiana, so they could take a swing at their new ball. Pop stood in as pitcher and sent the three smaller boys to man the field letting Lee take the first "crack" at the wooden ball. Knowing the length of Lee's extended arm, Pop instructed the three other boys to be ready for a long ball. Lee got the feel of the bat in his hands and finally indicated he was ready. Pop sent one ball flying toward Lee who promptly whacked it so hard it made the sound of a "banger"on the 4th of July! The ball arced up, up, up and flew over the school house yard and began it's descent just as it reached the outside comfort privy. At the moment it was perfectly centered over the privy the ball dropped through the roof, and disappeared down the hole!

One time the boys were sharing the back of an old nag in a pasture. Morris had to wait his turn, being the "baby" and the smallest (his nickname was "Speck"). Finally he mounted the old horse and readied himself for a trot. What he got was a full out run, straight toward the only standing tree in the entire field. He hung on for dear life as the maniacal horse sped forward. The horse stopped just short of whacking himself senseless, but that didn't stop Morris' momentum. He flew over the top of the suddenly stationary horse and whacked the trunk of the tree with his own head. The truth was, the horse had been docile and good tempered until Morris got on his back. That was when he felt the unexpected and uncomfortable encounter with the palm of one of the brother's hands on his nether region.

Another time the boys attempted to assist their pop with a bull. The bull needed help (I have no idea why) getting properly situated to do his "business". One of the boys was selected to hold the cow steady while the others helped at the other end. Unfortunately there was a miscalculation and the brother at the front end got a face full of, shall we say, "goo". There was no calf conceived that day.

My dad adored Lee. He was amazed at how Lee was at one with nature. For some divine reason Lee could settle among the creatures of the wild and they were not afraid of him. Squirrels, birds, and other animals would approach him. When he died my dad was only 15. They must have known it was imminent. Tetanus is a nasty disease when untreated. Back in 1932 there wasn't much they could do to ease his suffering. Someone came to Anderson High School and pulled my dad from his class that fateful day. He ran the many blocks home but it was too late by the time he arrived. Lee was gone. My dad believed Lee was special. That he wasn't meant to be a mere mortal. He once told me he had no idea what would have happened to Lee if he had lived since he probably would have ended up in a factory, or working the fields. As it was, his death left a hole in the family, and in my dad's heart. And probably was the main catalyst for his finishing high school and continuing his education at a university.

Shortly before my dad passed away my cousins brought their dad, my Uncle Morris, to visit. It was bittersweet for both. It was the last time the two old men would ever see one another. They both knew it. We all knew it. But there they sat, side by side, sharing a few words, but mostly just sitting and sharing the moment, reflecting on their long and separate lives. Four brothers, down to two, who had started their lives at the beginning of a century and were ending them at the beginning of the next. They had seen hardship, death, and war. But they had also witnessed the introduction of radio, talking movies, television, microwaves, passenger airplanes, moon landings, and computers. And they had shared experiences that they didn't need to talk about, and that we will never know about.

Four brothers, down to three, then two, then one. And now they live on in our memories and imaginations.
Top photo left to right: Lee, two unknown cousins, Frank, another unknown cousin, Morris, and Norman. Bottom photo left to right: Lee, Mom, Frank, Pop, Morris, and Norman.

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