Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Memories of Dad
I came across my dad’s obituary the other day. I read through it, noting when and where he was born, when his family moved to Harrold, his years spent in the CCC camps in the Hills, the seven years in the navy, marriage to Mom, barbering and selling insurance and becoming a saddlemaker. The list of relatives followed the details of his life. All of his life on a page. The achievements the public would know about him. There is so much more that I remember, memories I hope my kids and their kids learn about Grandpa Red. His life to me is made up of memories of moments, big and small. All of our lives are memories that need to be saved and shared.
My memories of my dad began with him singing Danny Boy to me when I was quite young, the first real memory I have of him, still strong and clear. I remember riding in front of him in the saddle, along fence lines as he checked for sagging wires and broken posts when we lived in Colorado. I remember him letting my new puppy chew on his ear as he laid on the hardwood floor of our home, sharing the excitement of that red fuzzy pup. I remember his big hands and how he would stand at his barber chair and hold a youngster still with one hand on top of his head while he quickly moved the clippers around his ears and up his neck. He was always neat, wearing white shirts all the time, whether barbering or working with a horse. He was so excited when my sister was born, holding her and singing to her. He loved little kids, getting down on the floor with them, letting them climb on him, chuckling all the time as they poked him in the eye or pulled his nose. I remember him playing his harmonica, old songs he knew from his childhood and any Irish song he could think of. His timing was never good, but he played a bit every day, accumulating a drawer full of harmonicas of different keys and sizes. I gave one of his instruments to each of the grandkids after he passed. He loved doing leatherwork, something he learned in the navy. I remember as a little boy laying in bed listening to him tapping away as he stamped a pattern on a belt or purse. He retired from the insurance business at an early age and went to school to become a saddlemaker, spending several years working under Milt Lee’s supervision. He built a saddle shop in the corner of our barn, having thought out exactly what he wanted, and went to work full time after finishing his time with Milt. I remember winter evenings, going out to the barn and finding Dad working on a saddle or maybe just practicing his carving. He had a barrel full of scrap leather that was full of his practice cuts. I remember the many summer evenings we would go for a ride, many times never saying a word, just enjoying the moments. He was a good horseman, and cared for his animals deeply. He raised Irish Setter pups until one day his favorite young dog was killed in a freak accident. One of the few times I ever saw my dad cry was when we buried that beautiful dog. He angrily declared he would never have another dog, tears running down his face as he stumbled to the house. He was true to his word, never owning another dog, but he took care of all our dogs like they were his own for many years. I remember Dad’s love of family, his wife and kids, his siblings and his mother. His dad died when Dad was in the navy, and the family all pitched in to take care of grandma. I remember the summers when all my aunts and uncles came home, crowding into grandma’s tiny house. They would begin telling stories about each other, remembering the good times, skipping the unhappy times. We kids would sit on the floor and listen, hearing the same stories year after year, never tiring of them.
There are so many more memories that come to mind, memories that make up my dad, memories that are not in his obituary. I think we all have these memories of loved ones who have passed. I hope we recall them often. I hope we share them with our children and encourage them to share them with their children. We need to write them down so they are not forgotten, so the people remain real for years to come. It’s who they were, not what they did that is important. I wish I could have spent one day in the life of my grandparents, to see how they lived. What a treasure that would be.
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Earl cartoon by Big Dry Syndicate for the Sept. 18, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News