Today is my father’s 111th birthday. He died before his 60th birthday. shortly before my 16th birthday, so I didn’t know him for very long. His life was a long lesson of tenacity and hard work that I still continue to study. The lessons are more poignant in hindsight, and I better appreciate what he did to support his family.
My dad worked the day he died, irrigating his beloved cotton fields right up to the point of collapsing after getting the water turned off. The one thing he would be unpleased about was that it was mid-growing season and he would not see the final picking. He always saw a job through to the end. I remember that when I take on a task. He was consistent in all he did. He did not suffer fools gladly and was highly critical of other farmers who did not measure up to his high standards. He picked his friends carefully and was always there for them.
One of his friends, Mr. Price, was African-American, or as my parents would say, Negro. When the local feed and seed store would not give Mr. Price a credit account so he could get the supplies he needed to bring in a crop. Farmers work on credit, paying their bills after the crop comes in. Mr. Price would not be able to have a crop without that credit. My dad told the store owner to put it on his account, he would be responsible. However, when it came time to deliver the seed or fertilizer, the company would only deliver to the address on the account. Everything was delivered to our farm and then Mr. Price, who only had one arm, and my dad would reload it onto my dad’s truck and take it a couple more miles to Mr. Price’s farm.
My dad paid better wages to his farm workers, but they had to meet his exacting standards. Everyone wanted to work in his fields. My mother provided water, the workers got breaks, and there was an outhouse on the farm that they could use. All of this happened in the 1950s. And I watched.
I wish I would have had more time with my dad, but I don’t know if I would have learned any more. I am glad he got to do what he loved right up to his death. He never spent one day in a hospital. Fifty years later my sister died in a similar manner, at the end of a productive day, doing what she loved, shopping for her great grandchildren. She came home, took off her shoes, made a cup of coffee, and collapsed. Like our father, she would be happy to know that she finished the day, finished the tasks she had set out for herself. I would hope my life could end in the same manner.