He was a happy man, my dad. As a matter of fact, that was his nickname “Happy” from childhood.
Born in Calvin Okla., raised in southwest Missouri, and, to hear him tell it, it was a good childhood. He worked hard in the fields and with the farm animals, carried a biscuit in his pocket for lunch at school. They played baseball, fished, and, when he and his brother Russ (Shorty), disagreed their dad let them “duke it out” with boxing gloves. The small town where they lived (Anderson, Mo.) were sometimes entertained by the two young boys in boxing gloves.
His older sister remembers him as a sweet and loving child, usually the underdog. He grew up with a sympathy for the underdog and a sensitivity that never left him. He was 18 in April of 1933 and married his sweetheart, Orpha Spears of Anderson. They picked strawberries for a living, went to Texas and picked cotton, made their way to California and picked grapes, peaches and other fruit that they could find during the depression. In California he was caretaker on a turkey farm and eventually got a job as a laborer in a lumberyard where he was ultimately promoted to foreman.
He enjoyed life, he enjoyed playing his guitar and singing, dancing, telling stories, fishing, he was devoted to and adored his wife, his four children and, eventually, especially his grandchildren, he had 12.
His hands were calloused, tanned brown, but they were gentle. Usually he had a jersey cow and all he had to do was step out toward the barnyard and call her (she always had a name) and she would run to him. She wouldn’t just come to him, she would run. I often wondered why she didn’t fall in the bumpy rocky field, but she never fell. She must have enjoyed his gentle hands.
I remember missing the school bus one snowy day and regretfully had to return home for the day. As I approached our little homestead down by Buffalo River I heard his whistling and knew everything would be alright. Out in the wood yard, splitting firewood, he whistled to celebrate the day. When I carried water to him in the field as he plowed, he sang or whistled to keep himself company. He snored a loud snore. Mother may not have appreciated it, but I did. Two rooms away, awakened by a nightmare, the sound of that snoring assured me everything in my world was OK.
Home was not home when his wife was away. He wouldn’t turn on lights, turn up the heat, he just existed until she returned. If she had to be away she always made a point of being home before he did. You could set the clock by his arrival home from work. He could count on a few things that were tradition then (sad it isn’t these days).
Page 2 of 2 - He could count on hot homemade biscuits for breakfast and either biscuits or cornbread for dinner and it had to be a serious emergency in the family for him not to have it. He could count on the house being clean and smelling fresh. He could count on fresh clean clothes and harmony in the home. Probably about half of their married life his wife had to work out of the home but the standards did not change. He worked hard to provide for his family, he appreciated the peace and harmony in the home. He married Orpha in 1933, not an easy time in this country. He loved her until his dying day when a heart attack took him at the age of 53 years. He left a legacy to his children and grandchildren who always remember him with a smile.
When an acquaintance or someone in the news triumphs over adversity and does so with a grin, we are reminded of him. When the country sounds abound, the whippoorwill, the frogs in the pond, when the Grand Old Opry comes on or we hear “Little Mohee” or “Wild Wood Flower” on a string guitar, we think of how he enjoyed such things. A sound faith in the goodness of his Maker, time to go fishing or ‘coon hunting now and then, an adoring family, hot bread twice a day and good loving every night; co-workers who survived him would say he was happy when no one else would have been.
It did not stop when he left this world. His children have the memories of a man who enjoyed life – every day. His was a thoughtful demeanor, protecting the underdog, a gentle hand for children and pets, a loving, teasing husband, he was a happy man who shared that happiness. Thanks “Happy.”
Would that we all could leave such memories. Do you have memories you would like to share? McDonald County Historical Society would like to be of assistance. Drop by the Museum at 302 Harmon Street, just S/E of the U.S. Post Office (open Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) or check in with the society (mailing address: P. O. Box 572, Pineville, 64856) for more information go to www.mcdonaldcohistory.org.
Alberta Anders writes a weekly column for the Daily News.