Tuesday, 12/22/2009 
The Tale of Two Christmas's..The first....and the last. 
Though born in 1947, my first memory of Christmas occurred in my third or fourth year while living on my parent's farm. I spent only a few years there and wish that it could have more. At my father's passing, I thought most of those years and the great time I had with him as his first child. He was both a strong and very kind father. I had much fun with him! 

The eve of that "first" Christmas was spent with good friends at a neighboring farm. It was the first time I put tinsel on a tree..on the lower branches..with the first friend of my age. I now have retired to that home(built by "the olden gun")... because our farm was sold while I worked out west. These two men and homes had the greatest influence on me as a young boy.

For some reason, we spent Christmas Day alone on the farm but I remember my first presents. I got a new tricycle and an harmonica; and later in the day a wind-up train and figure-8 track from my dad's father who also lived on our land across the driveway. I must have driven my parents crazy riding that bicycle around and blowing on the harmonica while my mother sewed on her new Singer sewing machine(and we still have it). I've had many presents since but those are the ones I remember most. 

After being away for many years, I had two more Christmas's to spend with my father. I was going to pass on the second one but something told me that I shouldn't turned out to be the last. The first one back is the most memorable because of my father's indomitable spirit.

Long ago he was on his own because of his parents' divorce while living on that very farm,pioneered by his father. At the age of fourteen, he would not chose one parent over another. He lived and worked on a neighboring farm until he was of age to least-sixteen. Then he worked on farms in the New Glarus area.

While riding his brother's motorcycle with a friend(who was disowned by his parents) he was hit by an oncoming vehicle on a one lane road. I did not find out that friend was killed,or even on the bike,until my father's funeral. My father woke up from a coma a week later in a hospital across from Camp Randall Stadium. He said the noise of a football game woke him up.

His lower left arm was mangled. The doctor said he could cut it off or leave it on but he would never use it again. Dad decided to keep the arm. He said a country doctor pored iodine in and saved it. This was when he was 17 or 18,at the start of the Great Depression. 

He went on to work that arm back into shape as a "one-armed" farmhand(I would not want to get hit with that arm). By covering his arm with long sleeve shirts and wearing gloves he was able to find farm work again. When it was found out, he would except no help. Dad made thirty dollars a month and room and board where others made forty. He was still proud to say he was the best farmhand in the county.

My father overcame much during the depression,even tried to volunteer for WWII at least as a truck driver and was of course turned down. He was better than many men with two good arms. He even once flew biplanes. Going on to become a machinist/tool&die maker, he retired as parts inspector on the space program at A.C. Spark Plug in Oak Creek..with only a seventh grade education.

He was perhaps too proud of being self taught and doing it without a "sheepskin";
and it probably held him back. Others who had one came to him for help. Dad was one of those five percent that could retire as early as 59. Perhaps I have digressed too much.?

Christmas Eve of 1999, I watched him pealing potatoes by holding them in his "bad" hand while his "good" hand trembled much from Parkinson's Disease. I asked him if he could still crack nuts and he said no, so I started on a bowl putting the cracked ones in a smaller bowl. In a short order,he was cracking his own! Why would he do that?

He came from stubborn Swiss lineage and still could not or would not have others do for him. Dad took pride in pulling his own weight. I learned a long time ago, with two good arms, I had no excuse for failure.

This is the season for gratitude. The older I get, the more grateful I am that I had, both parents and a great father who was always there to care for his family. I am thankful I never had to look any further for a hero. Though never attached to organized religion, he was a rare combination of courage and character. 

As a boy,I loved just being with him. That did not change...ever. I always knew I was protected and of course I miss his wisdom and counsel..of more value than my college degree. So what should we learn from my father? In this new year...maybe we should learn to "crack our own nuts!?".