I have always loved this picture of Dad. He is the one sitting in the car and three of his friends are sitting on the running board. I am old enough to remember running boards. A couple of Dad's cars had them. Dad told me that he was in his mid-20's when this picture was taken, but he couldn't remember where they were or why someone took the picture. He told me the names of his friends, but none of those names meant anything to me and I have long since forgotten who they were. All I know is they are not relatives.
Dad looks so tough in the picture. He wasn't. Not in the way we think of as tough. He has sort of a rebel James Dean thing going on there. Kelly and I thought that this group looked like they were auditioning for a Bonnie and Clyde type movie.
Dad was tough in other ways. He was not gangster-type tough. He was kind and giving and caring. His toughness was in living. He was tough when it came to taking care of his family. He worked hard all of his life. I remember that when Mom became more seriously ill and required more medical care, he worked two and sometimes three jobs to pay the bills and keep food on the table. He was not an educated man, completing school through the eighth grade, but he was a well-read man, and knew much about many things. His lack of education meant that he worked at menial jobs, many times back-breaking jobs. He was a janitor at the First Baptist Church in Willmar, where we attended church. He also cleaned other buildings at night in Willmar, and then went to work at 6:30 every morning to his main job, climbing into boxcars loaded with grain and taking samples to be tested. He took a job feeding turkeys and cleaning the turkey barns on a farm near Willmar. He took on other part-time jobs over the years.
Taking care of a spouse who is chronically ill is not an easy task. It requires an inner toughness. It means putting that person first and your own wants and needs second. Dad had that kind of toughness. He spent many hours at Mom's hospital bedside over the years when she had to be hospitalized for one problem or another related to her arthritis. He got up an hour earlier each morning to see that her needs were taken care of before leaving for work. He brushed her hair, he bathed her, he helped her use the bathroom. When she couldn't get her hands to work, he fed her. He did many things for her that most of us never dream we could do or would have to do. And he did them without ever complaining. When it finally became too much for any one person to handle and when she required constant medical attention, she went to live in the nursing home. Many people would have been grateful not to have to spend so much time on their ailing spouse, but not Dad. He spent every hour that he could at the home with Mom. They talked. They listed to music. They played Scrabble. When I would call, knowing that Dad was always with Mom in the evenings, I would ask what they were doing. He nearly always answered that they were playing Scrabble, that Mom was winning. And then he would add, "But she cheats!" He always maintained his sense of humor, and I think that was one of the things that helped him keep going as long as he did. I asked him once how he did it...how he could devote his entire married life to taking care of her. His answer was simple logic to him.
"I love your Mother."
Yeah.....Dad was tough.