A Child’s Tribute
By Rick Kurtis
Let’s make no bones about it, I am what I am because of my parents.
My dad was a hard man, but loving and as mean as a bull whip when he had to be. Born on a farm before the Great Depression, he gained the knowledge of survival. As a lad he would shoot sparrows for their supper and worked from sun up to sun down. Raised Lutheran, my father had a good sense, but at the early age of fourteen fell away from the church because of the sudden death of his father. He was now an eighth-grade dropout running a 120 acre farm to support his mother and four siblings.
Although my father wasn’t a socialite, a lot of people gravitated to him for farm advice or work to be done. He was a friend or a protector to anyone in need. I was in awe at how many people showed up to his wake.
By the age of twenty-eight he found a city girl at a dance in a nearby town. This girl was no slacker when it came to family, being raised in a lumber mill with thirteen siblings.
At the tender age of eighteen she married him, leaving no time for her to pursue any type of work. This girl, now a woman on a farm, was to work alongside her man, raise six children and feed countless numbers of farmhands. This was a big job all in itself, never-ending and not set to a nine to five schedule.
She was the disciplinarian raising us with a firm hand. She raised us up to be a firm believer in the way that God intended. For the most part we were well mannered and had constant love.
By the time I came along (the fourth child) they were not as strong or time consumed with raising children, more with farm endeavors and how to keep supporting this growing family.
My father had a pile of junk under his garage workbench. If something broke you didn’t throw it away. You fixed it. My first tricycle was made out of three broken ones welded together. Nothing seemed to go to waste.
My mother sewed clothes and re-sewed, and hand-me-downs were a must.
My father didn’t have time for sports. Crops needed tending, cattle needed to be managed. Farm work never stopped.
Mom would continually clean up after us kids, clothes, floors, and cook. She drove trucks and tractors to help her husband around the farm. I think her job was more strenuous, given the two nervous breakdowns that she had.
Dad was a true man in every sense of the word. When he drank beer he was gentle and loving as a pussycat. But beware when he drank hard liquor, his eyes would glare red and he was mean to the core. Luckily hard liquor was only once or twice a year. This side was wife-beating, kill threatening with other fits of violence that need never be unburied.
My mother was a strong woman and put up with his behavior, like bringing her presents that were unfavorable home from his hunting trips in Canada. She always maintained that she stayed for the sake of her children.
When I was seven I played with matches and burnt down the barn. Four steers had died along with forty pigs that either ran back into their house for safety or ran out on fire to be shot, not to set the other buildings or fields ablaze. I was so afraid I could not sleep. At five in the morning I was in the bathroom shaking so tremendously, until my father came in and hugged me saying “It’s all right Ricky, we can always build a new barn but we can never make another you.” I really didn’t know how much love that was until my own son turned seven years old. That’s when it hit me, like a ton of bricks.
I remember watching my mother drive trucks or tractors in the fields. She took care of her mother and mother-in-law until they departed from this earth. She took care of us six children, cooked for many farmhands, relatives and family. She later got a job at a smorgasbord, cooking for over 2000 people a day. Within months she was the head cook. Then she enrolled into school for a dietitian degree. Once that was accomplished she became the head cook and dietitian to a 500 bed retirement home.
When we were all grown, (before their thirty-six wedding anniversary), she did leave my father. Dad caroused and played around with housekeepers and other women half his age.
My mother had male suitors as friends and friends only, nothing serious. Neither one had ever remarried.
I grew up with a lot of my parents’ traits. I reuse and save a lot of junk to make new junk. I have hard work ethics and do work from sun up to sun down, doing hard physical labor. I loved and enjoyed raising my children and still love and continue to support their independence and my grandchildren. People seem to gravitate to me as a man of authority. I guess I get that from my father too. My father also showed me his ugly side, which made me vow not to be like him.
My mother taught me gentleness, kindness and compassion. I carry on these traits being courteous and polite, opening doors for people, respecting others and their ways. All these gifts that were passed on to me whether by nature or nurture I have seen passed on to my children, which makes me proud of my parents and what they gave to me.
I always thought I was the favorite of both. Don’t we all? Growing up, I was proud of my father and loved my mother. Looking back at how stubborn I was, I could see how much my parents really did love me.
All my life I wanted to be a farmer like my dad. When that fell through and I left the farm, he disowned me. But my mother kicked his butt onto a plane to come to my wedding. Later he came out for a visit when my third child was born. He looked at my family, what I had accomplished and my strong self-employed work ethics, which made him gleam with pride.
I wrote a poem for my father (My Father’s Hands) and sent it to him for no special occasion. Sixteen years later when I went home to plant my father into the ground, the poem was framed, hanging on the wall. My work boots, coveralls and jacket were still in the mud closet on the porch and my leather motorcycle gloves still in his desk drawer.
When it came to my mother, she always doted on me and confided all of her problems, even though a boy can turn off his mother’s voice like a light switch. When I was old enough to drive I would take her on excursions to get her out of the house and to enjoy the day with her son or the beautiful surroundings of the countryside. To this day, she is still the same and still needs her little boy to talk to or to vent.
My father died of cancer at the age of seventy-two, flew across the country from Wisconsin to Nevada, sat on the edge of my mother’s bed, waking her up at 4 o’clock in the morning just to say “Goodbye, Mommy, I love you” and then he smiled, put his hand upon her leg and faded off into the darkness. That morning when the phone rang my mother already knew the news.
Twenty-five years later, my mother is still blessed with five of her children, eleven grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, still giving us great moral values and her years of wisdom.
A parent, whether one or both, a grandparent, aunt or uncle, whoever it was that raised you, is your role model as a child. They are your mentor that molds you and makes you into the adult that you are today. Whether it is following in their footsteps, striving to be just like them or to be the complete opposite because they sucked as a role model and you just strive to be better, we all carry them throughout our lives.
As I said, my parents gave me confidence, unconditional love and guidance. They showed me their good sides and their bad sides. They raised me with good moral judgment and guided me to make my own decisions. This is a trait that I passed along to my children and I can see that they are passing it on to my grandchildren. I strive to share my values with all the people I meet, giving them guidance like a grandpa or father.
The world should be blessed with more people like “My Mom and Dad."