“Roy, where’s your shadow?” the tractor salesman asked Dad.
And with that statement, I received a nickname that stayed with me for quite a few years. I was Dad’s shadow, his tag along little boy, who traveled with him when he went to town or a neighbor’s place or Uncle Bob’s farm or the Haldane Elevator or wherever.
Of course, being Dad’s shadow had its unique benefits because he was a softie and I could always squeeze a dime or fifteen cents out of his pockets. This was more than enough to buy an ice-cold Nehi Cream Soda and a Baby Ruth candy bar at Donaldson’s Grocery Store in Haldane or a Pepsi and a handful of peanuts at Gentry’s Farm Implement in Polo.
As his shadow, I watched Dad climb Ellis Dentler’s and Matt DeWall’s silos up to the top so that a new crop of silage could be stored in them. He was the fearless neighborhood Spiderman and unafraid of heights. I also saw him help Lawrence Zumdahl, Walter Paul and Doc Link with their projects. Dad always had time to help neighbors and also drink their coffee. “Black please, no sugar or cream,” he always answered on how he liked his coffee.
And of course, there was Uncle Bob Duncan. Dad farmed with Uncle Bob for thirty plus years and never once did this shadow ever hear Dad speak an angry word at Uncle Bob or vice versa. Both treated each other with the highest mutual respect.
When I was six years old, Dad put his shadow (me) to work for the first time, driving a tractor which pulled the hay fork into the barn. It was an easy job. All I had to do was pay attention to him and push in the clutch when he waved his arms at me. But as youngsters sometimes do, I anticipated his commands and stopped early a few too many times. At last, Dad said to me, “From now on, watch me. If you don’t see me waving my hands, keep on going…even if you end up in the orchard. Do you understand?”
His voice alerted me to the importance of his commands.
All went well for a few hours.
Then, Mom showed up and talked with him while we were working. The load of hay moved up into the barn and I continued driving the tractor, waiting for the waving of his hands. But he continued talking with Mom. I drove past every one of my earlier stopping points and headed for the orchard. Finally, I saw him frantically waving his hands. I stopped.
He ran toward me. His face was red and he held his hat in his hand. “Sonny, I am so mad…but it’s not your fault…it’s mine. But I am so mad! You pulled the backdoor out of the barn with the hayforks. I’m so mad! But it’s not your fault. Honest, Sonny, it’s not your fault, but I am so mad!”
I can still see him standing there next to the tractor tire, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in his agitation, so angry and yet so careful not to hurt my feelings. He eventually helped me off the tractor and gave me a hug. All was well between Dad and his shadow even though his barn door was busted to pieces.
And this is how Dad treated me his whole life. It is called love.
A few days before Dad’s death, a nurse asked me, “What was your dad like?”
“He was a good guy who wore a white hat and sat on a tall white charger. He always arrived at the scene just in the nick of time with a few dollars in his pocket, a hammer and a pair of pliers in his hands and words of encouragement in his mouth for his loved ones and neighbors. He was my hero,” I said.
And I believed every word of it.