“Roy, where’s your shadow?” the Massey Harris farm tractor salesman asked Dad.
With the salesman’s words, I received a nickname, which stayed with me for quite a few years. I was Dad’s shadow, his tag along little boy who traveled with him when he drove his truck to town, a neighbor’s place, Uncle Bob’s farm, the Haldane Elevator, or wherever.
My nickname carried with it unique benefits because Dad was a softie. I could always squeeze a dime out of his billfold. Ten cents may not seem like a fortune today, but it was enough to buy an ice-cold Nehi Cream Soda and a Baby Ruth at Donaldson’s Grocery Store in Haldane, Illinois, or a Pepsi and a handful of peanuts at Gentry’s Farm Implement in Polo.
As his shadow, I watched Dad climb Gene Bolen’s and Matt DeWall’s silos up to the top each year so a new crop of corn silage could be stored in them. He was the fearless neighborhood Spiderman, unafraid of heights. I also stood nearby when Dad helped Lawrence Zumdahl, Walter Paul, and Doc Link with their farm projects. Dad always found time to help neighbors and drink a cup of coffee at their kitchen tables afterward.
“Black, please, no cream or sugar,” he answered when asked how he drank his coffee.
Dad put his shadow to work for the first time at six years of age. I drove an Allis Chalmers WD tractor, which pulled the hayfork loaded with bales into the barn. It was an easy task. All I had to do was pay attention and push in the hand clutch when he waved at me.
But as youngsters often do, my mind wandered here and there, causing me to stop early a few too many times. Dad then laid down the law.
“From now on, you watch me. If you don’t see me waving at you, keep going, even if you end up in the apple orchard. Do you understand?”
The firmness of his voice alerted me to the importance of obeying his commandments.
All went well for a few hours until Mom showed up and talked with Dad while he worked. The hayfork load of bales moved upward and into the barn. I continued driving the tractor, waiting for his wave, but he continued talking with Mom. I drove past all of my earlier stopping points and headed for the orchard. He finally waved and I stopped.
He ran toward me with a red face and held his faded green hat in a huge hand.
“Sonny, I am so mad…but it’s not your fault…it’s mine. But I’m so mad! You pulled the door out of the back of the barn with the hayforks. I’m so mad, but it’s not your fault. Honest, Sonny, it’s not your fault!”
He stood there next to the tractor tire, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in his anger, yet careful not to hurt my feelings. He helped me off the tractor and gave me a hug. All was well between Dad and his shadow, even though his barn door needed repairs right away.
This is how Dad always treated me because he loved his little shadow.
(Excerpt from my memoir, The Hunt for Larry Who, by Larry Nevenhoven, ©2014, Amazon eBook)
The last words I spoke to Dad were said at the Freeport Nursing Home on May 1, 2010, the evening before he died: “Dad, you’re the greatest father in the whole world. I love you.”