Thanks to all my family members who contributed their thoughts – even if I did not credit you. JMH
With a history of emphysema, my grandpa, James Hibbard, thought he would be six feet under and pushing up daisies long before he had more than a couple of grandchildren from his twin sons and daughter.
He was wrong. He lived to see not only his 11 grandchildren, but also a dozen great-grandchildren.
“My father was always gentle and kind, but he could be strict. They lent out money and Mother kept track of it. Sometimes they would need to take a farm in payment for the loan,” Aunt Calysta told me. Those farm houses shelter, at times, his children’s families.
As a dairy farmer, Grandpa’s day began with milking the cows at exactly 5 a.m. and ended after the 5 p.m. milking. “He would pull out his pocket watch and make sure it was the right time,” my big brother said. When he finished straining the milk through the squares of white flannel into the milk cans, he filled a half gallon aluminum can to take back to the house.
As my dad and uncle grew big enough to help, he challenged them to see who would be first to complete a task.
With a working farm to tend, Grandpa assumed everyone would help, including guests. Youngsters handled farm machinery early. My oldest brother said he learned to drive a tractor sitting double on the red Allis Chalmers tractor. He concentrated on the steering – his legs could not reach the brakes or the clutch – Grandpa controlled those.
Grandpa made one exception to using all hands available. The first summer that my very expectant Aunt Erma started to join the others in the hot, dusty hayloft trampling down the hay, Grandpa told her to wait outside and let the men do it.
At the end of the day, he rested. In the early years, he rested and rocked his young sons or daughter. In his later years, he watched TV. Sundays the family visited and the men watched ball games through a haze of electric snow. Grandchildren played with each other while the women chatted around the kitchen table. Sometimes the men went outside to play horseshoes or baseball with the grandkids. As the emphysema took its toll, Grandpa sat in his lawn chair and watched.
Every couple of months the Sunday visit included Grandpa’s electric razor buzzing over the boys’ heads. Those haircuts, my brother recalled, lasted for a long time.
From his weed-free garden, Grandpa provided a harvest of rhubarb stalks for the strawberry rhubarb pie that Grandma, a diabetic, made without sugar. My cousin said Grandpa would lift the crust and sprinkle the pie with sugar. When he could no longer stand to hoe, he sat in a chair and scooted along the rows hoeing until he needed to go inside for more oxygen.
“He would get up at night to help anyone that came to the door,” my aunt recalled, adding he backtracked to pick up her prescription after a hospital visit.
Overnight visits began early for the grandchildren. When my brother wanted to go home to his Momma, Grandpa took him every time – until the night Grandpa decided it was time for the little one to stay the whole night.
The next morning’s menu might include Cream of Wheat or milk toast. Then we sat still while he and grandma read the scripture of the day and we slid off our chairs to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer.
During the day, Grandpa took us to great-Grandpa Holt’s store to purchase candy and orange Fawn soda pop. At Christmas time, he handed out peanut brittle and ribbon candy. When my youngest brother started collecting coins, Grandpa gave him a collection of wheat pennies in a syrup jar – which my brother still has on his dresser. He passes along a few coins to kids he hears have started a coin collection.
Just for laughs, Grandpa would rapidly clack his false teeth to entertain grandkids. On family picnics, he took a finger-sized branch, loosened the bark, made a slot in the branch and whittled a whistle. Sometimes he whittled a small wooden ball rolling around in its middle. He showed grandkids how to whistle with their hands and how to throw crabapples at the end of a stick.
Grandpa loved to tease. After purchasing his first car with an automatic turn signal, he told us a little man, hiding inside the engine, turned off the lights. No matter how we looked, we never did find that little man.
He teased Grandma by using her full name, “Harriet Eliza.” He learned her middle name the day they applied for a marriage certificate. Other times he simply call her ‘Hat’ for Harriet. His last two grandchildren’s names, “Sarah and Hope,” he simplified into ‘Sopie.’
As we grew older and our moms went to work, the grandparents’ house became our infirmary. The day my brother’s ear infection burst on Grandma’s pillow, Grandpa simply observed, “I bet your ear feels better now.”
If only emphysema worked that simply. It didn’t. It slowly robbed him of breath. His final days he stayed in his lounge chair near his oxygen tank, barely able to do more than look up and nod a greeting when we visited.
When his body finally succumbed and went six feet under to push up daisies, we missed his humor, his generosity and his will to do.