Father's Day is a time for honoring those fathers who are with us and remembering those who have passed on. My dad died in 1990 at the age of 90, and he taught me many important lessons.
Although born in Chicago, and a true city slicker, he pioneered his way with my mother to Lynden, Washington and raised a family of seven by holding down two jobs. From my earliest memory he was both a farmer and a state highway department employee. I remember feeling sorry for how hard he worked, and seeds of the importance of having empathy towards others were sown in my heart.Although he had been up since 5:00 a.m. to milk cows, I woke up at 7:00 a.m. to the sound of "Cowboy Capers" on the radio and the aroma of frying bacon and percolated coffee emanating from the adjacent kitchen. His breakfast always consisted of eggs, bacon, cereal, toast, and coffee which he drank from a china cup. Cholesterol was as yet an unknown word. My mother hovered nearby to take care of his every need, but conversation was limited. In thinking back, they were probably both dog-tired at the start of their day. He then headed off to his highway department job, only to return home at 5:00 p.m. for dinner, cow milking, plowing, working the land, or whatever else was necessary to keep bread on the table. Certainly the old days in Chicago must have been a source of nostalgia as they plodded through their daily lives.
My mother contributed by telling me to go out to the barn and help my father, rather than to help her in the kitchen. As a result, cooking was not my forte, but I could handle anything in the barn, drive a tractor like a pro, take care of chickens, plant and care for crops, bring in the hay, help dynamite stumps, put out peat fires, mow lawns, pick strawberries and beans in neighboring fields to earn money for school, and more. By today's standards it seems like a lot of work, but at the time, and in hindsight, it was both rewarding and fun. It was the way life was for most of us farm children.
My dad had high expectations for himself and for his children, six girls and one boy. One of those expectations was getting a good education although he personally had to leave school at ninth grade. His education came from the school of hard knocks and reading when he had time. To his immense gratification his children did well in school. When the first daughters graduated as valedictorians or salutatorians, he put pressure on those remaining to do the same. Five of six brought that honor home, while our brother left school early to serve as a marine during WWII.
A member of the local Grange, he was grange master more than once, and during his watch I observed him taking care of grange business, promoting exciting social activities and participating in the local fair. During his time as master the gavel was stored in a kitchen cupboard, and my younger sister and I played with it often. Understanding its power in the grown up world, our imaginary scenarios provided us with lessons in leadership
A sense of family pride was instilled by constant reminders of our family name, and that we were "a cut above everyone else." This belief kept my feet on a straight and narrow path. A Fjellman girl would not fail her classes, sneak out at night, be disrespectful, lie or steal. Many years later, as a single parent of three, a Fjellman girl would not go on welfare, but simply take on two or more jobs to survive.
Generosity was part of life, as our door was open to others, whether for a day or a month. The coffee pot was always on and the house was warm and welcoming. Although I guess we were poor, we always had plenty to eat and dressed nicely thanks to my mom's sewing skill on an old treadle Singer, and bargain shopping. But her story can be told another time.
A powerful memory, and one that makes us all smile, was the china cup I alluded to earlier. My father would only drink coffee from his favorite china cup. This affectation lasted until his dying day, and probably held a clue to how he viewed life. No matter what hardships or disappointments he may have endured, the china cup was a symbol of his success and self importance. He was not a warm and fuzzy dad, and he kept tight control over the family, but we all grew up to be responsible, proud, generous, hard working, well educated, leaders and decision makers in our various jobs and communities.
Way to go, Dad. Thank you and happy Father's Day wherever you may be.