Fred Eickhoff was a farmer; first, foremost and to the end. He loved the land and watching things grow. There are no other words in the English language that better describe what I remember of my Grandpa Fred. He was quiet, unhurried, hardworking and good to his word. A fair skinned German; he wore long sleeved light blue chambray shirts, blue denim jeans, carried a handkerchief and donned a brimmed hat when he worked outside. He spent his entire life near Wood River, Nebraska, where he worked the land for more than sixty years with his wife, Dorothy, by his side. Laboring with his hands and his heart, they raised four fine children in a loving, Christian home.
Together they made a good living growing crops in the sandy Nebraska soil back when flood irrigation was done with ditches and tubes. It was hard, muddy work before the days of pipes with gates you open and close like battery compartments on toys. I am told when times were good, they were very good, and when times were bad they were worse.
My mom’s siblings all stayed near the farm, while we lived five hours away and visited about six weekends a year. When we came for holidays there were always plenty of cousins, big family dinners, barn kittens, three wheelers, barking dogs and gravel roads. I knew this side of my family from a distance as an occasional visitor in their world; an entirely dissimilar world to mine. Distance was measured in sections and eighties versus the city measurement of blocks that I knew. Cousins rode busses together to small town schools, drove vehicles and farm equipment at an insanely early age and had farm chores in addition to the house chores and homework I was used to. Their lives were as different as night and day from mine. Not better, not worse, just different.
My brother, sister and I were three of fifteen grandchildren and the only ones that did not live nearby. It was a big family, the times were happy, and I loved all my relatives. Not because I particularly knew them, but because we were family and that’s what you did.
I reminisce about my grandfather now as it nears Christmas because I recall one year when my grandmother had ordered a leather belt with grandpa’s name stamped in the back as a gift for him. When she placed the order with the local western and tack shop and the salesperson asked what she wanted stamped on it, she said, “Just ‘Fred.'”
“Just Fred?” the salesperson asked.
“Just ‘Fred,'” my grandmother replied.
The order was placed; the belt picked up, wrapped and placed beneath the tree. On Christmas morning when he opened the present, there was the handsome tooled leather belt proclaiming “Just Fred” on the back. Although it was a mistake, he was delighted with it and wore it for as long as I can remember.
“Just Fred” was enough for him. It was a humble statement that fit him to a tee. It was a conversation piece that performed double duty by holding up his pants. You would be amazed how many people commented on it, and, true to his gentleman and farmer life, there was always time for a cup of coffee and the story of how it came to be.
Seems every idea I try to relate and every opinion I have gets edited into a 600-word space. I wonder if “Just Nancy” would be enough for a belt for me to state, and, if it was, would I slow down enough to answer the question from a stranger on how it came to state that.
At Christmas time I try to recall that I come from a farmer’s bloodline,
It slows my pace and eases my journey and closes the gate just fine.
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