Mail Call March/April 2016: Remembering Loved Ones, Grinding Grains, Homemade Bread, DIY Projects and More

Share our readers' experiences remembering loved ones, grinding grains and making homemade bread, growing hops, and more.

| March/April 2016

Tribute to Dad  

The year my father was 71 years old, he bought a 10-acre wheat field in central Kansas. He and Mom built their retirement home there, and then he put all his energy into developing his new homestead. That first spring, he planted more than 40 fruit trees and berry bushes. Besides his orchard with a wide variety of fruit, he and Mom also had a large garden. Along with the usual tomatoes, corn and beans, they grew long rows of carrots, stored them in sand for the winter, and made fresh carrot juice every morning. Dad also experimented successfully with peanuts. I remember piles of peanut plants covering the garage floor in the fall. Those peanuts made some mighty good peanut brittle for the Christmas holiday.

During those first years, Dad worked tirelessly. He spent hours tilling and watering the garden and his young orchard. He was a do-it-yourself kind of person. To fertilize the garden, he bought a small old manure spreader and completely rebuilt it, finishing it off by painting it John Deere green. His welder was his right-hand helper, and with it, along with a few scrap pieces from the junk pile, he could fix or make just about anything. His auction outings usually produced another box of possibilities.

After about 15 years, though, things began to change. Dad quit doing as much outside. Instead, he spent a lot of time reading in his rocking chair. I had a hard time persuading him to do regular chores like mowing. One day, I asked him to till the garden, being careful to show him where I had just planted new strawberry vines. When I went back out, the weeds were tilled under, but so were my plants. Dad was completely oblivious to what he had done. It became obvious that he was no longer thinking clearly.

As Alzheimer’s stole Dad’s abilities, I needed to take over his little farm. At first, I resisted. I thought I didn’t have time to mow the lawn. I couldn’t get the tiller started. I forgot to keep an eye on the ripening fruit, and the birds got the cherries. During three years of drought, I lost most of the fruit trees, not realizing that they should be watered. Many times I felt like I was stumbling along, not knowing what I was doing, afraid of failing. However, since I wanted to keep Dad and Mom in their own home, I persevered.

Gradually, I made changes. Dad’s tractor was sold, and we rented out the 7 acres he had been planting to wheat. My brother came from out of state and helped me clean up Dad’s work space and the yard. Together we decided what to keep and what to sell or toss. We took a truckload to the local community auction and another truckload to the metal recyclers. It was nice to have more room for my things, and with Dad’s piles of scrap and “junk” out of the way, mowing was easier. I replaced the old mower with one that was easier to start. I bought a wagon to help me haul heavy bags of mulch. In the process, I discovered that outdoor work was the best relaxant after a full day in the office.

As Dad grew weaker, I cared for him, and for his place, as best I could. I often wished I could ask his advice, but although his body was here, his mind had forgotten how to do all the things he used to do so well.

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