Dad would have been 90 this month.
He was born in 1922 – the same year as Judy Garland and Ava Gardner. The president of the United States at that time was Warren Harding. David Lloyd George was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Lenin was in charge over in Russia.
It had only been four years since the Armistice that ended World War I. In 20 years, the United States would be embroiled in World War II.
Dad was born on a farm in southwestern Kansas, a little town called Ford, near Dodge City. He was the fourth of five children – four boys and a girl. He had fond memories of being a Kansas farm boy.
I heard stories about the kids riding a horse named Rowdy to school. My aunt, the middle child, grumbled that she always had to ride at the back end of the horse. When going to school with the two older boys, they made her ride on the back because she was the youngest. Then when she got older, she had to ride on the back to look after the two younger boys.
Then there was the time Dad was five, back in 1927, and he had a close and memorable encounter with a skunk under the farmhouse.
In the 1920s, wet weather led to increased agricultural production on the Great Plains. When Dad was eight, in 1930, the wet years ended. The drought and the dust storms began. Dad remembered the Dirty Thirties vividly. His mother would wet sheets and put them around the windows and doors, trying to keep out the blowing dust. But they stayed in Kansas.
Dad graduated from high school in 1940, one of a class of nineteen students. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the Navy. He was on shore patrol one night in 1943 in a small town in Oklahoma when he met my mother.
Eventually he took the Oklahoma girl home to Kansas to meet his family. My parents were married in 1944, a month or so shy of Dad’s 22nd birthday.
After the war, he went to college on the GI Bill. He and my mother started a family – two kids, me and my brother.
It’s hard to believe Dad has been gone nearly seven years. When I look back, it’s not at that last year, when he was in failing health. It’s back a few more years, to a family reunion in 2003. I brought along a tape recorder and got Dad and his only surviving brother talking.
Once they got rolling, I heard all sorts of yarns. Such as the time they’d built a sort of roller coaster and sent my aunt’s cat on a ride. I particularly liked the tale about my uncle wiring the clothesline with an electrical charge so that Grandma would get a shock when she hung out the wash. Those four Dawson boys were certainly a handful.
Every now and then I listen to that recording, which I now have as an audio file on my computer. It’s great to heard Dad’s voice again.
Got family? Get a recorder and get them talking. You’ll be glad you did.