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My Father's 100th Birthday

My father, Donald, was only 71 when he passed away.  Today he would have celebrated his 100th birthday.  Donald Eugene Hill was born at home near the tiny burg of Colburn, Indiana, on October 14, 1915. I saw the house once, abandoned and in the middle of a field; it has since been torn down.

My dad and his sisters as they prepare to board the school bus. Kosciusko County, Indiana, circa 1930
Brothers and sisters: Donald, Cora, Carolyn, Elene, Jean, and Maralee Hill, as they prepare to board the school bus. Kosciusko County, Indiana, circa 1930.

Almost two generations older than me, and deceased since the late 1980s, my dad still connects me to times, lives, and customs taught to him by his parents and grandparents who knew the 19th Century.
boy on haystack with pitchfork, circa 1920
My dad, age 5, pitching hay near Colburn, Indiana, circa 1920.

There was an abandoned yoke for a draft horse that pulled a plow in back of the barn when I was a kid.  I missed the days of my dad using horses to plow and till by only a decade or so.  My brothers learned to farm using draft animals.
I may have missed the experiences, but the connections were palpable to me.
These were times when my family, and the culture from which they, came were agrarian.  The larger society was in the midst of an industrial revolution but the old ways from many previous centuries still brought food to tables. Territories opened, land rushes drew adventurers and drifters.
Dad saw the coming of the end of the life he knew.  Not his own mortality, though he knew that well, but rather the incorporation of the basic production of essential goods necessary to sustaining life into mechanized, impersonal processes removed from nurturance and knowledge.
How did he convey such nuanced information to me?  He lived life honestly and he told stories. Boy, oh, boy, did he tell stories.  Many people thought him to be an odd duck.  And he was.  So am I.
He did not give a hoot about what most people thought.
He once roared out during discussion with a local priest for whom he was doing some carpentry, “There is no God but Allah,” while in the middle of the sidewalk in our small, Indiana town.  My brother, Roger, witnessed this, and was mortified.  We were Christians. I can only imagine that he was demonstrating the belief that one should proclaim one’s beliefs publicly, as in the Islamic call to prayer, in some sort of intense religious discussion with the good Friar.  He loved to expound on religious philosophy.
As an agnostic who could, “recite all the begats,” my father was an enigma.  His memory had to be photographic, as he could recall anything he ever read and/or learned at the knee of his grandfather, Silas Hill, a Brethren Minister.  But at heart my dad was a historian and a logician, not a church-goer.  My interests in anthropology and semiotics did not fall very far from the proverbial tree.
Stormy weather coming in over an old decrepit shed. black and white image.
Betcha almost anything that there is a tin can filled with coins buried near here. Image by pilostic, aka Ernie Kasper, on pixabay.com.

He loved to tell stories about finding buried treasure.  Some thought his stories were tall tales.  But it was easier to find buried loot back when he was a boy, as people did actually bury their precious metal and gold and silver coins to hide them from ne’er do wells in the days before bank deposits were insured.  Dad found serious money a couple of times according to my brothers.  He literally stumbled over a can of gold coins, on the property just off the road our farm was on, and that financed his first tractor in the 1940s.  You see Dad may have told tall tales, but he also listened deeply and analytically to the old men who gathered in the center of the town.  Their stories revealed much about who did what where, some of which included who took the whereabouts of where they buried their money to the grave with them.
I cannot document these stories as facts, but I know the stories did not change over time, but they were plausible, and had verifiable elements.  And he valued truth and community.  He was active as a citizen, He was a volunteer fireman, a founding member of the group in our township.  He was an active member of The Farmers Union and the local Democratic Party.  Service and truth were important to him.  But he also understood the power of telling a story or two.
So, if you would, do me a favor and give a gift in honor of my Dad’s 100th birthday: tell someone a story that you were told as a child.  Such is the stuff of legacy.
Happy 100th Daddy.

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  1. Beautiful sharing, Nancy. Yes, such IS the stuff of legacy. I’ve noticed lately how much Jews share their history with each other and the younger members of the family. My family never did that. I’m not sure why. But we should know where we came from, our parents and grandparents. Because it all matters. It all brought us here.

    1. I grew up on family stories. I’m lucky. At the time I did not know they were Anabaptist stories and rich with information about culture as well as individuals. Yes, it does matter, it brought us here and shaped us. I wish more of our elders would have understood that their silences are more worrisome and suggestive than any event or character flaw they were covering up or erasing from the record. But you can tell your stories!

  2. I LOVE stories like yours- recalling the thoughts and times of those that have passed before us. My sister and I found fossils and Native American artifacts in the woods near where we grew-up, but never buried treasure, So THriLLING! Love your Dad!

    1. Silly girl, Cheryl, you did find treasures! I loved hunting for trilobites and fossilized plant stems as a girl. Projectile points were everywhere too. Memory is filled with stories yet to tell!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this Nancy. I love biographies and history and this is yours so I loved it even more.
    My dad escaped Nazi Germany and lost a lot of his family. He was 10 and has vivid memories. He’s 87 and frail but mentally? Sharper than any of us. He’s in touch with the mayor of the town in Germany where he used to live. So he’s been telling me stories he never told before. I love it and am trying to record/write them down.
    My dad’s beloved younger brother by 17 months (and we just lost to f’***kin Pancreatic Cancer -loved that man) told the story that at the age of 5 he snuck out to where the Germans were dedicating the brand new highway the “Autobahn” as dictated by Hitler. He got there in time to see the crowd giving the old “zeig Heil” salute as Hitler’s car drove by. Then my uncle had to sneak back home fast. Jews were under strict restrictions. Chilling, eh?
    Happy 100th birthday to your beloved dad, Nancy.

    1. I get the shivers as I read your telling of your uncle’s story. It makes my heart happy to hear that your dad is talking to you about his early years. If you cannot write down all the stories, record them. We must nurture and preserve the information that remains, from it grows wisdom. It is so hard to see our elders leave us, it makes me angry too. And thank you for your birthday wishes to my dad. Hugs.

  4. What a great story and beautiful imagery to go along with it too. I agree with you stories are what create a legacy. Some of my fondest memories from growing up involve times spent around the fireplace simply swapping tidbits from our daily life, it wove together for me a feeling of what it means to be at home. Thank you for sharing your father today, Nancy.

    1. Home, family, legacy, love, memory, they all go together, don’t they? At least for the lucky ones of us, and for those of us who can reframe and remember the good. And you are welcome. I love to share my Dad.

    1. He was a unique and multifaceted old coot! I’m glad you enjoyed it. That is why I wrote it. He would be very happy to know is stories still bring smiles.

  5. I think that those who tell the richest stories are, as your dad seemed to have been, great listeners. Our stories are often based on the collections of others!
    I choose to gift you a story in honor of your dad’s birthday, one my dad told me, because I know you are an amazing listener and laugher!
    My dad grew up less than a mile from the house where he raised me. There was a guy who seemed to keep popping when I was a little girl. We will call him Cass just in case anyone is alive who might know this guy and they are paying attention. He would bring my dad tickets to the theater in Chicago or great seats to the Cubs, Black Hawks, Bears, or Bulls. My mom always got a little nervous when he showed up — even when he came bearing tickets to the show no one else could get or the day he brought Mel Torme ticket (she should, by all rights have been swooning). I asked my dad what Cass did for a living and he said he was a “driver”. My mom, in her oh so proper way, dramatically rolled her eyes. I found out later that apparently Cass was the get away driver for Al Capone and Al Capone owned a house two blocks away from where I grew up and one block from the Indiana / Illinois stateline. That piece of info openned an entire genre of stories — ones I will gift you someday in person over a bottle or two of wine!

  6. Wonderful! I cannot wait to share stories about dads and Northern Indiana. (My dad met Dillinger, and delivered “boot” to Billy Sunday.)

  7. A beautiful tribute to your father. Storytelling odd ducks make the best of parents. Such a challenge it must have been to see the progression as machines took over the world in so many ways, as your father must have.
    He seems a very good man. I’ll think of him (and you) as I share stories.

    1. Yes, no matter what happens, no matter how bleak things get, tell stories that make someone smile and maybe you will smile too. Odd ducks have wonderful smiles!

  8. what wonderful memories you have. I always loved hearing my immigrant-grandmother’s tales. I never got tired of hearing of her escape from Poland and how she made her life in a be rand new country; even went to college.

    1. Oh, your grandmother’s stories sound like the stuff of film sagas. I hope you have recorded what you remember of her tales. That is information that must not be forgotten!

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