My grandfather on my father’s side was a gentleman farmer of the truest kind. He was a middle child born to Polish immigrant parents and he was 1 of 16 children of which there were roughly half boys and half girls. For the whole of his working life, he supported his own growing brood. His first son was born in 1939, my Uncle Walt. My father was born 4 years later on the heals of a preterm pregnancy; an unknown aunt or uncle I’d never know. During World War 2, he did his time in supporting both his family and his country. I remember as I grew older, he would spend a lot of time watching the Old World War II documentaries. I tended not to bother him during these times because he always seemed lost in some far away memory and though I don’t think it made him sad, it seemed important at the time to let him remember those friends who didn’t make it home. He lost his best friend during that war. And in his honor, he took his friends first name and made it his middle name. As far as names go in Polish tradition, they were not given middle names at birth as American children are. Sometime after World War 2, Walter Demick became Walter James Demick. Despite being something of a gruff man, grandpa’s true heart was soft like the stuffing of a well-loved teddy bear. I honestly think he wanted nothing more in life then to keep his family close to him where he could always keep in contact with them. He wasn’t one to get on the phone just for the sake of conversation.
As the occasional farmer, as I liked to call him, the animals he kept on his farm came and went like people through a revolving door. He had pretty much all the animals you could possibly have at one time or another. He had a horse named Big Red that got his name from his physical size and coloring. He had numerous cows, goats, ponies, and an older than dirt, very special pony named Dusty. Dusty was the only animal that Grandpa ever owned that was always there on the farm. He would drive Dusty in the town parades and would often stop to pick up my sister and I to bring us home after the parade. Dusty lived out his entire life on Grandpa’s little farm. As Dusty got older, he developed a personality much like his owner. To try riding him without Grandpa around meant learning how to ride like a bucking bronco. You held on for as long as you could, but Dusty was determined to leave you in the dirt. He was a good old boy, one that has a fun place in my memories.
Grandpa passed away in March of 1995, just 6 days after I moved home from Texas. It was a rough day. We got the call in the wee hours of the morning, telling us that Grandpa’s soul had moved on. He was found sitting in his chair at the head of the kitchen table, head on his chest like he was sleeping, which he was known to do. My heart was broken. So many memories came flooding back to me that morning. I remembered the pony rides with Dusty, I remember him sitting with Grandma out on the rocker swing that sat overlooking the pond and fields, the sun was going down and they were holding hands. I thought at the time that their love was timeless. I remembered the hundreds of times he would sing Polish lullabies to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, songs he likely sang to his kids and songs that were probably sung to him.
There was nothing he enjoyed more then rocking the babies and singing to them. I only wish that my children could have had this opportunity. His singing of the Polish lullabies was much like the baby sweaters that my grandmother knit by the dozen. If I could have recorded him singing and put it in a pretty package for those future generations not around to hear it in person, I would have. I could never have imagined how valuable a memory this would be. Sung as they were in his native language, they were a soft and lyrical mix of sounds and rhythm. Years after he passed away, my Aunt Barbara was told by Grandpa that one of the songs, once translated, was actually about the death of a rooster. I found a translation for another about kittens.
So after all of that, here is what I planned for this post. Every so often when something significant happens in my life, I think about my grandfather and wish that I could tell him about what is going on in my life. I’m not sure what started this, maybe it was because I didn’t share enough with him while he was here and I’m trying to make up for lost time. But what I really think is that he wanted nothing more then to be close to his family and to share with them those important moments. As a farmer, he was always willing to share those farm moments with the children of the family. Now, with him gone for nearly 20 years now, I still feel the need to share these important moments with him. Periodically, you will see posts entitled ‘Dear Grandpa.’ I wish so much that he was here now to see what my life has become. He would be 94 years young. I think he’d be proud. So this is a first in a series of things I would say to him, if I could.
April 28 2014
I hope this letter finds you well. It’s grandma’s birthday today but I’m sure you remember that. She’s doing well and seems to be staying healthy despite the chemotherapy that seems to have snatched up part of her memory. She still thinks that I’m about 12 years old and doesn’t realize that I have children of my own. It’s okay though. I just roll with the conversation and follow her lead.
Yesterday, my draft Horse Club had a plow match. It was actually held at my friend’s farm this year because the college where we usually have it, was too buddy. I went up to compete not having any idea what I was doing. The last time I had tried this was 12 years ago before Jake was born. It was a steep learning curve. As it turns out, the ride-on plow lost a rivet and although we fixed it, I never got back on it to finish that part of the competition. I also tried the walk-behind plow but that was so unbelievably difficult, there was no chance of me being up for a ribbon. My friend Dave who is a life member of the club, drove the horses while I managed the plow. You know those old movies that show the farmers at sundown, plowing their fields? They make this look pretty easy.
Connecticut is full of football-size rocks that can make even the straightest furrows look like one was plowing blindfolded. Each person had a section that was 50 by 100 to plow under. I had a very brief lesson before I started that wasn’t enough. I just couldn’t remember all the how-to’s and why-for’s. As soon as the horses started to walk and that plow dug into the dirt, it kicked out of my unsuspecting hands and tangled in the reins. I have every intention of becoming proficient with that walk-behind plow. I just need the chance to practice and there are many in the club who are willing teachers.
My greatest accomplishment yesterday, was coming home with three ribbons, two first place blues and a grand champion ribbon. This was for competing in the obstacle course. The first part was to ground drive the team through a set of cones. I misunderstood the directions on the first part of the test but managed to get myself corrected after losing a couple minutes worth of time. The second part of the competition was to drive this same course with the horses hitched to a skid that was weighted. Now that I knew the course, it went much easier. I don’t think the girls had ever pulled this skid before. When they tried to go and realized that it wasn’t going to just roll behind them, that they had to actually work at it, I could see them lean into that harness and put their strong legs to work. We were the only team to do both parts of the obstacle course so we came home with that grand champion ribbon. I was thrilled beyond belief as that ribbon was handed to me. You should have seen the look on my face! I wish you could’ve been there. You would have had a wonderful time.
I haven’t even told you about the horses that I was driving. Their names are Bonnie and jewel. They are Belgian draft mares. Bonnie is about 18 years old and was born and raised in Connecticut. Jewel is an Amish draft girl who is 13 years old this year. Jewel has a much more relaxed way about her and is often found not pulling her weight. Bonnie will only take so much of this before she reaches over to Jewel, nipping at her to get her moving. Jewel never seems overly impressed so I found myself needing to give her a little poke to step up her place. Jewel is pretty new to the farm as she is only been there for about 2 years. Before her was a mare named Sally but she wasn’t built with enough muscle to pull the big wagons that my friends have. Before Sally, there was Bell. When I first started at the farm there were two teams: Betsy and Millie and then Bonnie and Bell. Jewel is a good hand and a half taller then the other three and I’m pretty sure she was also bigger than Bell was, but despite all this, I think she just needs more time in harness, going solo, to work up to where the other 3 are. I, of course, have volunteered my services. It doesn’t seem so much that she doesn’t work hard, but she does like to take time to see the sights and I can’t really blame her for that.
Blue Slope Country Museum, the farm museum at my friend’s place, has many carriages, wagons, and Amish buggies but I don’t know if any of them are in working condition. Its one of those places where I wouldn’t mind being locked in for the night.
Its mid-May now and the trees are all leafed out. The sun is shinning, the animals are happy, and my hens have gotten back in the groove of laying eggs again. Life is good. Miss you Grandpa!