From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Caring for Our Own

All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in The Nebraska Sandhills...



As I've mentioned many a time on this blog, I grew up in the Nebraska Sandhills on a cattle ranch.

Cattle eat grass. In the summer, they eat live grass and in the winter, they eat dried grass, also known as hay. Thus on the ranch, we worked hard every summer to make enough hay to feed the cattle for the next winter.

We usually had some extra hired help during the summer to help with haying. Most summers, we had a couple of hired men who lived with us as members of our family. They ate three meals a day with us and slept in one of the upstairs rooms.

One of our hired men who came back year after year was my Grandma Nora's cousin, Andrew "Pete" Fisher. Pete was probably in his 60's during the years I remember him best. He drove an old blackish pickup truck with running boards that looked a lot like the 1939 Chevy pickup truck on this RECCC page.

Pete's clothing was as old fashioned as his vehicle was. He always wore bib overalls (which we called "farmer overalls" back then) and a long-sleeved chambray workshirt. He also wore a type of underwear known as a union suit and he changed once a week. We knew this intimate detail about him because my mother did his laundry.

After supper every night as daylight dwindled to twilight, Pete would sit in his pickup and smoke. If my sister and I would go and talk to him, he'd give us a piece of hoarhound candy. He had a group of cardboard girls swinging on strings from the rear-view mirror and the passenger visor. They were very curvaceous but they were wearing all their clothing.

One reason Pete worked for my dad every summer was that Pete was pretty good at raking hay. He knew how to run a dump rake and make long, straight windrows of hay. When we little girls came to the hayfield to visit, he'd drive by waving both hands at us as a joke.

I didn't realize then that Pete was somewhat mentally retarded and my parents made a place for him in our home every summer partly to help him out. Years later, I found out that my dad kept Pete's tractor just for him to rake with because other tractors confused him.

Pete drove to town every other Saturday night during the summer. I think he probably went to town on paydays. I don't know where he went or what he did, but he always got dressed up in his newest overalls before he left and he always came back before dark on Sunday night.

My Grandma Nora and my Great-Aunt Goldie watched over Pete a lot and they always had him helping them with something when he wasn't working for my dad. I think he worked sometimes for some of Goldie's sons also.

Looking back at all this now, I think that my family just accepted Pete for who he was. He could barely read or write, but he did some other things well enough. He worked hard doing real jobs and he lived a useful, meaningful life.

I don't think that the group homes and sheltered workshops of modern times would have given Pete any better life than his family did half a century ago. But I'm also sure that there were people with mental handicaps in that time who were not as fortunate in having a helpful family.

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3 comments:

Limey said...

What a charming story - and a more innocent time. It is not hard to see how the stories for the Waltons and Little House on the prairie got started - apart from the obviously made up plot lines they were almost history lessons.

Trixie said...

This story really touches close to home with me. I completely feel like I know Pete, and the family that helped him be in his place in this world. It's another reminder that we were created to BE, not to DO. Almost everyone can DO something, but when we're accepted and allowed to BE, then we've really got the whole world.

Sarabeth said...

This made me smile. And also reminded me to be kinder to my mother-in-law in my thoughts. I'm nice to her in person, but my thoughts are not kind.

Thanks, Genevieve.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.