Monday, June 18, 2018

My Father's Story

Father's Day made me think about my Dad.  So, today, I’m going to tell Dad’s story…

Dad was the oldest of four boys; Glenn, Wayne, Dean and Larry. His parents, Pearl and George Little, owned and worked a poor farm in the Wapsi Bottoms, just outside of Princeton, Iowa.

When I knew them -- my Grandma was a short, completely round person…around 300 pounds, I’m sure. Grandpa was a bent-over skinny man who always wore bib overalls and seldom smiled. They were two sour, crabby people...and their tone with each other was, at best, snappish.  They were well-known skinflints (is that still a term?)...and they never had a neighbor they liked.  They seemed to believe  people were going to take advantage...or rob way or another.

Pearl Soltau was the oldest daughter from a well-to-do family who lived in a big stone house on Bluff Road. But George was an orphan who lived with his uncle in a boarding house in Princeton, Iowa.  Pearl  married George when she was 16 years old, and Glenn (my Dad) was born 3 months later. (I did that math when I was 13).

Dad’s fondest childhood memories came from the time he lived with his Soltau Grandparents. They loved him, and called him “Sonny”. He adored them, and his Uncle Elmer (who farmed the home place) was a loving influence in his life.

He lived with his grandparents (and Uncle Elmer and Aunt Leone) until he was 6 years old. At that time, he was considered old enough to real farm work. So, he went to live with his parents.  Pearl and George -- and they hired him out to local farmers. He did whatever chores a strong 6-year old boy was capable of, mucking out barns, baling hay...

George kept the money Glenn earned (35 cents a day). Dad loved school, but there were no books in his home, and his formal education ended after 6th grade. It was the Depression, and there were no jobs. Dad was a farm laborer, and the future was bleak.

Then came World War II.  Dad enlisted in the Army Air Corps. His Uncle Elmer drove him into town to get on the train that would take him to Basic Training. His parents didn’t come to say goodbye. He served in North Africa, France and Europe as a navigator on P-51’s. When he came home, he met my 17-year old mother at the local roller skating rink. Mom (a senior in high school) dropped out to marry him. Dad became a carpenter apprentice, and worked his way up to be the outside Superintendent for a large regional construction company.

Dad could look at a set of blue prints, and figure out the number of bricks in his head. He was a prolific reader, and had opinions about EVERYTHING. As newlyweds, Dad bought a garage on a side street in Princeton and turned it into a two bedroom house. He was one of the original house flippers -- and every time they moved, it was to a bigger, better house. And there was usually a new baby on the way.

By the time they had four children -- they were living in a large farmhouse that sat on a 160 acre farm. Although Dad never actually farmed, he owned several of them. Dad had a knack for business and did well with his investments. He bought rental houses, and at one time owned three laundromats.

Eventually, they had six children.  A big part of growing up was our "go to work with Dad" day.  He drove a company car (he got a new blue station wagon every other year) and we loved playing with the short wave radio.  When we visited the various job sites, you'd get to wear a yellow hard hat.  For me,  the highlight of the day was eating lunch with Dad,  sitting on a stool at the counter of a drug store in the west end of Davenport.   

When he was 53 years old, he declared himself a millionaire and retired. His last big project was the housing development John and I live in. Dad paid $100,000 for a 300 acre farm, with a  dilapidated 100-year old brick house sitting on it.

He quickly sold off 80 acres of tillable land for $100,000. Then, he developed a large portion of the wooded area into building lots. The ½ acre lots sold for $5,000 -- and he sold about 20 of them. He split off 20 acres to build his own house. Eventually, he sold the remainder of the property to a sophisticated developer who built gigantic houses, on very private, wooded 3 or 4 acre lots.

When John and I moved back to Iowa in 1978, Dad sold us one of those lots and helped us build our house.  Just like he'd helped my brother and my sisters.  Dad wanted all six of his children to graduate from high school.  Which we did.  And he wanted all six of his children to own their own home.  Which we do.

Tomorrow -- I'm going to write about my favorite Dad-at-work-story...