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In my words, June 10 – 16

Above you see my father, his glasses reflecting the camera’s flash, stacking his wood, Father Time. My father in the clipping below is younger than his grandsons now. When I think of my father, I often think of two things: working and camping. My father liked to camp although his wife didn’t. I only remember Mom sleeping outside once. That night a spider bit her on the leg and a pine needle poked her in the eye and in the morning she vowed she would never sleep outside again. I couldn’t believe it. I had had so much fun spending the night out in the night, I didn’t want to go back inside again. Looking back now, and knowing Mother, she wasn’t going to sleep in a sleeping bag on the hard cold ground when a soft warm bed was so close by. When I was a little boy, my Dad and I camped out in the summertime. We’d look up at the stars, watch for falling ones and talk about how the universe goes on and on. It was on such an eternal starry night that my father told me one of the first things I remember and it was a lie. Looking up at the stars, Dad pointed to one and said that that was where we came from, another galaxy millions of miles away. We’d come to earth in a flying saucer that he’d parked not far off in the forest. We were only visiting and would go home one day. He was my father. I believed him. Dad was always playing tricks on people; he was an excellent story teller, and this was one of the tricks, I’m sure, that he pulled on me; though even today sometimes I think, “People on earth are so strange, I must have come from some other place.”

I have loved and hated my father, which I think for most of us is normal. Love has certainly won out and as I grow older and hear stories of friends who have suffered absent or abusive fathers, I could kneel down and kiss Mother Earth. My father did make me work. He always had a project on the fifty acres of mountain land he owns. There were gardens to weed and lawns to cut in the summer, brush to be cleared and wood to be cut in the winter. Dad sold firewood by the cord; we’d stack it in his pickup and carry it to where the buyer wanted it stacked inside or outside the house. In the summer Dad planted a few acres of corn which we’d tend, finally pick and fill the car dumping our baskets into the trunk and back seat till it was packed to the brim with fresh sweet corn you could eat right off the cob; and then we’d go from town to town in Lebanon County knocking on doors and selling it by the dozen.

After Thanksgiving, many evenings out in the dark with flashlights in the woods, Dad sent my brother, my sister and I to search the forest floor for a plant called Crow’s Foot. It looks like a little sprig of pine. Our fingers froze, we froze, but the one thing about freezing you learn is, if you keep moving, you eventually warm up, thaw out again. Scott, Cathy and I picked the Crow’s Foot that came trailing out of the earth on long tough root systems we pulled and tugged at to break loose and put into the burlap bags that slowly got heavier with the pretty plants, alive and green in the wintertime. When Dad thought we had enough, we took the Crow’s Foot home to clean in the cellar warmed by the coal furnace and entertained by the radio playing Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline that would change over time to the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five. Mother wrapped the Crow’s Foot we cleaned fastening each stem with wire around a piece of grape branch Dad had bent into a circle and tied, hundreds of Christmas wreaths to be sold. I still hang one from my New York apartment window strung with lights, but not of Crow’s Foot now, of street-bought pine.

Abraham Lincoln had a father who made him work more cruelly than mine ever did. Lincoln, who in many ways along with George Washington is the Father of his Country, hated his own father. If you didn’t know that, read the following from James M. McPherson’s interesting biography:

After a year of trying to keep house and raise the children by himself, Thomas Lincoln returned to Kentucky to seek a wife. He married the widow Sarah Bush Johnston and brought her and her three children to his farm in Indiana. His stepmother provided the ten-year-old Abraham with affection and guidance. With a desire for book learning and an ambition for self-improvement, he devoured every book he could borrow from the meager libraries of friends and neighbors. Thomas Lincoln neither encouraged nor understood his son’s intellectual ambition; quite the contrary, he chastised Lincoln’s “lazy” preference for reading over working.

Abraham in turn resented the requirement of law and custom that any wages he earned before he reached the age of twenty-one—by hiring out to neighbors to split rails, for example—might be turned over to his father. Abraham Lincoln’s hatred of slavery, which denied to slaves “the fruits of their labor”, may have been influenced by Thomas Lincoln’s expropriation of Abraham’s earnings. When Thomas Lincoln lay dying in January 1851, he sent word that he wanted to say goodbye to his son. Abraham refused to make the eighty-mile trip, stating that, “If we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would be more painful than pleasant.” He did not attend his father’s funeral.

Dad stacking wood

Lucky for me, unlike Lincoln’s father, mine likes to read. As I mentioned, my father enjoys playing tricks on people. Well, I played tricks on him too. When my father reads a book, if he likes it, he doesn’t put it down. When I was a teenager and didn’t want to work, I’d give Dad a book. War and Peace, Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico, Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Peru, Hawaii (any James Michener would do), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Catch 22 were some of the books my father read because I gave them to him and got him interested turning the pages all afternoon, then for a day or two, and I’d go do what I wanted to do, maybe read a book myself or try to write one.

Dad reading

Here is Dad talking, telling his tales.


  1. Posted 17 Jun ’13 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Very nice, again. Don. There is much here I can connect with, and I think that’s what makes a lot of it feel so close. Nicely done, sentimentally vague enough – and pointed in other ways and directions – so as not to be cloying or (to me) off-putting. Thanks. Gary

  2. Posted 13 Jun ’14 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Your lines are a great ode to a loving father, a narration full of respect and adoration. Beautifully and openly written passage from the heart dear Don Yorty.

    • Posted 14 Jun ’14 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Vijay. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Addie
    Posted 14 Jun ’14 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Enjoyed reading, Don. I liked the comparison to Lincoln.

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