For as long as I can remember, my Uncle Bill has been interested in guns. I’m certain that interest dates back to his childhood days. Being the oldest brother, and with his dad working on the railroad and away a lot, Uncle Bill helped provide for the family by hunting and fishing. Of course, many men, and women have an interest in guns, but few turn it into a career.
For many years, Uncle Bill traveled to gun show after gun show, sharing his interest with many people. I remember him telling me about one particular trip that found him driving around Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. For those who don’t recall, that fateful day was the day the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was sunk in Lake Superior during an early winter storm that produced near hurricane force winds. No one knows for sure exactly how the actual sinking occurred, but my uncle told me that it was a storm to remember, and one he very much wished he had not been out in. I suppose I can understand how he felt. A storm that was bad enough to sink a 729′ ship, must have been horrible to drive in.
Since my uncle had lived most of his life around Lake Superior, he knew what an early winter storm could mean. Lake Superior had taken down many a ship and she was ruthless when she got a ship in her clutches. He said he wondered about the ships that might be on the lake in such a storm, and he was not surprised to hear of the loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, when the storm was over. Oddly, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the only ship lost during one of the worst storms to ever hit Lake Superior, but that sinking was a permanent reminder of the perils of a life at sea.
Being a collector, Uncle Bill collected all the newspaper articles that came out about the tragedy. A year later Gordon Lightfoot came out with a song called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and when I mentioned the song to Uncle Bill, he told me of his harrowing drive around the lake on that fateful day. Then he sent me all of the articles and such that he had saved. When I was done looking it all over, I told him I was ready to send it back, but he said to keep it. That’s how he was and still is. He wants to get history into the hands of those who are interested. Maybe we are alike, he and I, because I enjoy getting little bits of history into the hands of those who are interested too.
During the years of the Great Depression, people had to do whatever was necessary to make ends meet. The backyard garden became a necessity, not a hobby. Hunting and fishing really became a vital part of life, not just a pastime. People had to make their own repairs around the house, rather than hiring it done. People put blankets up for curtains, and made their own clothes. I suppose it was like a move back in time…to the time when their ancestors didn’t have a store to go to, or a repairman to call, so they did what they had to do, on their own. I would imagine that there were a lot of repairs that the repairman would have scratched his head at…just trying to figure out how it ran at all.
While the things the people of the Great Depression era did were a bit unusual, and were an essential part of making ends meet, they were also a part of their independence. They didn’t want a government handout…even when they had to take it, they didn’t want it. They were used to taking care of themselves. Nevertheless, jobs were scarce, and often required the men to travel for work, leaving their wives and young children to run the farm. School became a luxury, because the kids were needed at home to plow, weed, and harvest the crops to put food on the table. Nothing was wasted either. They cooked the feet, tongue, and even brains of an animal for food. They didn’t necessarily kill an animal, if all they needed was the feathers for a mattress. Can you imagine plucking the feathers from a goose while it is alive?? I would be afraid it would come after me, but it was well known then, that the feathers would grow back, just like our hair, of course, cutting our hair doesn’t hurt.
Tough times can make or break a nation and it’s people I guess, but if we are a people, determined to make it on our own, and help this nation be great at the same time, then we can be a nation who can handle difficult times with grace and dignity. If we become a nation of people who are willing to sit back and let the government take care of us, then we will be a truly poor nation indeed.
My Dad passed away 3 years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him terribly. So much so, that many times it is hard to speak or think of him without tears. He was like the main trunk of a tree, and we, his family the branches. While the tree can come back from the roots if the trunk is cut down, it takes a long time to do so. Yes, we have all gone on with life, just as Dad would have wanted us to do, taking care of our Mom, and hoping that we do so in such a way as to make Dad proud, but there is something missing, and a huge gaping hole in the middle of our lives that we can’t seem to fill. My Dad is irreplaceable.
Dad was a World War II veteran, and like many of those men, he rarely talked about those years, choosing instead to move on with life. He was the Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer on a B-17 Bomber. He was credited with shooting down 2 Japanese planes, and he saved the men on his plane when he hung upside down in the open bomb bay to hand crank the landing gear down when it was stuck and they couldn’t land. But, these were things he didn’t tell us about. My Mom would tell us later. It just wasn’t Dad’s way. To him, he just did his duty.
One of my Dad’s greatest loves, other than family, was the great outdoors. Dad wanted us to be able to see as much of our great country as possible. We have camped out in many places, and seen almost every state. There have been funny times, like making my Dad get up to put another log on the fire, because we thought there might be bears in the area, one of the joys of camping with 5 daughters, I guess. My Dad was a brave man. And of course, he had to get every moth away from us, because they might be “deadly” or something. He was so patient. He just took our craziness is stride. When I think back on those years, I can’t help but laugh at how goofy my sisters and I were. Dad just had a way of making things fun, no matter what came up.
One of Dad’s all time favorite travel destinations was the Black Hills. Because it was close to Wyoming, and there was so much to do there, we went often. I’m sure that is where my love of the Black Hills came from. He showed us many fun things to do there, and well, from there my love for it just grew. When I am in the Black Hills, I always feel like I can hear “echos” of my Dad, because there are so many wonderful memories there.
Another thing my Dad was very good at is problem solving. Whenever any of us needed help with something, Dad could always be counted on come up with a solution. He was the strength of our family, no matter what. I can still hear him saying, “This is what we are going to do.” And you just knew everything was going to be alright.
Dad, you taught us many lessons of life through the years, and you made life fun. Your words and laughter will always echo in my memory. I will miss you until the day I see you again in Heaven. Thank you Daddy for being the greatest Dad ever!! I love you so much…and Forever!!