Papa was four generations removed from his first German immigrant ancestors, yet he still had many old country ways about him. I called them old-fashioned ideas. As a child growing up I thought he was not easily changed. As an adult looking back, I see a real metamorphosis taking place.
He insisted on being called Papa. He said daddy was a modern word and didn’t show respect. My little friends called their fathers “Daddy” and I wanted to do the same. I didn’t like being old-fashioned or different.
At my early age I didn’t know, so could not appreciate, that even European royals called their fathers Papa. It wasn’t until years later after seeing the movie “Fiddler on the Roof” that I would fully appreciate the word Papa, and understand the love and full meaning of it.
In many ways Tevye, the papa in the movie, reminded me of my own Papa. Even though my Papa wasn’t Jewish, he was always trying to understand the new and modern life that was infringing on his own way of thinking. I never actually heard his private conversations with God, like Tevye in the movie, but I’m sure he had similar prayers.
Papa didn’t marry until he was 45. When I was born he was 54. It was like an extra generation between us. I was the youngest of his four children, with two older sisters and an older brother. Looking back I’m sure that he was overwhelmed by three daughters in his life always pushing against his old-fashioned ways.
His immigrant ancestors were Pennsylvania Dutch or German. They settled in Hanover, Pa., in 1752 and lived in the same general area for three generations. They were not Amish, although similar in their ways. Life was to be lived simply — with no nonsense, as Papa called it. Modern conveniences were to be looked at carefully, always with an eye of suspicion.
It was the Homestead Act of 1917 that brought my father to eastern Washington. In rural areas of eastern Washington in the 1930s, most everyone had an outhouse. When conversations of indoor bathrooms were discussed, Papa would say, “Who wants to bring that into the house? Such nonsense!”
If you ever visited areas in Pennsylvania Dutch country, you may have taken a tour of a typical Amish home. They were furnished very sparsely, no overstuffed chairs in sight. Benches and straight-backed chairs were what you sat on. A rocking chair was allowed. Our home was very much like that.
When my two older sisters were teenagers and old enough to earn their own money, they pooled their resources to purchase a living room sofa as a surprise for our parents. When Papa saw it he was upset. He admonished them, “This has to go back to the store. I will not have such a frivolous piece of furniture in the house.”
Mother, after much talking, convinced him it was useful, and it stayed and became part of our family. It wasn’t long before Papa was taking a quick afternoon nap after lunch on that nonsensical, comfortable, modern sofa.
Jigsaw puzzles were one of my favorite pastimes. Papa often would often walk by where I was playing, pick up a piece and say, “What a waste of time. Such nonsense.” The only pastime in his eyes that was not a waste of time was checkers. He was an expert checker player and always ready to play a game. I could never beat him. Just when I thought I had him cornered, his king would jump three of my men and end the game. He would laugh, get up and hug me. I never did learn his secret for always winning.
I loved my Papa and often could be found following him around the farm as he did his chores. He was the happiest when he was working in his oversized and bountiful garden. We had many important talks when I was 10 or 11 while hoeing and weeding in the garden.
When I wanted to ask permission to do something that I wasn’t sure he would say “yes,” I would wait until he was in the garden to ask him. He seldom said “no,” but occasionally would say, “You had better go ask your mother.” That was his way of getting off the hook when it was something he knew she would not agree to.
For the most part, Papa was serious and hardworking and yet had a bit of playfulness and adventure about him. He was the youngest of 11 siblings and the only one that ever moved west.
When I was around 4 or 5 years old he would read stories to me of Eskimos and say, “Someday we’ll go to Alaska to see the Eskimos.” Other times he’d read stores of Hawaii saying, “Someday we’ll go to Hawaii and eat pineapple.” Just like Tevye in his barn singing, “If I were a rich man … ”
Dogs were an absolute no-no at our house. Cats were OK because they were useful. They stayed in the barn and caught mice. When I was a teenager, my girlfriend Eva’s dog had puppies. They were cute Jack Russell terriers. I wanted one so much, yet I knew how Papa felt about dogs. Eva talked me into taking one home. She said, “Once he sees it he will let you keep it.”
At first the puppy was met with strong objection. After tearful pleading I finally persuaded him to let me keep it. I named the dog Midge. Guess what? Midge quickly became Papa’s dog. She followed him everywhere. When he went in the car, Midge was right there beside him. I didn’t know it then, but I was really bringing the dog home for Papa.
Years later when I was married and living in California, I received a heartbreaking letter from Papa. Midge had been hit by a car in front of their house and was killed. He described in every detail how he cared for her. He wrapped her in a blanket, dug a little grave in the backyard and buried her. He made a marker with her name on it. Papa and Midge had become best friends. As I write about this 60 years later, it still brings tears to my eyes.
Yes, Papa was old-fashioned in many of his ways. In our fast-paced, technological world of today, I sometimes long for those days to return. Who can say that we live in a better world today. Those were pretty good times.