Whenever I think of my father, I remember first his strong work ethic, which stands out in his remarkable character.  The man worked from dawn to dark his whole adult life, except on Sunday. He worked alone mostly, the exceptions involving my mother nervously driving the tractor while he manned the accompanying rig, or vice versa. We children also played our part, especially at times like haying season.

Like Atlas, my father assumed the weight of the world, at the age of 19 when his father died suddenly. As the oldest son, he accepted his role as head of the family. From that day until his mother’s death at age 69, he was considerate of her needs and comfort.

My father and mother were married in 1925. He brought his bride to his mother’s home. Dad built a small house about a mile away a few years later. He had little experience as a carpenter, but still he did it all himself. That was in the early years of the Great Depression.

Building that house should have given them a home of their own, but the trouble was, he couldn’t finish the house off inside; I guess he ran out of money. There were no walls between the rooms — just the studs, and heavy curtains to take the place of walls.  The absence of insulation, wallboard or sheetrock meant that visible frost formed on the inside of the house along the boards that, with the outside shingles, were our only protection from the cold.

Dad banked the house as soon as snow came to keep the cold air from coming up under the building, which had no basement but sat on posts. We had a wood-burning cookstove in the kitchen, and a wood-burning parlor stove in the living room, which kept us warm. Dad stoked the fires as needed, often getting up in the middle of the night to take care of his family’s comfort.

Country folk who burned wood for fuel knew the truth of the old saying that wood warms you more than once. Trees are cut down, logs hauled out of the woods and sawed to lengths to fit the stoves, those chunks split, the wood stacked carefully to dry, and then armloads brought into the house daily, before actually chucking the sticks of wood into a stove. Every step in the process is hard work. Dad did all of that yearly to keep us warm.

His stamina was remarkable. He never backed away from a job that needed to be done. He was even cheerful about it. A haying day, which summoned all family members to the field, usually turned out hot.   If we complained about the heat, he always said, “Oh,  no. It’s just a nice summer day.” About winter’s slippery roads, his comment was, “It’s winter driving.” Sometimes, when the haying was done for the day, he drove us to the lake to cool off and wash away the scratchy, itchy hay chaff. And sometimes we had homemade root beer cooling in the spring where we got our water.

We didn’t have electricity or running water at home until after the war, in 1945, when we finally finished off the house. Before that, Dad carried water in two big pails from the spring — day after day. In winter it meant shoveling a path. In summer, mosquitoes lined both arms as he carried the pails out of the woods and uphill to the house. Washday required extra water to do laundry.

Dad was a stoic, and didn’t believe in showing excessive emotion. He didn’t coddle himself, and had an extreme belief in what that meant. For instance, he never wore scarves or hoods to protect his neck from the cold. He said if you don’t harden up your body, you become “soft and weak, like a hothouse plant.”

He didn’t drink, smoke, curse, play cards or sing. Work and family were his life — and church, when he could go. He went to college for one year, before the Depression. Somehow he never had much exposure to music, and had little appreciation for it — I never saw him tap his foot in time to a lively tune.  This lack I consider to be another hardship in his life, because that added dimension of music could have brought pleasure.

Dad and Mom made sure to teach my brother and me to live right, as they saw it.  Dad said that, although there isn’t much any one person can do to change the world, there is one thing that everyone can and should do — that is to set a good example. We objected, ”Who would pay any attention to what we did?”  He answered wisely, “You might be surprised at who might be watching.” He tried to convince us young teenagers that it is OK to be different — in fact, probably necessary, in order to live a good Christian life.  He said we didn’t need to be one of the “crowd” — that is, the popular kids.

He tried to live according to the Bible and didn’t work on Sunday if he could help it. He tried not to buy anything on Sunday; we had “blue laws” anyway, so most stores were closed. He kept his beliefs private, though, and didn’t try to convince others.

I remember walks in the woods on our land. He had that country feeling of being one with nature.

When there was money he occasionally took us to the movies. Outside the theater there was a hot dog cart; if there were a few more cents in his pocket, he would buy us each a hot dog. What a treat that was!

In the only period in his life while we children were still around that he had spare time, we four played Parcheesi sometimes. That was in South Portland during the war years. We also had family discussions there after a nice Sunday dinner, as we sat around the table. We young people participated, as well as our parents.

During the war he worked in the South Portland shipyard, where he made what seemed like a lot of money. During the 1930s there had been few jobs, and his work on the roads for the state yielded 35 cents an hour, or $16.80 for a full week of 48 hours. He didn’t often get a full week’s work because during the Depression, jobs were shared so that other men could make a little money, too. In the late ’30s he left home and went to Massachusetts, where Fort Devens was being upgraded for war. He worked as a carpenter. He then moved to South Portland, where the four of us lived for the four war years.

The crash and Depression had discouraged people from trusting banks. The banks failed and people lost money. My folks kept their savings in war bonds — and in cash pinned securely in my mother’s clothing!  For a while he worked double shifts and made more money. People enthusiastically joined the war effort in those years. The shipyard made Liberty warships. Dad did his part.

Two goals he wanted to accomplish in his life: to build a large boat that was seaworthy, and to have a herd of dairy cows. He was a farmer at heart.

Another wish, on which he never got the chance to work, was to build a new house for us across the road.  Returning home after the war, he worked as a carpenter and began addressing his goals. He was in the dairy business for a few years. He almost finished building the boat before he died.

He died 10 days before his 70th birthday, after a long battle with painful cancer. He even did that stoically. His doctor remarked, “Oh, the depth of that man’s soul!”

Well said, good doctor.

 

Mavis J. Longfellow, daughter of Roland B. Judkins, 1903-1973, was along with her husband Lawrence the original owners of Longfellow’s Greenhouses in Manchester. 

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