Saturday, February 6, 2016

Memories of My Pa

February 1, 2015 marks my father’s 100th birthday.  It’s odd how normal life seems without someone when you have never met them, but once a person enters your life you can’t imagine life without them. The depth one life brings to another leaves an irreplaceable mark. Fortunately for me I knew Jack Shaw from the minute I was born. Although I only knew him for 37 of the 79 years he was alive, his love, guidance, and sense of humor are constantly with me. I feel so blessed to have known him and to be his daughter. Here are some of my favorite stories and memories of my life with him:

When I was a teenager my parents were in their 50’s and 60’s and close to retirement. Every night before I went to bed I would go into their room to say goodnight. They were almost always both asleep and snoring under a newspaper or book that had dropped as they nodded off. I would go to each side of the bed,  take off their glasses, turn off their lights, put their book or newspaper on the nightstand, and give them a kiss. When I went to Dad’s side of the bed to do this nightly ritual he would invariably wake with a start and start scolding me for taking his glasses. I would settle him down by telling him that it was night and it was time for him to sleep. He would calm right down, roll over and go to sleep. 

He loved telling stories about his experiences of the day. I can picture him sitting in the green and gold chair in the corner of the living room with his head thrown back and laughing as he told a story about an encounter he had in his dealings with someone along the way or one of his adventures with the grandkids. I loved how he got so much joy out of looking at daily life through the lens of his sense of humor.

He loved to tease. My friends were always a little scared of him and he loved that. When someone would call on the phone and ask for one of his daughters he would say, “Is this a girl or a boy?” This was his way of letting any male suitor know that he had his eye on them. 

Dad wanted to be identified as a man of the wilderness, not as a city dude. He had me call him Pa instead of Dad and he gave himself the nickname of “Charlie Chopperwood.” When mom would have her school friends up to the farm for dinner, he would tell me that we needed to help these “city dudes” ride a horse. He hated motorcycles and had me believe they were the handiwork of the devil. He professed that mountains and trails were made for horses and breathing deeply -- they were not made as as a playground for noisy thrill seekers or as an overflow for rich city slickers to inhabit and dominate.

He and I were over at Grandma & Grandpa Shaw’s while somebody (probably his brother, Uncle Grant, or his Aunt Florence & Uncle Slim, Grandma’s youngest sister and her husband) was visiting. Even though I was probably only four years old, I can vividly remember him holding me and telling everyone, “This poor little girl doesn’t have a daddy. She only has an Uncle Charlie who lives with her mom.” Everybody laughed, but I didn’t get the joke at all. 

Going Christmas tree shopping was a big deal. First of all, we had to convince Dad that it really would be okay to let someone chop down a tree in the forest so we could put a tree in our house for a few weeks and then throw it out. Once we finally got him to agree that a tree was a good idea, we spent what seemed like hours looking for a tree. Most people look for a tree that looks just right, but we looked to identify EVERY tree on the lot. Not only did we have to prove to him that we knew the difference between a pine, a fir, and a spruce, we had to take it one step further and identify the name of each species of pine, fir or spruce.  By the time the whole ordeal was over I was cold and tired, but happy to have anything!  

We had what was called the “summer menu,” which was: 
Sheepherder potatoes (potatoes, onions, and bacon cooked in Dutch ovens);
Swiss steak (ground steak covered in mushroom soup and cooked in the Dutch oven);
Cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions swimming in sweetened vinegar.  

Mom prepared it all at home in Ogden and Dad cooked it on the fire at the farm. This is what they fixed almost every time they entertained at the farm. Those city dudes thought Pa’s potatoes were out of this world! As often as we had the summer menu, I never got tired of it.

The two of us had a battle that went on almost every morning. His job was to get me fed and out the door for school. My job was to be as grumpy and miserable as I could be. He won because I was at school every day with a full stomach, and I won because despite all talking-tos and bribes, I never gave in and smiled. It took me a lot of years and self-discipline to learn to be pleasant in the morning and to see that my attitude made us all losers in that game.

I often got math answers wrong because I wasn’t very good at memorizing my addition facts or times tables, but I was pretty good at understanding the concepts. When Dad helped me with my math, he would be so patient and encourage me. I don’t think calm and patient would be the words that most of my siblings would use to describe Dad while he was doing math homework with his children, but that’s how he was with me. He would always tell me how good I was at it and that I caught on easier than the older kids. It left me with a sense of capability and a feeling that math wasn’t bigger than I was. Even though I still use my fingers to add, I never think that I might not be good at math. I’m very grateful to Pa for this.

I made egg salad by taking hard-boiled eggs and grating them very fine with a chocolate grater. I loved turning the crank on this rarely used tool, then adding mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip) and salt. When Dad ate one of my egg salad sandwiches he would rave and go on and on about how I was the only one he knew who could make an egg salad sandwich that good. I felt so special, like there was something I could do that no one else could.

There aren't words to describe how grateful I am to have been influenced by this great man and to feel his spirit near me. I believe in a life hereafter and that we will literally be reunited once again. But for now remembering and sharing these experiences brings him to life once again for me and passes down his legacy to his posterity. I love being a link in this chain. 

Anita Wiggins
February 1, 2015