I don’t remember my dad telling a joke.
He kind of refers to a joke now and then, but he doesn’t really try to tell it. It’s just not a thing he does. He’ll tell about a funny thing that happened or talk about something that makes him happy, like when a grandkid shows up. But he’s not the kind of guy who flat-out tells jokes.
Honest to gosh, I can’t even imagine him trying to deliver a punchline.
He’s always been a serious kind of guy. Not in a mean way. Absolutely not. Not even stern. He’s warm-hearted and good and an all-around nice guy. But he takes life seriously, I think.
I hadn’t thought about it until I got this picture of him and his youngest brother totally goofing off for the camera. My brother had visited earlier this year and since the hometown lies along the path of the solar eclipse, he took along viewing glasses for them and talked them into donning them and mugging for a photo.
Rarer than a solar eclipse, that’s my dad, there on the left, making a joke. A visual joke. But he’s definitely telling it.
So what made him a pleasant but serious person? It has to do with his being the oldest kid on a farm in a part of the country not struck dead, but struck pretty hard by the Great Depression. As a child, he worried about his family surviving and keeping the farm.
To this day, if you can get him to talk about the past, he might mention the Scully brothers with great respect and admiration. The Scully Bros. was a big landholding outfit in southeast Nebraska. They controlled vast tracts of farmland and they were known for cutting fair and favorable lease agreements for tenants. And during the Depression, according to Dad, the Scully brothers decided it was better to have tenants tending to the land even if they couldn’t make crops or a profit. They didn’t kick good tenants off their leases because of a few bad years.
So my grandparents and their boys, including my Dad, were able to stay put, even though, for a few years, they were basically just working to feed themselves. They made it. They pulled through.
They eventually took over my great-grandfather’s operation when he retired and owned their own land. And Dad’s little brother, the one on the right in the picture, stayed with it. His son, my cousin, now farms that land just up the road from that Scully lease.
Anyway, things were really hard during my Dad’s childhood. The strategy for making it through a Depression, and then the War years when nothing was available? Never, ever throw anything away.
Other people outgrew that habit. Or got over it. Or ratcheted it back a bunch. Not my Dad.
He got out of the Navy after WWII and went to trade school and wired the old farmstead for electricity and then got married and bought an old, rundown farmstead just outside of our hometown (the town has since engulfed the place), and started filling the barn and sheds and garage and empty spaces with everything imaginable.
I don’t know why, exactly, but the Depression hit my dad especially hard. It went with his grain: preparing for another Depression – the kind where every scrap of anything had some value.
At 92, he now curates a sort of museum, most of it behind a tall fence (recycled): the Museum of Things That Might Come in Handy Some Day. When he’s not reading, taking a nap, or sorting through the vast amount of stuff he’s collected, or trying to give it away to someone who will “put it to good use,” he visits his little brother out on the farm, where this picture was taken.
He’s always been serious about life and work, being careful, holding back something in reserve and keeping everything handy in case it’s needed.
Just not a real joke-telling kind of guy.
But then this picture comes from my brother.
That’s my dad, facing into the camera, trying to look serious because it’s a sort of joke and he gets it and is playing along ... In other words, he’s sort of telling a joke. Maybe it’s one of those “you’d had to have been there” jokes only my family gets. But it’s hilarious.
Enjoy the eclipse, Dad.