Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

July 15, 2013

I would rather remember how my dad taught his sister to milk a cow

— It recently occurred to me that I haven’t mentioned my mother in many columns since she died 28 and one-half months ago. I think she got a kick out of the memories I share in these columns. They reminded her of the good old days, like when Jeffy Lee Molson found a worm in an ear of corn he was husking or the first time I squeezed my Freightliner between the garage and shed and drove right up to the house. It must have been a sight — seeing a cab-over truck in an area that hadn’t seen anything bigger than a lawnmower in the past.

Mom was easygoing, but she hated July. My dad had been the picture of strength for us as kids — almost super-human in the way he could handle anything that came his way. Mom wasn’t good on specific dates, but she was good on remembering that in July of 1958, my dad suffered a massive heart attack that almost claimed his life. I was at church camp — Camp Allegheny — when it happened. Dad was already in the hospital when my sister and I got back home. Dad asked mom to bring Peggy and me to the hospital parking lot so he could look out the window and see us one more time. Dad was only 42 years old, and by some miracle, he survived another 16 years.

Dad’s heart attack changed everything for us as a family. None of us knew how to have fun after that. Dad had always been the fun one in our bunch. During the next few years, all of us had to become serious — as serious as a heart attack — and focus our energies on doing what we could to survive. Mom worked for several years selling Avon until she got a job with the U.S. Postal Service as a part-time temporary postal clerk. We sold eggs, milk, apples, peaches and plums. I earned some money putting up hay, cutting grass, riding horses and singing Elvis songs at local Grange halls. We got by.

Looking back now, I think I have grown to understand why mom disliked July. My sister and brother both died in July of 1990 and ’91 respectively, the 23rd for Peggy and the 6th for Stu. I still can’t even imagine how a parent can survive that kind of loss. But Mom survived, but she took no joy in the arrival of each new July. Mom once told me that she almost felt like holding her breath through the month of July until it was over for fear of what else might happen.

With age comes memories, and every month can have their own specific meaning. Unlike Mom, I didn’t hate July. For me, there were other life-altering moments that occurred on other days in other months, but with my mom, nothing trumped the bad things that happened to us in July. I had a totally different column in mind when I sat down to write this, but it all drifted away when I put the date in the slug line that identifies this column to run in the paper on this particular date. There’s no mystery here. Just helpful notes that lets the next person who works with this copy place it in the template for the right date and time.

People who work on daily newspapers aren’t necessarily tuned into what will happen today, but rather look to find how today’s events can attract a reader tomorrow. Today for me right now is 8:45 a.m., July 11, 2013, but the reader’s understanding of my mention of “today” can be any time. The people who worked to get the paper out will see July 15, 2013 at the top of the page, but that doesn’t mean that the published date will be the date that all readers read the stories and columns published on that date.

My mother’s dislike for July wasn’t irrational. I think she disliked the life-changing events that occurred during various years, with the worst events in her life taking place in July. I remember being anxious in some of those months when her health would swing downward in July, but I always tried to keep her sprits lifted. I tried to think of ways to keep her mind off of the past. Of course, I write many of these columns about the past, and when she was alive, I mentioned Mom in several of the columns in an effort to transport her thoughts into a better place.

So, in my mind, the column I set out to write about an hour ago was going to be humorous and playful. I liked making Mom laugh, so I’ll close with this thought: Dad was raised in an orphanage but his youngest sister was adopted by a family when she was very young. She grew up normal, and actually sought Dad out before he left to serve in Europe during World War II. As a result of her efforts, Dad became reconnected with his natural family before he went to war.

Dad’s dream was to have a farm, and after he bought our 58-acre farm, he invited my Aunt Ann out to see it. Aunt Ann had never been on a farm before, and Dad asked her to try her hand at milking a cow. He told Aunt Ann to put the milk bucket beneath the cow’s udder and pump the tail like the handle on a water pump. We all gathered around to watch and cracked up when Aunt Ann couldn’t get any milk from our old Holstein cow, Cathy. Dad took pictures, but you really had to be there. That might have happened in July too, but I don’t remember.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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