The following anecdotes illustrate numerous ways my family-farmer relatives showed kindness to me, and positively influenced work habits, attitudes, and my view about how to treat others.
How I admired these adults, even as a child, enough to want to learn from them and emulate them. I even found myself dong things I wouldn’t otherwise like doing – like eating limburger cheese on crackers, alongside my Uncle Earl.
1 I learned much about life from Uncle Earl and Aunt Anne Paull; one of the most important lessons being, “Share what you have, even if you don’t have much.” Anne and Earl provided food and repair work to any stranded motorist who knocked on their door—living next to a major highway, there were hundreds in need during those years.
2 Uncle Amanza Powell taught me to be cautious when danger was near—when milking a cow, he loved to shoot a spray at me if I came close. He had great fun with the kids. He’d wiggle his ears and relentlessly tease us, and we loved him for it. But I learned to keep my distance when I saw that wicked gleam in his eye.
3 Cousin Jack Powell showed me the relaxation and pleasure—and sometimes the excitement—one could find when fishing for trout from the bank of a small stream.
4 Cousins Dolores and Phyllis Fitzsimmons and Cousin Genane Paull-Hurd showed me that we have the ability to make a child’s dreams come true.
Most boys of my generation—and many girls, too—loved the movie star cowboys and girls of the time: Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Rex Allen, and many others. If only we could ride Champion, Trigger, or Buttercup, we’d be in cowboy and cowgirl heaven. Dolores and Phyllis helped fulfill that fantasy when once a year they saddled their riding horse, Star, and their buggy horse, Marty, and entertained their little cousins with a day of riding and horsemanship. What fun!
And then Cousin Genane invited me to visit the twenty thousand acre ranch in southeast Colorado that she and her husband, Floyd, managed. I was given the opportunity to spend a day on the range with two of their cowboys, but was a bit disappointed when I learned they didn’t carry six-shooters and that we’d ride in a Jeep, not on a horse. But after a day of inspecting the cattle and crops, killing a rattlesnake, and palaver with two real cowboys, I went to bed that night dreaming of cattle drives, outlaws, and bucking broncos.
5 Uncle Mort Fitzsimmons’ progression from a poor Iowa County farm boy to a successful businessman who later owned one of Rock County’s finest farms taught me that it’s not where you’ve been; it’s where you’re going that matters.
6 Cousin Jack Powell showed me that even a bratty; tag-along kid deserves a treat now and then. When I visited Cousin Jack he’d usually ask me to ride along when he took the day’s milk to the cheese factory in Dodgeville. After emptying the cans of their white, frothy content he’d refill them with whey for the hogs and then head back home. But he’d always stop at a local gas station to buy me a candy bar, a treat I could seldom afford.
7 I learned from Uncle Earl Paull that even something stinky as limburger cheese tastes mighty fine when you’re eating it with someone you love. I didn’t like limburger cheese before and I’ve never liked it since, but when Uncle Earl called, “Come on Skippy, let’s have some cheese and crackers,” I was right there beside him.
8 Chuck Tredinnick taught me; don’t make life harder than necessary, drive on the smooth part of the road. I was fifteen years old and itching to learn to drive a car during my second summer with Chuck and Dorothy Tredinnick. When we had a break from the work, Chuck would allow me to drive his car on the highway, teaching me necessary driving skills. He repeatedly cautioned, “Drive near the center line, the road is smoother there.”
9 Uncle Mort Fitzsimmons taught me that even a poor boy can succeed, but success won’t fall into your lap; it takes long hours of hard work. Uncle Mort’s summer days began at three A.M. in the barn and didn’t end until after dark in the fields.
10 Uncle Mort Fitzsimmons also taught me that a flawed but good man is worth going to bat for. Mort had a hired man who was a fine worker when he stayed sober. But as soon as he got a paycheck he was off on a binge. Mort repeatedly rescued him from the nasty outcomes of his vice, even going so far as talking the prison warden into releasing him, with Mort assuring that he’d keep the man out of trouble.
11 Uncle Mort also taught me to take pride in the fruits of your labor. Whenever anyone would visit, Mort would grab their arm, guide them to the cab of his pickup truck, and drive them through his fields while extolling the quality of that year’s crop.
12 Uncle Amanza Powell taught me to help family members in need. Although all my mother’s farmer families stepped up to help when, with little income, we had great need; no one helped more than Uncle Amanza and Aunt Berniece.
Uncle Amanza came to help when the furnace wasn’t working. He came to help when the lawn mower broke down. He came to help move all our belongings when we moved to a new home, which was far too often for the liking of relatives who were summoned to help.
And although he must have thought that my participation in all school sports was a wasteful use of time when Mother needed help at home, he was there to drive me twenty plus miles to and from the doctor’s office when I broke my hand playing football. And he never once complained.
13 My cousins, Wayne Paull and Barb Paull-Erickson, taught me that nice people have lots of friends. As a youth I seldom saw Wayne without a cadre of friends surrounding him, and in later life it was said about Barb that she was a friend of everyone in Dodgeville. Barb, three years older than me, was the closet to my age of any Wisconsin family member. Barb was not only a cousin but my dearest friend when we were young.
14 I learned from Aunt Anne and Uncle Earl Paull, no matter how difficult your day, the sun comes up the next morning. Anne and Earl had many difficult days, but they always persevered, always faced the new day with a smile, and always made themselves available to help others. A favorite saying of their son, Wayne, was, ‘If you don’t have a bad day now and then, how’re you going to recognize the good days when they come around.
15 Chuck Tredinnick taught me that simple, inexpensive products can work wonders. Did you know that used motor oil can clean your dirty, grimy hands as good as lava soap?
I received many years of formal education, but I learned the most important life lessons from these family-farmers.