When I was a very young kid, I went to the Loudonville Free Street Fair with some of my friends. At home that night, I said to my father, “I saw your uncle at the fair!”
Real cowboy. When Dad asked me which uncle, I said, “Oh, you know, the uncle that’s a cowboy!”
When I grew up, I was blessed to get to know Uncle Dick Gruver as more than just the friendly fellow who wore cowboy boots. I was blessed to know him, and the more I came to know him, the more I realized he really was the embodiment of the all-American cowboy.
He was kind, true, loyal, hard-working, independent. We laid Uncle Dick Gruver to rest this past weekend. He was 90 years old.
Dick could tell great stories, and some of my favorite revolved around his life as a young boy. Having been born in 1916, Dick had seen the world evolve in ways that many of my generation can barely comprehend.
Dick knew how to work hard, telling me once that when he was young, if a fellow didn’t work, he didn’t eat.
Dick knew first-hand all about farming the old-fashioned way, when cows had to be milked by hand, not by electric milking machines; when planting anything at all first meant breaking and training the horses, not worrying about how much horsepower you could afford to buy in what color of a tractor.
Dick told me about riding on his first tractor and wondering if the tractor was really going to “catch on” around here. He chuckled about that thought, looking back on it.
Eloping. In true all-American cowboy spirit, Dick not only fell in love with the pretty neighbor girl, my father’s aunt Mary Young, when he was still a very young fellow, but he convinced her to elope with him to Kentucky.
It was the summer of 1936, and Dick had a yellow Chevy convertible with a rumble seat. Dick talked Mary’s brother Earl and another neighbor boy into riding along so they could sign as witnesses to the marriage.
At the first stop, Dick and Mary found out they needed their parents’ permission to be granted a marriage license because of their young age. The yellow Chevy headed for another destination, and everybody became a few years older as that car went down the road!
At their next stop, the civil ceremony went off without a hitch.
It took courage and self-reliance to make it in the world at that time. Coming of age in 1936 with the U.S. still reeling from economic disaster meant a fellow had to be willing to keep his nose to the grindstone.
More than that, he had to prove his worth to land and keep a good job. Dick did just that.
Mr. Fix-it. I have heard it said over the years that Dick Gruver was gifted beyond measure in his ability to fix almost anything mechanical. He landed a job as a mechanic at The Flxible Bus Company, a job he held for 42 years, retiring in 1979.
During that time, he saw incredible changes, watched many others come and go, and he kept right on working and learning. It is said that Dick could trouble-shoot anything with moving parts.
My dad often said, “If Uncle Dick were here, he could figure it out,” as he worked on any sort of mechanical problem on the farm. I once asked Dick how he learned so much. He shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I just sort of knew. I could listen to an engine and it would just sort of come to me what needed fixin’.”
A few years back, I found out that Dick was scheduled for surgery. I asked how he was getting to the hospital.
“Oh, I’ll just drive myself in,” he said.
“And then what?” I asked.
“Oh, I figure I’ll just drive myself home.”
For once, I found myself being just as independent. I stood my ground, telling him I would be taking him to the hospital, I would wait with him there, and he would be coming to stay with us while he recuperated.
Now, I envisioned enjoying Dick’s company for at least a week while he recovered. I was barely able to convince him to stay for two days. That third morning, the sun was barely up in the sky when Dick said, “I believe I’m going to be on my way. I don’t want to be a nuisance.”
This certain measure of independence went hand-in-hand with an incredible work ethic and strength of spirit that I found admirable. When my dear dad died far too young in 1995, Dick mourned with us.
Ain’t fair. He told me, “It just ain’t fair. I’ve lived long enough to know that life just ain’t fair. The best thing you can do is know you were lucky to have him while you did. And keep busy
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