Dad made his place on earth better

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Canada geese

When my father was born in the spring of 1932, the country in its freefall of the Great Depression, I envision his parents, surely filled with worry over the future for their firstborn.

We can never define or fully understand what makes some people become outstanding individuals, filled with great strength of character, while others stumble and stall along life’s journey.

Life is filled with mysterious leanings. No one, single event transpired to make my father’s life a success story; instead, his life was lived with incredibly hard work, solid business sense, honesty and gratitude.

Sixty-three years after his birth in that family home, his wife and children were joined by hundreds of people paying their respects to the kind and honest man. On the day my father was laid to rest, the good Earth found a way to honor him, and it is this story I have never put into words until now.

Our farm was one of many that practiced soil and water conservation, and my father believed strongly in letting nature thrive. He was thrilled when we began seeing deer, after years of that being a true rarity.

Canada geese

In the last few years of his life, Dad began seeing Canada geese for the first time in his life, flying over our farm in small formations. To his delight, a pair landed on our dairy farm and stayed for a time.

Dad found the geese fascinating in how they nested, the male making quite a racket to protect his mate and eggs. Dad left extra shelled corn near the barn bank for them. He would share daily updates with great joy.

I will never forget his excitement when he saw the goslings for the first time and had watched them cross the road, scurrying to the pond. One adult goose led the way, while the other stayed behind the goslings, watchful of their every move, making a racket if they stepped out of line.

After the goslings grew strong enough, they were all on their way. Dad said, “I sure would like to think they’ll remember to stop here again someday. I miss ’em already!”

We would occasionally see flocks fly overhead but still in fairly small numbers back in the early 1990s. Dad would stop what he was doing to count how many were in the formation, knowing geese mate for life, so when he saw an uneven number, he wondered if it was a young family, or if one of the group had lost its life mate.

Paying tribute

On the early August day of my father’s funeral, two of our dear family friends stayed at our home to prepare for the gathering afterward. Upon our return from the cemetery, one of the women said, “I hope you saw what just happened here!” We didn’t know what she was referring to.

The two women described, in vivid detail, what prompted them to go outside to investigate a very loud sound, not sure what they were hearing. They stepped out to the porch where my Dad spent nearly every evening after his work was done.

Dozens of geese had gathered, flying in from various directions. They watched them glide downward, landing for a time on the tiny pond behind our home, the gathering continuing until the women said they could not even begin to count them all. They only stayed for a matter of a few brief minutes. One goose took flight and fluttered over the group for a time, seeming to circle about the gathering.

Suddenly, the enormous group took flight, circling around the back of our home farm before taking a sharp turn, a large goose in the front of the formation leading them true north on that hot August day.

Never before, and not in the years after, did we see geese gather and land on that small pond so close to our home.

The monument my mother designed is etched with five geese in flight, symbolizing their children. His first tractor, and his last, are etched on the back, on his dairy farm at sunset. Stars in a small group overhead symbolize each of his grandchildren.

My father was born 88 years ago on Memorial Day, 1932. He enjoyed reminding us his birthday was a national holiday, gifts always appreciated, he would add with a grin.

My father, a quiet, humble, hard-working man, never set his sights on changing the world, but was determined to make his place on the good earth better for those who followed.

He maybe didn’t change the world; he was our whole world. It is hard, even all these years later, to believe such a light can be extinguished, the loss still so great.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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