Part One. Read part two, part three and part four.
One person I have long admired is someone I never had the chance to meet.
The wonderful stories I have heard about my paternal grandmother who died at 35 often made me long for her presence. The life-long sorrow we could sense in my father is something I felt myself sharing, either in true empathy for a beloved father or something unnamed. Either way, the empty place has always felt very real.
Helen Myers was a happy, country school teacher when she broke off an engagement with someone who saw her as his ‘chosen.’ That, alone, was a huge, daring, over-the-top gutsy move for a woman in the 1920s. It was her way of saying, “I am in control of my life,” something that very few women coming of age in that era ever dared to do.
She spent her own money on a Brownie camera to take photographs of each of her students and created a sweet scrapbook. The joy nearly jumps off the pages, showing children of various ages, all beaming with happiness to be in her humble one-room school which was known as Mud College.
Helen was raised to know the joy of hard work. Her father, my great-grandpa Charlie, whistled through his work day, making even the toughest of farm jobs feel like a great thing to accomplish. Helen shared her father’s chipper personality. She knew how to muck stalls, to gather eggs and clean the chicken coop, to bottle-feed an orphaned baby lamb, to help bring animals in to the world and to see them out.
Everyone who knew her said she was light-hearted and kind, incredibly hard-working, and never said a bad word against anybody. She could find the good even when others gave up looking for it.
When she said ‘yes’ to the man who would become my grandfather, she knew it meant giving up teaching. She put her all in to setting up a happy home, welcoming their firstborn, my father, in 1932, when the world was a turbulent mess. Helen’s way of dealing with the Great Depression was to start a dog business.
Good farm dogs
In a time when nearly everyone had a small farm but could no longer afford a hired hand, she was wise enough to know a good farm dog would be worth its weight.
My grandfather has long been credited with developing a highly respected line of impressive dogs, but as was true of so many things in that place and time, it was often a hard-working woman who gave it roots, never claiming any glory.
My father’s earliest memories of his mother was of her sitting at a card table, typing fast and furious on an old standard typewriter. She developed a marketing plan long before any name had been given to such a thing. She designed beautiful stationery with “English Shepherd herding dogs, R.H. Young, proprietor” embossed on it. She placed ads in The Ohio Farmer, various livestock publications, and Hoards Dairyman. She sent postcards to previous buyers and to prospective buyers to keep interest growing.
There were no short-cuts to anything. She cooked dog food in a huge kettle while also preparing three meals a day for her family. She built, by hand, wooden crates to carry pups by railroad to new homes. She brought three more children in to the world, and my father learned to look after his younger siblings while helping with the work of the dogs, puppies and the farm.
Next week: Helen speaks her mind to help the hungry.
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