Part VI: Hardships make people stronger

The 1920s to the early ‘40s were good years for Charlie and Anna Myers. They had finally found the farm that they would call home, where their youngest daughter, Virginia, was born the night they moved in, and where her wedding ceremony was held in 1938.

The couple worked hard with a successful small farm, raising 300 lambs each year, and enjoyed church, community club and grandchildren who often gathered around the new piano in the living room as Virginia played.

Charlie brought laughter wherever he went, and would compete over who could make up the biggest load of hay. In 1943, Charlie got his first tractor, but he still kept one team — a roan and a grey horse, for planting.

Charlie would whistle his way through the day, and neighbors said they didn’t need a rooster to wake them in the mornings as long as Charlie was around. He always walked to neighboring farms whenever his help was needed, and folks could hear him coming by his excellent whistling.

Puppy breeders

Helen, who had just brought her fourth child into the world, was always busy, never still. Active in her church and community, Helen had her father’s happy, hard-working nature. Instrumental in the family dog business, Helen and her husband, R.H., raised and sold English Shepherd puppies on a large scale.

Her hand-written records show that each year the business grew through advertising in national stock dog magazines, one calendar year selling and shipping 353 puppies all over the country. They placed their best females with local families, buying back entire litters so that each dog got the chance to be a beloved pet.

Helen enlisted her oldest son, my dad, to build the wooden crates in which puppies would be shipped via the railroad. It was hard work but lucrative, as pups began bringing $15 and $20 as the dogs gained a steadfast reputation as helpmates on family farms.

Helen made her own enormous batches of dog food, and spent hours at the typewriter marketing and corresponding with past and present buyers of puppies.

Turn for the worse.

She began suffering from tonsillitis several times a year. In March, 1946, a tonsillectomy was scheduled. While the three oldest children were in school, the youngest was taken to spend a couple of days with Charlie and Anna, and Helen was admitted to the hospital for what was thought to be minor surgery. Helen died on the operating table. She was 35.

My dad often said the music stopped that day. The community turned out in enormous numbers to pay their respect to a woman who was a wonderful blend of her mother and her father, hard-working and joyful. It seemed Charlie’s hair turned white overnight, and he lost his enthusiasm, never again raising lambs. The four children felt the void in the worst way, as their father retreated in to grief and depression.

Changing roles

At 13, my father had to become the man of the house, driving the tractor to the elevator and the grocery, orchestrating the necessities of life.

Anna died suddenly in the summer of 1958, and after 52 years of marriage, Charlie was lost without her. My parents, who had married in 1951, recognized his melancholy and began inviting him to have meals with them. He decided it was time to retire his own farm, choosing to help his grandson as he started out.

I was born during the year of change for Charlie, and we became pals. One of my favorite black and white photographs is a smiling, happy little girl, perhaps 3 years old, with her grandpa’s gray work cap on, Charlie smiling down on her. I grew to adore my great-grandfather, and it was clear the feeling was mutual.

Charlie continued to enjoy farming, helping my Dad with everything from milking cows to field work nearly every day. Still strong and hearty, his sight became an issue, and in August, 1968, he went in to the hospital for cataract surgery, which went quite well. He passed away while recuperating in the hospital. He was 84.

About the Author

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. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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