As many of you know, I describe myself as the eldest son of a poor dirt farmer. The story of no running water in the house I lived in for the first nine years of my life. I won’t belabor the depth of how I lived those first years again.
I have to do this as my form of therapy. The writing, that is. My soul is stirred at times and I’m urged in my spirit to write down how I feel. So, here goes.
The picture to the right here is of my granddad, grandmother, my dad and his two sisters standing in a tobacco field.
My dad lived a life that was hard on him. He did the best he knew how. He got his methods of raising a family from his dad, who I loved immensely. My granddad was the best granddad ever. But when I grew up I found out some things that saddened my heart. He, too, was a good man in principle, but I was saddened to learned he was a harsh man. Quick tempered I would imagine. I remember hearing him chastise grandmother once in a tone of voice I knew wasn’t nice. I was probably five years old at the time and he was standing by the back door with a straight razor in hand, shaving while looking in a small mirror over a shelf that held his shaving cup and brush. I don’t remember for sure, but I think there was a razor strap hanging below it.
This explained why my dad was a hard man. He may have mellowed in his later years after his heart attack, but I wasn’t home to notice. Why do I say he was a hard man? Well, I can at least take into consideration I was the first born and most any first born can say after some thought, that they were the experiment in child raising. He took a hard tack at raising me. So, beyond that, I considered in my later years as being nothing more than a farm hand.
I was on a tractor at the age of seven. I was farming thirteen acres of soy beans at age thirteen with a Farm All Cub tractor. I pulled weeds from between plants in the field. Fed the hogs and chickens. I transplanted tobacco where it had not taken root at the original planting. I shucked corn and ran it through the corn sheller to fed the hogs and chickens. Some of it got bagged to take to the mill to be ground into a fine feed for the animals. You name it I did it. One hundred pound bags of fertilizer were tossed around from storage under the barn to the back of the pickup to take to the field come ground prepping time for planting. That was me at fourteen and fifteen, driving that truck to field. Did I complain? No. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Military life in boot camp was like the letter from the Marine talking about how easy boot camp was after leaving the farm.
I built a work ethic that made most my age look lazy. Even the four brothers below me in age didn’t work as hard on the farm as I did. I do remember dad putting Danny on a tractor at age five, but that’s the only time I remember him doing much else. By the time Danny reached his teen years, dad had pretty much given up farming tobacco and had fewer hogs and no chickens. By the time Mike was old enough there was no working the farm, besides, the only time we let him drive a tractor he almost killed about four or five people at the shelter where the women were tying tobacco. He hit a post that was holding up the shelter at full speed and pretty much broke the post into two pieces.
So. What am I getting at with this post about “How Much Is Enough”?
Everything I ever did resembled the commercial where the two women are in a store looking at pocketbooks and one looks at the other and asks if she can afford this. She then does this little witchy thing and her Allstate insurance agent appears and she asks how much she saved on auto insurance. Low and behold it was enough for her to afford the pocketbook she was looking at. The other, then, does the same thing and an old man appears with waders and a fishing hat holding a rod with a dollar on the hook. So the woman reaches for it and he pulls it away and proclaims “Oh! You almost had it!”
The latter woman was me. It mattered not what I did, my dad would always say I did good, but I could have done better or I could have done more. On many occasions he would get angry with me for not doing something a particular way even though I got it done. I always felt I was reaching, but never achieving. I never felt accomplished in anything I did.
I was an A student all the way through the fourth grade and then I tumbled to C’s and D’s and stayed there. One of my problems was my eyesight was failing and even after my teachers had told my parents I needed my eyes checked my dad didn’t consider it a priority for at least two more years. Finally after more coaxing and low grades my mom insisted I get checked. It was found I was extremely farsighted and couldn’t see a page in front of me without getting a headache within ten minutes of straining, so I had given up trying to read. Once I got my glasses I was able to see again, but by that time I’d already formed a habit of not studying and no one to encourage me to re-enter the academics of the day. I struggled through till it was apparent in high school I wasn’t going to graduate with my classmates of eleven years if I did not do something. My dad was no encouragement. He’d already took football away from me, which I so desperately wanted to play. But the summer before I was to be a Senior I found out about summer school and my mom saw to it that I went. My mind was rejuvenated and I went on to graduate with two A’s, two B’s and a C. But it was no thanks to my dad.
Years later after my dad died, my mom apologized to me for the way he treated me and said that was why she tried to get me the best of things, which put her in jeopardy a few times. She also told me it wasn’t right that he doted over Danny, but made a farm hand out of me. I have to keep my humor in it all. I guess you could say I was the Pepino of the family. (You have to remember “The Real McCoys” to understand that.)
There is an up side to my growing up. It made me always carry things to a higher level to meet the elusive goals set in front of me. It made me tough and I created a solid work ethic.
When I was a Senior in high school I remember walking into the back door of the gym where I saw guys trying to see who could lift the most weight on barbells. I asked how much was on the bar. One hundred twenty pounds was the answer. I asked to give it a try. I lifted and pressed it above my head to their astonishment. Then it was on. I weighed 150 pounds at the time. The weight went to 130. . .140. The crowd who could lift the weights as they increases slimmed. One hundred and fifty pounds. It dwindled to maybe three. One hundred sixty. It came down to just one other and myself. By this time we were clean and jerking the weight, but it was still over our heads. One hundred seventy. . . and by this time a crowd of spectators had formed. I lifted the weight high. Walter Yates was my only remaining competition. One hundred seventy five. We both got clean lifts, but I was done. One hundred eighty was not for me. But what I lifted was twenty five pounds more than I weighed. The amount was not the obstacle to me. It was all mental. My mind was so challenged to do better that I would not let go. Determination had been established in my mind at that small unofficial event. That settled the positive aspect of growing up such as I did.
In the Army the final physical testing was the GT test with a possible score of 500. All the North Carolina boys had scores above 490. Mine was 493. One of those made a perfect 500. He must have had a harder life than me. Out of my company of 120 soldiers 85 were from Texas. Let that sink in.
From there till I was about six months past getting out of the Army before I quit doing pushups. Married life fattened me up. I was doing 120 pushups a day to keep myself in shape, but that went to the wayside for two or three years. Then DuPont shift work took that weight off of me. I lost 60 pounds and was down to 145. I was back to tough as a cob and stayed that way for eight years.
I finally came to the point I gave my life to God and became fully immersed in the Word. I had to know God. Not just read about Him. That same determination to go a step beyond carried me deep into study. I learned principles, but one came to the surface when I was thirty seven.
That principle was concerning the sins of the fathers visit the children. What my dad had told me prior to that time was no Rowe men lived to the age of sixty. I told him I was not buying that story and turned to God for an answer. This principle came to mind and was given the reason why they died before 60. God had called all of them to ministry and had refused or neglected the call. I confronted my dad and he turned pale from the red Cherokee complexion he normally had. He asked me how I knew and I told him God told me. He said he’d never even told mom. He made it to sixty in such frail shape he died only a couple of months later.
What came of me has been not surprising. God spoke to me that I would live to an old age. Where all died in their late 50’s, I will be 67 next month and just got a clean bill of health in the last month or so by my cardiologist and regular doctor.
Oh I still have issues. I’ve had to lose weight and in doing so I’ve become a member of the non-diabetic side of humanity again. I do have a touch of arthritis, but my doc says it being in my fingers such as it is is because of use and a bit from age.
Where I am today has not kept people from still trying to put that same old curse back on me. I still repel it. I know in my core I am good. I’ve had my mistakes. From that I’m forgiven. People can rebuke me, talk ill willed about me, but I know where my strength is. God has granted me this life and I’m going to live it.
At the moment Libby and I are going through a hard place, but I can say God has never left me, nor forsaken me. Libby is a strong Christian woman, who lifts me up as God’s earthly form of help. She truly loves me as I am. Unconditionally. It’s strange that she has this gift and I had to learn the reality of it from her and not one other person in the entire Christian world.
Even since I retired I’ve learned that the person who took over my job has not had anything good to say about how I did that last position I held. I felt it first and then someone told me. They don’t know where I brought that position from. In seven years of performing the functions of that job I saw to completion almost two thousand clearances processed. I saw several overcome the hurdles they had to endure to get a clearance. Some had been trying for as much as five years in the process. I got them through. It’s still strange that the last person who does a job successfully gets talked bad about simply because they did it different than someone else. They didn’t take into consideration what hurdles that person like myself had to get over to make the program what it was. That being in spite of transformations that occurred during that time that made the function of the job unrecognizable in the end from the beginning.
In this end of life I have to say I have many more years to go. God has told me so. Why? Because I found out how much is enough. We, as humans can’t do everything, but we can do our part and do it well and pleasing to God. He has given me life well beyond my predecessors. That’s proof enough that I did find out how much is enough.