I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.
I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.
~Seamus Heaney from “Follower”
My father did grow up plowing with horses, and hated every minute of it. He was overjoyed to one day be able to afford a tractor, and although it was only a little Farmall Cub (in one of the photos below), it teamed up with my dad to do remarkable things.
I’m telling this story again as my Father’s Day tradition since it says a lot about who my dad was, but even more so, it explains much about who I have become having grown up in his shadow.
My father departed this soil twenty years ago, having completed umpteen “projects” in his spare time and leaving just a few unfinished. This was undoubtedly the most remarkable. He dove right in to whatever he decided to accomplish and his Farmall tractor was often part of the plan.
These photos chronicle my father’s 1968 backyard project. This was no ordinary project, but like every other project he took on, it was accomplished during the daylight hours after he got home from his desk job and then consumed most of his weekend waking hours. He had been dreaming it up for a number of years, and then one day, grabbed a shovel and simply got started and didn’t quit until it was finished.
He was determined to build a full size swimming pool, by himself, with his own two hands. He did use his little Farmall Cub tractor to blade away the first layer of topsoil, but the rest of the digging was by the shovel-full. He wanted a kidney shaped pool rather than a rectangular one, so he soaked the wooden forms in water to form the graceful curves. The cement was poured by a cement truck, but the sidewalks were all self-mixed in our own little cement mixer that ran off a small engine. The tile that lined the top of the pool was all hand grouted and placed, square by square. The pumphouse/changing room was built alongside.
I was 14 that summer, not truly understanding how extraordinary an effort this was, but simply accepting it as another “dad” project like any other he finished through sheer will, stubbornness and a desire to go on to the next challenge. Now, 46 years later, as an adult who is plum tired at the end of an office/clinic work day, I marvel at his energy putting in another four or five hours of physical labor when he came home at night. No wonder he never suffered from insomnia.
Once the pool was declared finished, a hose ran water for several days, and it took 2 more days to heat it up to a temperature that was survivable. Then my dad took the first dive in.
Once he had taken that first dive, he was happy. He swam every once in awhile, but was soon onto another project (reconstructing a steel walled gas station that arrived on our farm in piles of panels on the back of a flat bed truck, so that he could have a full size “shop” to work on indoor projects during the winter). It was sufficient for him to just to be able to say he had done it himself.
So as I study the look on my father’s face in these photos, I am startled to see my self looking back at me, like a reflection in the water. I now realize determination and utter stubbornness manifest in different ways. I have no mechanical skills whatsoever, but like my father, I always have a dream I’m pursuing, and I follow his broad shadow in that pursuit.
Thanks to my dad for showing me how to dive right into life and not waste a moment of it. The water’s still fine.