My Silent Teacher

When I wanted to start playing football there was one big issue. My home town of Eden, WI; did not have a team and even know a coach had invited me to play on a team in Fond du Lac, WI. I still had the issue of, how to I get there every day for practice.

By this time my mom and dad were divorced, Dad was running his business and mom was working full time too.

However, Grandma Feyen was coming to clean our house once a week and after listening to me complain about not being able to play because I couldn’t get to practice she said, “Ray will take care of it.”

Ray Feyen, was my Grandpa Feyen and for my whole first year of football he drove the 10 miles from Fond du Lac to pick me up and drive me the 10 miles back to Fond du Lac and some days when dad could not make it from work to pick me up he would make the round trip again.

We spent about 3 months doing that trip together and honestly, I don’t remember a single conversation. I just remember how he listened to talk radio every day and how annoying I thought it was. I’m guessing that is what you will think some day about my talk radio habit.

And even though I lived with Grandma and Grandpa Feyen for a few years later in life, I can honestly only remember two things that came out of Grandpa Feyen’s mouth. One, the fact that he used to call us grandkids, snicklefritzes and the infamous, “Can I get my drink yet?,” when he knew family was coming to visit. Grandma only let him drink when people were visiting in the later years.

I think that it is kind of strange that I remember how much Grandpa B told me, possibly because of the number of times he repeated the same story, but almost nothing about what Grandpa Feyen said.

Even though I don’t remember what he said, I remember several things that he taught me.

I remember being at the farm in the morning and watching him walk to to the barn to start the day.  I remember his striped overalls and hankerchief.  I remember not remembering him ever complaining or looking like he didn’t want to do it.  My memory may be different from others on that last statement but I really think it had an effect on my work ethic.

Although I may complain more than I remember Grandpa complaining, I know that I am responsible to get my work done.

I also remember how Grandpa realized that our regular trips to the Golden Goat to recylce cans were loosing us money and that we should be taking our cans to the recycling center where they paid more per pound of cans.  The only difference is that the cans taken to the recycling center had to be crushed.

He would take our full bags of uncrushed cans from our house in Eden to the farm house and he would crush the cans one by one with a sledge hammer on his work bench.  I swear that each can was crushed to the exact same measurement.

I learned two things from this.  The first is the value of money, your mother may argue that that value alludes me at times, but the fact that Grandpa was willing to invest the time to help us make a few extra dollars meant a lot.  The second is no matter what you are doing that you should take pride in it, even if it means a perfect crush on a can that is bound for a recycling center.

That wasn’t the last lesson I learned from Grandpa around the cans. When we got to the recycling center I realized the bags were put on a scale, weighed and then we threw them into a bin.  The more the bag weighed the more money we made and no one really inspected the bags so why not add some weight to the bags and bingo, more money.

I decided that I was going to add sand to the bags, and then the first bag I added the sand to was gone from Grandpa’s garage with all the other bags the next morning because Grandpa decided to take the cans in for us.

When he got back all I remember is him carrying one bag out of the back of the car, dropping it in the garage, telling us to clean out the sand and that was it. He didn’t get mad at us and never asked why or how it got there.

Then at lunch that day he pointed out the milkhose hanging in the mudroom like the one that he used to smack the cows with to get them to do what he wanted them to do. I don’t remember what he said as much as I knew that from that point forward I would never put sand in our aluminum cans ever again and that I never wanted to find out how a cow felt when it gets hit by that hose.

The lesson; if you make a mistake you are going to fix it yourself and there are consequences for big mistakes.  Not always a milkhose to the backside, but consequences just the same.

The final lesson I learned from Grandpa was the hardest lesson.  Grandma and Grandpa left their farm to move into the city when they were in relatively good health, but what I percieved once they moved was that Grandpa had lost a big part of who he was.  I saw him try to find things to keep himself busy, but he never was quite the same or quite as happy as I remembered him being on the farm.

Grandpa seemed to loose a little bit more of himself every day and I remember watching him struggle to get the bread he always dunked into his coffee into his mouth before it fell apart.  I saw him fail more times than I would like to remember.

I don’t know if Grandpa would have lived longer or had more quality of life if they never left the farm, but I do think he would have been happier.  He never said that to me, at least that I can remember, but that is what I think.

What I do know is that I will always seek to ensure my life is full and I will hold on tight to those things that keep me happy.

I will also endeavor to lead as much by example as well as my Grandpa Feyen did.

 

The Garden of Eden: More Hometown Memories

I remember two welcome signs from the town where I grew up.

The first said, “Welcome to the home town of baseball star Jim Gantner.” Most people say, “Jim who?”

The second said, “Welcome to the Garden of Eden.” A biblical reference to some, but for me the bible is not exactly where my first thought goes when I think of good ole, Eden, WI.

I have already chronicled some of the outstanding moments and my most trafficked post to date, A Kick to the Nuts.

But when I think of Eden as I do every once in a while, the first memory that comes to mind is the canning company on the other side of the tracks from where I lived.

(As a side bar, I still don’t know if I grew up on the right or wrong side of the tracks.)

I think of how during the canning season I would race my friends on our bikes through the canning factory as the machines were running and the workers were working. Some of the workers got a kick out of it and others would be yelling four letter words which I was very familiar with by the age of…….well, since I can remember.

I think of how sometimes I would use those race routes to ride away from bullies and my absolute favorite time when I took to the railroad tracks coming out of the canning company and got going as fast as I could, hopped the rail with my bike and came to a complete stop with a bully in tow.

He tried to stop and hit the rail and went skidding on the tracks between the two rails. The chase ended at that moment and he never bothered me again, I also never told the story to anyone until now.

The other things I think of are:

  • Collecting cans and literally hanging out after the evening softball games so that when the players finished their beers they would throw them to all of us kids that were collecting cans and watch us scramble to get them. It probably was fun for them, but for us it was our weekly allowance they were toying with as almost every Friday Dad took us to the Golden Goat, automated recycling machine, to turn the aluminum cans into quarters.
  • Being an altar boy at the local church and having the responsibility after the last mass on Sunday to get the priest his whiskey and water after he polished off the jug of wine for the day. The priest was a great guy, but boy did he like his alcohol.
  • Having the local Sheriff come to our house after someone reported that I was running around town with a gun pretending to shoot it. I was actually doing it and it was a toy gun.
  • Not having a football team so having to have at first, my Grandpa Feyen pick me up and drive me 10 miles to practice everyday the first year I played.
  • Playing baseball, kickball, tetherball and basketball all in our own driveway and yard.  I especially remember playing basketball and how no one would want to play against me in our driveway because I had the slope and the height of that driveway mastered.
  • Sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling down at Fireman’s park. Where I also started the trash in the bathroom on fire and proceeded to get busted by the fire chief who was one of your Pappa Jim’s friends and a fellow firefighter. .
  • Driving the snowmobile during the winter and getting it stuck once when I wasn’t supposed to have it out. Someone helped me get it unstuck so I thought I had gotten away with it. Unfortunately that person knew Pappa Jim too and I was grounded from the snowmobile for a couple of weeks.

There’s more and I’ll probably come back to them again, but the last couple lead me to a lesson I kind of learned living in Eden.

Everyone knew everyone and there really was not any getting away with anything. You might actually think you got away with something, but it would come back around eventually.

I think that has stuck with me a bit. A little over two years ago I took you to your first football game to watch one of my friend’s sons play. I snapped a picture of you watching, a picture that is mostly of your head, but you can still see him on the field.

I gave him that picture as a graduation present with a note that said something like:

Whether you know it or not someone is always watching you, so you should always act like you care that they do.

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