An Ethical Man’s Family

Note: The following is something I wrote a few years ago as a tribute to my father. It is accurate to the best of my knowledge, though I suspect when and if my sisters read it they will tell me things that need to be corrected – especially the stuff that happened before I was born or too little to know much about. I am publishing it here as a memorial to my father who passed about fifteen years ago around this time of year.



Mom and Dad

Bruce Williams, my father,  was born in April 1914 near West Liberty, Kentucky. He was an honest, decent man who was raised on a farm. All he knew was farming. So, it was natural that it would become his life’s work.

When he was starting out, he worked for the government in a federally funded recovery program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Dad worked on reservoirs in the Tennessee River valley and helped construct roads throughout Appalachia. He saved his money and, after two years in the CCC, he returned home and married Alta Ferguson, my mother, in the early spring of 1935.

Jobs were scarce in Morgan County, Kentucky, where my parents grew up. Bruce heard there were better opportunities in Ohio. So, in late summer, he left my pregnant mother behind with a promise he’d send for her when he saved enough money.

Mom, Dad and Baris (Brother) Circa 1940

He found a job as a laborer in a feed and grain store that serviced farmers in west central Ohio. The last throes of the Great Depression still stifled a good portion of the economy. He worked all week for enough money to buy denim overalls to wear at work. He saved every cent he could spare. Mr. Ballenhoffer, who owned one of the largest farms in the area, offered Bruce a small place to live. It was actually an old chicken coop that my dad cleaned out to make ready for bringing his wife from Kentucky to live with him.

My brother, Barris, was born on May 4, 1936. Shortly afterwards, Bruce brought Alta and the baby to Ohio.

Despite his responsibilities as a new father, one day he had an argument with his supervisor. He never told me exactly what the argument was about, only that it was a matter of principle and ethics. So, I’m sure it was something he considered wrong. My dad hated no one except for liars and cheats and would never compromise his beliefs for any reason. I’m sure his personal integrity was challenged. What he did tell me was that being right does not always matter in an argument. When his supervisor threatened to fire him, Bruce quit.

The same day, Mr. Ballenhoffer hired him as a farmhand. Maybe they didn’t need another hired hand, but Mr. Ballenhoffer knew Dad from the feed and grain store. He witnessed first-hand how hard Bruce worked.

It was a struggle for my parents to survive their living conditions in those first years of marriage. To keep out the cold winds of winter, Alta had to chink rags into the cracks between the clapboards of the chicken coop that was their first home. She blamed those harsh conditions for why my brother Barris was sickly as a young child.

Arial view of Wildman farm on US 42

In time, Bruce was offered a sharecropping position on a farm near South Charleston. As part of the deal, my folks could live in the property’s farmhouse. During that time, Dad suffered a severe injury. While attempting to straighten a nail to be reused in repairing a loose board, the nail snapped in two, and one piece flew up into my father’s face, putting out his right eye.

Bruce’s position as a farmer was considered critical and exempted him from being drafted into military service. Although Dad was patriotic and wanted to serve, he was not allowed to volunteer. His eye injury prevented him from going to war. Perhaps the reason my sisters and I were born was that he lost his right eye in an accident – if you want to believe in accidents.

In 1945, a few weeks before his birthday and the end of the war in Europe, my brother Barris, died. He succumbed to seizures that my mother called Epilepsy, though they could not afford proper medical treatment and so the illness was never diagnosed. He was buried in Kentucky, at the Cold Iron Cemetery, near where my parents were born.

Bruce and Alta were devastated as they grieved the loss of their firstborn child. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. It was several months before the emptiness in their life seemed bearable. It was over a year before my mother and father attempted to replace him.

During that time, Bruce was offered a job managing the farm where he had once worked as a hired hand. It was considerably more money and so he decided to take the position. Still, my father left on good terms with the Wildman’s, whose farm he had been operating for several years. He helped them find someone to replace him.

Family Pics-6

Joyce, my oldest sister, was born on February 7, 1947. She was not the son Bruce wished to replace his loss, but he doted on her all the same. My family’s living conditions were dramatically improved from when my parents last lived on the Ballenhoffer farm. They were allowed a farmhouse as part of the compensation, and land to use for a garden and raising their own chickens.

Two and a half years later, William E. Bailey, a young attorney in Springfield, contacted my dad. His last surviving parent passed on, leaving him the family’s two farms. The Wildman’s recommended Bruce to Mr. Bailey. My father accepted the position, establishing a business relationship and friendship borne of mutual respect that would endure for their lifetimes.

Subsequently, when Mr. Wildman died of a heart attack, Anamelia Wildman offered the operation of the two farms she owned and the farmhouse where my parents lived before. Between the Wildman and Bailey farms, Dad was overseeing the operation over 2400 acres and had four hired hands working for him.

Still, Bruce wanted to have a son to carry on the family name and to inherit a farm he dreamed of buying, a goal for which both my parents were saving for since they were married. Again, they tried to replace Barris.

Gentte and me 1959

Genette, my other sister, was born on January 10, 1952. Once more, my parents brought a beautiful daughter into the world. At that point, with the doctor’s recommendation, my parents decided two children were enough.

Over the next three years, many things changed for my mother and father. The crops were good and the livestock markets were rewarding. My parents saved enough money from their share of the profits from the farms to buy two acres of land from Mrs. Wildman. They planned to build a new home.

My mother told a strange story that I am sure she believed happened. Dad was convinced it happened, too. She heard a voice telling her to have another child. When she consulted with Dr, McIntyre, the family doctor, he confirmed that she was not too old but he warned her, as he had after Genette’s birth, that it would be very risky.

It was not an easy pregnancy. There was a point when she was convinced she would miscarry. With her faith and the prayers of others, she weathered the crisis. On May 7, 1956, eleven years to the day after the end of the war in Europe, I was born. Finally, my parents had a son to replace Barris. I grew up in my dead brother’s shadow, more so than either of my sisters.

Front yard on US 42

My dad asked his cousins who were carpenters to come stay for the summer and build the new house. When it was complete, my parents moved the family into a modern home, the first they ever owned.

As I grew up, Dad referred to me as his buddy – his little helper. As I grew older, I could help with the chores and a good deal of the backbreaking labor of working on a farm. The days that I worked with my father wore me out. It was time well spent, though. I appreciated how hard my dad worked for a living. I was amazed at how smart he was. He seemed to have the solution for every problem. Nothing was beyond him.


When I was big enough to reach the pedals and steer the tractor, I spent many a summer day in the hot sun. Whether it was piloting a tractor towing a baler along windrows making hay bales for my father to stack on the wagon we pulled behind or cultivating the corn and soybeans, it was what I did and Dad paid me a man’s wage.

Joyce graduated from Southeastern High School in 1965. The event fulfilled a part of one of Bruce’s personal goals, that his children would earn diplomas. Dad always wanted a high school education. But when he was a teenager, the Great Depression began. He had to quit school to work on the farm and help support and feed his family. He had a ninth grade education. Mom finished the eighth grade. Education of their children was paramount in importance to both my parents. They wanted to offer their children the opportunities they never had.

Around that time Dad and Mom realized their lifelong dream; they bought a farm. It was adjacent to Mr. Bailey’s farms so, even though father now had an additional 160 acres of his own land to work, it was close enough to some of the other farms that it was not as much of an increased burden. The new farm also allowed expansion of beef cattle production. The problem was that operating Mrs. Wildman’s farms, which were several miles away from our new farm, was increasingly difficult. Bruce continued to do it for an additional year, but all the time he was seeking someone to take over the operation from him.

The other logistical consideration was that we still lived in Selma, on land adjacent to the Wildman’s farms. Mom wanted to build a new house on our farm so she could correct all the deficiencies she found with our present house. I was ten at the time and had mixed feelings about moving away from the only house I remembered living in. The idea of a new house excited me and living on the new farm made a lot of sense. But I had memories. The house where we lived was my home.

Joyce standing beside new '63 Chevy Impala Convertible

Once again, Bruce called on his cousins to come spend the summer while they built another dream home. Meanwhile, Dad and Mom were remodeling the interior of the farmhouse on our new farm, with the intention of Joyce, her husband Jerry and their newborn son, Jame (Jay), living there.

Family Pics-9

While driving back from working on the old farmhouse, Mom, Genette and I were in a car accident. Other than the bloody nose I received from slamming my face into the back of my sister’s hard head and the resulting knot on Genette’s noggin, my mother was the only one injured. Her wrists were badly sprained from where she braced herself against the steering wheel in anticipation of the impact. Her right kneecap was shattered. Our car, a Candy Apple Red 1963 Chevy Impala, was totaled.

Mother spent the summer in a full leg cast in a house that was built before central air conditioning was common. She spent a lot of time sitting on the front porch, with her cast propped up on a chair while she hoped for a cool breeze. When it didn’t come, she used a box fan and an oscillating fan to fend off the heat.

Despite recovering from her injuries, she had to take care of the new baby while Joyce worked. Of course, Genette helped, not only in caring for the baby, but also doing housework and cooking.

It was not an easy summer for anyone. We had two house guests. I gave up my room  to Marvin, one of my dad’s cousins. Norman, the other cousin, slept in the room we called the breezeway, a family room we had made from enclosing a walkthrough between the house and the garage. My bed was a foam rubber pallet on the living room floor.

Mom’s cast was removed in early September. She was leery of driving but she liked our new car, a 1966 Chevy Caprice.

A few weeks later, we moved into the new house. Regardless where I lived, I was still  attending school in Selma. That was where the school district’s consolidated middle school was located. The only difference was I rode a bus to school instead of my bike or Mom dropping me off.

I matured a good bit over the next couple of years. My dad and I began to work together as a team and sometimes we traded places. My muscles recovered much more readily from the aches and pains of strain and overexertion. It was a welcome relief for Bruce to have someone he could count on to do some of the things he was never able to trust to hired hands.

As I entered the eighth grade, the newly constructed elementary school in South Charleston was ready to open. My class received the honors of naming the school and selecting a mascot. There were several suggestions and a good bit of campaigning, culminating in a school assembly, after which everyone was allowed to vote. The school’s name became Miami View. It was apt as a branch of the Little Miami River flowed behind the school. The mascot for every athletic team was The Patriots.  Of course, the school colors were red, white and blue.

The chores continued, either in the morning before going to school or in the afternoon after I returned home. On weekends I helped my dad on the farms. Sunday was the only day either of us had off. Dad refused to work on Sunday, except to feed the livestock. Dad believed that God understood His animals needed to be fed. Otherwise, Dad refused to do any business whatsoever on a Sunday.

Old Bachelor's House on Jamestown RoadArial view of Old Bachelor's farm

Dad purchased an adjacent 90 acre farm that had belonged to a man we referred to as the Old Bachelor. He was descended from the family that had once owned not only the farm where he lived and our farm, but also much of the surrounding land. He died in his house. As I was on friendly terms with him and went to see about him from time to time. It was an unfortunate circumstance that I discovered his body.

The family farm was now 250 acres.

When I  worked I was constantly analyzing everything, figuring out more efficient ways to doing nearly every task. Dad said it was because I was lazy, but really it was not. When given the option of working hard or working smart, I opted for the latter. If an easier way could be determined to do the exact same thing with less effort, I would take that course. Anyone would.

The problem with my father’s dream for me to take over the family farm was related to my allergies. A day of baling hay, for example, would result in irritated, itching, swollen and watering eyes. I’d sneeze throughout the day. At night, I was beset with coughing fits. Still, by the next morning, I was ready to go at it again. I had to endure the discomfort. However, it was obvious I was not cut out to be a farmer.


Genette’s goal was attending Wittenberg University in Springfield. It was an outstanding private college with high academic standards. If she attended Southeastern High School, he believed she could not receive the sort of education she needed to qualify for admission. From her sophomore year to graduation, Dad and Mom paid tuition for her to attend Shawnee High School in Springfield, reputedly the best public school in the county. As a result, Mom drove her to school every day until Genette was old enough to get her driver’s license. Once Genette was able to drive, Dad bought her a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda.

In the early summer of 1970, Genette received her diploma from Shawnee High School. She was preparing to attend Wittenberg in the fall, to study art education. She became the first of our family to go to college.

My dad and mom wanted me to follow in Gennete’s footsteps. Obviously, Shawnee prepared her well for college. But, because of the overcrowded conditions in all the public schools due to the ‘baby boom’ of the 1950’s, Shawnee was no longer accepting tuition students.

At the time, I was seriously considering a military career as an officer. I wanted to attend the United States Air Force Academy. I felt that if I attended a military school it would be a great help in meeting the admission requirements. Mr. Bailey, my godfather, was a personal friend of Congressman Brown who represented the US Congressional District where we lived. So, obtaining a letter of recommendation for appointment was no problem.

Me in miltary school uniform

Greenbrier Military School in Lewisburg, West Virginia accepted me and I began classes in late August 1970. Although I got over homesickness and adapted to the structure of the school, there were very few students who were there for the sake of getting a quality education. Most needed correction and many of them were still resisting the effort. Drugs were a problem and my roommate was one of the people involved.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, I told my parents what was going on at school. My father called the school and had a lengthy discussion with the administration about what I told him. They promised my father I would be moved to a private room. It seemed everything was resolved.

While I was home for Thanksgiving break, my father and I discussed everything and I was fine with going back to school. But when I returned, the new room to which I was assigned was a disaster. It needed repairs and there was a big inspection coming in a few days. There was no way the room could be made presentable before the inspection. It was obvious to me that I was set up to fail. It was punishment for opening my mouth to my parents about what was going on in the school. In the minds of the school administration, I broke a code of conduct. If I had a problem, I should have gone directly to the administration. No parents needed to be involved. The reputation of the school did not need to be tarnished.

I was in fear of the retaliation I might suffer from the other students. I called my parents to come take me back home. While I waited, I did anything to avoid being in my room.

When my parents arrived at the school, they had a lengthy discussion with the administration after which I packed my things into the family car and returned home.

Although I was prepared to attend Southeastern High School, my dad and mom insisted that I not. They rented an apartment in the Springfield Local School District so that I could live there, ostensibly with my mom, and attend Shawnee High School. I was never to tell anyone at school that I lived alone. Not only was it no one’s business but also I knew my parents trusted me. If anyone found out Mom wasn’t living with me, she could get into a lot of trouble with the State. Despite my emotional and mental maturity, I was still a minor.

At first, Mom came to the apartment regularly, almost daily. I always had food. Although I could do my laundry and knew how to cook for myself, whenever she was there, she took care of those things. She let me clean my apartment, vacuum the carpet, mop and wax the kitchen floor, clean the bathroom and carry out the trash. At night, I set my alarm clock to wake up in time to get up and get ready for school. The bus stopped for me in front of the apartment complex.

Twice, my mother slept in the apartment. That way she could say she stayed there without telling a lie. The phone was in her name. Each morning, when I woke, I called home. Each afternoon, when I got off from school, I called home. Mom would call me some time in the evening to see how I was doing. She called at random times, even two times in an evening. Although she said she trusted me, I understood she didn’t want me to think I could get away with anything. She was minimizing the opportunity for me to become a bad boy. On Friday afternoon, when I got off the bus, Mom would meet me at the apartment. I slept at my parents’ house on the weekend and helped my dad on the farm every Saturday. On Sunday morning I did the chores and then went to church with Mom. In the afternoon, I did my laundry and folded it. In the evening, after dinner, Mom drove me back to the apartment.

As far as anyone at school knew, I lived with my mother. They assumed my parents were divorced. No one bothered to ask for clarification, and so, I never provided any details.

Over the summer before my sophomore year, I periodically stayed in the apartment. I told my parents that for appearance’s sake I probably should spend time there. Besides, I liked some of the freedom and privacy I acquired. All of my things were there, so when I was at my parent’s house, it felt a lot less like home to me.

One of the nosier neighbors at the apartment complex stopped me in passing and asked where I had been all week.

“Oh, I was helping my dad. He has a farm,” I said and started to walk away.

“Where’s your mom been?”

“She was seeing her sister. She’s been sick,” I replied. It was true that my mom had seen her sister and Aunt Verna was sick. Despite my inference through omission of detail, Mom did not stay with her sister, though.

“Where’s she now?”

“Working,” I said. That was also true. My mother was a housewife. So, when was she not working? Then, I smiled at my neighbor. “Okay, it’s my turn. Why is any of this your business?”

“I was wondering where you’ve been?’

“I always help my dad on the farm when he needs help. He pays me. I can always use the money.”

Apparently that satisfied her. No one else at the complex ever bothered to ask me anything about my business.

Sometimes, Genette came to see me. She was taking summer school classes at the university. She moved onto campus when she pledged to join the Sigma Kappa sorority. Although Mom maintained her room at home, like me, my sister was seldom there.

Genette and I would see movies together. Afterwards we went shopping in Springfield or at the Upper Valley Mall. She took me to her sorority and hung out with her sorority sisters and her friends who were in fraternities. I sat in on some of her classes and met her professors. We went to the library and the Student Union. I really liked the learning environment and the campus atmosphere.

My primary means of transportation throughout that summer was a ten-speed Schwinn. I rode it everywhere, into Springfield, across town to my friend Brice’s house, and sometimes to Wittenberg to see Genette. Sometimes I rode the bike to my dad’s farm, which was thirteen miles from my apartment.

I rode the bus for another school year. It was pretty much the same routine as during my freshman year, except I spent some weekends at the apartment. My dad decided to get out of the livestock part of farming and so he raised grain only. There were fewer chores to do and less need for me to help him on weekends.

The summer before my junior year, I took driver’s education in summer school. I was eager to get my license. The irony was that I had been driving for years. As a farm kid I was allowed to drive farm equipment on the roads between farms. On the farms, I drove my dad’s trucks to and from the fields.

I rode my bike to school every weekday until the conclusion of the course. The day I received my certificate of completion for the course, I took my driving test and received my license. I acquired the gold 1972 Camaro my mother had been driving. As she liked Camaros, dad bought an orange and black one as a replacement for her.

Once my junior year ended, I was grandfathered into attending Shawnee for my senior year. I did not need to live in the school district. So, I moved back home and drove to school each day from my parent’s house.

It felt strange being back home, especially since I had grown accustomed to considerable personal freedom. I also played bass guitar in a rock band and had a number of outside activities. During my senior year, I think I tried my parents’ patience to the limit more times than not.

Purdue-University Fall

Wittenberg University accepted me a few weeks after I submitted my application. I figured that since my sister was a senior there, they would not turn me down. But I wanted to attend a major university and study journalism, a course that was not offered at Wittenberg. So, I applied to some Big Ten schools. Purdue University accepted me.

In the early part of the last summer I lived at home, I received my diploma. Bruce and Alta saw the last of their children complete a goal neither of them ever reached. A few days after my graduation, Genette received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Wittenberg University, making her the first in the family to graduate from college. I don’t think I ever saw my dad and mom as proud as they were of Genette. She worked hard and even struggled at times to receive her degree, but she would not quit. I was proud of her, too.

At the end of the summer, when I moved to West Lafayette, Indiana to attend Purdue, for all intents and purposes, all of my parent’s kids were grown up. I think the realization that I would not be following in his footsteps disappointed my dad. The dream of carrying on the family farming traditions would perish with him. He and my mother had saved to buy a farm that they could pass on to their children, yet their only surviving son was not going to be a farmer and neither of my sisters had any interest or inclination toward owning a farm, let alone operating one.

After a year of substitute teaching in the public schools, Genette decided that she really did not like teaching as much as she thought she would. She enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1975.

My oldest sister, Joyce, her husband, Jerry and their son, Jame (Jay), moved to Clearwater, Florida in 1978. Joyce became a successful administrative assistant for an executive before leaving to handle the office work for her husband’s private business.

Family Pics-12

Having endured the blizzard in January 1978, Mom said she was tired of living in a cold place. My parents sold their farm and some of their household furniture at auction. My dad had always dreamed of living in the southwest, so they moved to Texas – just about as far south in Texas as they possibly could go. They relocated to a little town called Mission that was just north of the Rio Grande River, near the cities of McAllen and Edinburgh. Genette’s first husband and I helped them make the trip.

At some point during the next year, Genette divorced Andy, her first husband. She received a commission through Officer Training School and, after a few years ended up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she eventually met her second and present husband, Michael ‘Scott’, an Air Force pilot.

Genette at wedding reception with Joyce, Jay, Mom, Dad and Me

When I finished my degree in Mass Communication, the economy was suffering from a curious mess called ‘stagflation’, a combination of double-digit inflation and double-digit interest rates. I interviewed with several prospective employers but no one offered me a job. I spent a summer with my parents in Mission before moving to Austin to attend the University of Texas, majoring in Marketing.

Shortly before I graduated from UT, my parents moved to Clearwater, Florida and eventually to Palm Harbor, just to the north of Clearwater. I lived with them for a time, and then moved out into an apartment in Dunedin while I worked for a small advertising agency. A year later I joined the Air Force and learned Chinese Mandarin.

Before I left for my first overseas tour of duty in Korea, I sat with my dad on his driveway in front of his garage. There was a cool breeze that afternoon as we enjoyed sitting in the shade of a large oak. The subject was one we discussed before but never in as much detail as that day. He was a little concerned about what I was getting into with the Air Force. Genette was an officer. He was concerned about her but figured she was safer somehow. He did not understand what I was going to be doing and, frankly, I really could not tell him much because nearly everything I worked with was highly classified.

Dad expressed how proud he was of each of his children, not because of what we accomplished but that we were decent, caring people.

“I’ve had to work hard all my life,” he said. “I didn’t have the kind of education a man needs to get ahead. Your mom and I scrimped and saved everything we could because we knew what it was like not to have anything. We didn’t want for our children to know that kind of hardship.”

“I don’t know how you worked as many years as you did as a farmer. It’s hard work.”

“It’s honest work,” he responded. “I love the land. I enjoy watching things grow and taking care of animals. It’s not an easy job feeding the world. But that’s what I did with my life.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t take over the farm.”

“Farming isn’t what it used to be. It won’t be too many years before having a family farm is nothing but a memory. The world is changing very quickly. I’m not sure how it is going to work out. I’ve always heard that the world will end sometime after 2000. I don’t know if it will. Only God knows those things. But I think if you are ready, it doesn’t matter when it happens. Until then, you need to live as good a life as you can, be honest and always keep your word. When you make a mistake beg forgiveness. When you succeed, be humble. When you have children, teach them how to be good people. That’s the best anyone can do.”

I married in 1985. My son was born in 1986 and my daughters were born in 1988 and 1990, giving Dad and Mom three more grandchildren. My nephew married in 1986 and had a daughter in 1987, my parents’ great granddaughter.

Bruce Williams was an ethical man who raised his family to honor what he stood for and what he believed was right. He fed us, clothed us, and gave us a roof over our heads with warm beds to sleep in. We never worried for a thing as children. If there was not enough for everyone, he would do without. I never knew a soul who didn’t like him. Most respected him and considered it an honor to know him. He was generous to a fault. He helped people who had nowhere else to turn, cosigning for loans when the bank would not give them the money they needed for something urgent.

Family Photo around 2003 -1

My father died a few days before his birthday in April 2000. The family gathered together for the funeral. By then Mom was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s and could not attend. She would pass on nearly on her birthday in April 2003. People came from everywhere my parents had lived to pay their respects. My parents both lived to be nearly eighty-six.

#Family #Memorial #BruceWilliams #AltaWilliams #Ohio #Wittenberg #Purdue #UTAustin #GrowingUp


A Father’s Day Treat – The Redemption CH 1 from Candy Apple Red


Although this story is fiction, it is based on the kind of relationship I had with my father, Bruce Williams, and why, since he passed away in the spring of 2000, I miss him as much as I do. The pictures I have included ware the actual First State Bank building in South Charleston – though it has long since been bought out by a larger bank – and the house I lived in back in the ’60’s.

The Redemption – Chapter One of Candy Apple Red

Elliot looked at the time on the wall clock. The use of the letters I, V and X was an effort to be fancy, he guessed. From what his sister Jean said about them when he asked her about it he wasn’t far from the truth. Continuing to watch the clock’s pendulum swinging hypnotically back and forth, measuring each passing second, he shifted from one foot to another in synchronization. Then, as if to alert him he saw the minute hand click just as it became his turn at the head of the queue and the teller waved for him to come forward.

Eagerly he reached the marble counter, standing on his tiptoes peering over the edge into the young lady’s magical green eyes, appreciating her warm, welcoming, sincere smile. From past experience he knew her name was Ginger and always she made him feel at ease whenever she took care of his banking business. Shyly reached up his negotiable bills – meticulously organized by denomination, he laid them on the cold slick surface of the counter. This time his deposit consisted of two fives and two ones along with a short stack of coins that consisted of one quarter, a nickel and two pennies.

When the teller received the money, she keyed it into an adding machine and then requested his savings passbook so she could update today’s deposit of precisely twelve dollars and thirty-two cents. “There you go, honey,” Ginger said with a wink as she handed the officially stamped and properly recorded the transaction and returned annotated book into the boy’s outstretched hand. “You have a very nice day, now, Elliot.”

“Yes ma’am. I will. You too.” Blushing he quickly averted his eyes. Elliot thought Ginger was really pretty, especially her auburn hair and big bright eyes. She always seemed happy to see him and whenever she smiled her eyes sparkled. It was a combination of everything about her that Elliot liked, not one thing. She embodied personality and warmth at the heart of the bank’s otherwise cold interior and so she was the only teller he looked forward to seeing anytime he came into town to put money into his account.

Ginger watched as the tow-headed little boy stiffly pivoted in an awkward attempt at executing a military about-face. Then he hurried away, his leather-soled shoes scuffing and slipping on the highly polished black and white floor toward the office of Chief Loan Officer, Jerry Rogers who, all along, was talking with Bruce, the boy’s dad.

“Did you take care of your business, son?” Jerry asked as the boy interrupted a prior conversation to climb up into his father’s lap.

“Yes sir, Mr. Rogers.” Elliot focused on the man’s shiny bald spot. Along each side of were short cropped patches of slightly graying hair.

“Did Ginger take good care of you?”

“Yes sir,” Elliot turned to bury his face into his dad’s bibbed overalls the same sort that was Bruce’s sort of everyday uniform. The boy felt his father’s approving hand rubbing quickly over his fresh burr hair cut into which just an hour before the barber had rubbed a liberal sprinkling of Vitalis before pronouncing the haircutting ordeal officially concluded.

“Your dad tells me you’re starting the second grade.”

Elliot nodded without removing his face from his father’s broad chest.

“Are you excited?” Elliot nodded again in exactly the same way.

“We’d best be goin’,” Bruce stood allowing the boy to dangle from an outstretched arm, the scuffed-up tips of the boy’s shoes just about touching the floor before Dad finally set him down.

“I’ll have everything drawn up and ready for you to sign in the morning,” Jerry reiterated a previous promise.

“I need the check for first thing.”

“If it would be better for you I can draft it right now and you can sign the paperwork later.”

“That’s not necessary. As long as it’s ready by nine o’clock tomorrow morning, it’ll be fine. Besides that’s a lot of money to carry around on a slip of paper.”

“Everything will be ready,” Jerry reaffirmed, and then offered his hand across the desk. It was as always between them, a handshake and a promise was all that any deal required.

All that Elliot knew about the purpose of his dad’s business with the First State Bank of South Charleston, Ohio that day was from what his father mentioned: the need to buy some more cattle. It had been a week or so since the boy accompanied his dad in taking a load of fattened cattle to auction in Urbana. Afterwards Elliot assisted his father in preparing the barns’ feeder lots for a new herd. Bruce allowed Elliot to steer the tractor while towing a manure spreader around one of the larger fields that was to lay fallow for that growing season as part of a government ‘land bank’ program.

As they drove home from the bank Elliot opened his passbook, seeing that he had accumulated precisely forty-three dollars and seventy-seven cents of the fifty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents he needed for the bicycle he wanted. He was so close to realizing his dream. It was as his father said: he could nearly taste it!

“How’s it lookin’?” Bruce asked his son.

“I need sixteen dollars and twenty-two cents.”

“Plus tax,” his dad reminded him.

“Why do I have to pay that? I mean, you told me before but it didn’t make too much sense.”

“Well, it’s something the government says you have to pay.”

“Even when I’m still a boy?”

“Yep. Just about everybody pays taxes on things they buy.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“The State exempts some people, like church ministers buying things for the church.”


“Because the government can’t do anything that affects religion. It says that in The Constitution.”

“Oh.” He bit his lip thinking for a bit. Then he asked, “Why does everybody else have to pay?”

“The government uses the money to keep everything in the government running and they also repair roads and do a lot of other things like that.”

“What if I don’t want to pay?”

“I don’t think they would like it very much. Besides you don’t have the choice when you buy something. That’s just how it’s done.”

“But it’s 3 cents for every dollar!” Elliot protested, parroting what his father told him during their prior discussion. “It’s a whole ‘nother dollar and eighty cents I have to earn. At two cents a pop bottle, that’s another ninety I have to find!”

“You remembered all that?”

Elliot looked across the bench seat of the pick-up truck. “If I had the fifty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents I need for the bicycle, that’s almost the same as sixty dollars, isn’t it?”

“Yep, one penny shy of it.”

“You said I have to pay three cents for every dollar, so that means it’s about a dollar and eighty cents. At two cents a bottle that is ninety, right?”

“So, it is. Did they teach you that in school?”

“No, last year Mrs. Schofield taught me not to use my fingers when I add and subtract. She told me I could only ever count to ten if I used my fingers. But that’s not true.”

“It’s not?”

“I showed her how I can figure out anything using my fingers,” he boasted confidently.

“Anything?” Bruce asked not really understanding how such a thing was possible.

“Anything! I’m just not sure how I’m going to make another eighteen dollars and two cents before the end of the summer,” Elliot confessed.

“We’ll see what happens. There’s still some time, nearly a whole month! Besides why does it have to be before the end of the summer?”

“I need the bike before it gets too cold to ride it much.”

“I guess that makes some sense,” Bruce said, but then, after a pause, he continued. “Why-uh, I was just wondering if you wanted to come with me tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Elliot said without any hesitation. A road trip was always preferable to working all day on the farm. It didn’t matter where they were going, but anyway he asked, “Where?”

“Well, we have to go to the bank first. Then we’re going to Washington Courthouse to buy some cattle. I figure if we cut-up through Jamestown on the way back we can stop at the hardware store there.”

“Okay.” Elliot wasn’t sure why Dad was telling him all the details but thought that maybe he was supposed to remember them.

“I want to see if they still have something I saw there a couple of weeks ago.”

“What that?” Elliot asked, figuring it would help him remember if he knew what it was they were going there to look at.

“They had the best price around on something we need.”

“Oh. So Dad, you always look for the best price, right?”

“You have to, Elliot. Paying too much for anything doesn’t make any sense. So, you have to bargain and that requires negotiation.”

“What’s that?”

“Talking to someone to get them to accept your terms. When I buy cattle, for example, I never accept the first quoted price. It’s always a little high. So you talk and in the process you arrive at a price you can accept. If you don’t get your price, you leave.”

“So you have to get someone else to see things your way.”

“That’s right.” Bruce chuckled. “Sometimes it isn’t that easy, but that’s what you need to do.”

“I’ll watch you do it then. It sounds like it’s important.”

“It is. And you learn fast.”

“When I have a good teacher.”

Bruce reached across and patted his son’s knee. “I reckon it’s easy when you want to learn.”

Elliot loved spending time with his father. Even if it usually meant having to work around the farm, it was still better than staying home all day with his mother and sisters. But going on a road trip always promised to be a special adventure.

Silence lingered between them as Elliot enjoyed the fullest possible cooling effects of the wind coming in through the open passenger window as his father’s blue ’53 Chevy pick-up, cruising down US-42 heading home. It was a fairly typical midsummer afternoon, with temperatures climbing beyond ninety degrees for the fifth straight day!

“You know people don’t seem to care as much about collecting and redeeming pop bottles as you do, buddy. They throw them away all the time. Or they accumulate in a garage or a shed.”

“Like Mr. Chapman’s and–”

“And mine, too,” Bruce confessed before Elliot had a chance to complete the thought. “It’s just kind of a bother to redeem them for the two cents deposit per bottle.”

“But a whole lot of pop bottles turns into lots of dollars,” Elliot countered.

“That’s true. But a lot of people even throw away their bottles in the ditch alongside the road.”

“Wow! I’ll bet there’s a hundred bottles between here and South Charleston, then!”

“Maybe more than that! What say, when we get back home I drive back up the road a ways and you can look on one side of the road and I’ll look on the other and we’ll see how many bottles we can find. Then we can cash them in.”

“What are you going to do with your money?” Elliot asked.

“I’ll donate it,” Bruce said. “Getting you a new bike seems like a good enough cause. And if we hurry we can take the bottles to Gold’s store before closing time and maybe even put the money in the bank before we come back home.”

After drinking fresh, cold, deep-well water drawn from the spigot out back of the garage Bruce fetched empty burlap sacks from a stack inside the garage, keeping one while handing the other to the boy. Once the collecting effort began, every few hundred yards Bruce brought the pick-up truck closer. By then, both of them had a sack full of bottles to carefully empty into the bed of the pick-up so as to not break any. Elliot was immediately struck by how low his estimate had been. In some places he found entire six-pack cartons of bottles still in their original cardboard containers. The cartons were mostly disintegrated and of little worth for containing the bottles anymore, but what else struck Elliot was how much trash there was alongside the major highway. Perhaps it was not all that visible from the road, but once he was down into the ditch and searching the wide banks and shoulders of the road he found everything from nasty smelling beer bottles to crumpled-up cigarette packs, empty oil cans, spent oil filters, a lot of discarded paper and wrappers of various kinds. They were halfway to town by the eighth time he and his father met at the truck. Already the bed of the pick-up was nearly full. He knew from recent experience what 500 to 600 bottles looked like and they were rapidly approaching that.

Despite how it repulsed him how wasteful and inconsiderate other people were in disposing their trash, the boy began to envision finding enough bottles to make up the total difference he needed in order to buy his new bicycle.

“Who is supposed to keep the roadside clean?” Elliot finally asked his dad.

“Well, I guess that’s up to us today. You see, we need to pick up after ourselves, like at home you pick up your clothes from the floor when you’re done wearing them and put them in the hamper.”

“If I don’t Jean tells Mom and Mom yells at me.”

“Well, some people don’t have a mom to yell at them anymore. They are just too lazy and they wait for other people to pick up after them.”

“That’s not right, is it?”

“Well, it’s not but if you know what to expect from people, sometimes you can find an advantage and maybe make a little money in the process,” Bruce explained.

“Is that how you knew there’d be a lot of bottles beside the road?”

“I knew no one had done this for a long while. There are probably bottles we are finding from back before you were even born!”

“But the men with the yellow tractors come to mow the roadside a couple of times every year. I’ve seen ‘em. Doesn’t that break the bottles?”

“Not always. You see, they don’t mow as close as you cut the grass in our yard on the riding mower. So the bottles remain there until we find them. I suppose the grass kind of protects them.”

“I don’t know how many more we can put into the truck bed.”

“Well, Johnny just did the road around his place. John told me, and that’s kind of how I got the idea. He said Johnny found ten dollars worth of pop bottles, most of them probably from their shop. So we’ll go on up as far as the culvert just before their place. That’s where Johnny said he stopped.”

“Why didn’t he go any farther?”

“All he needed was ten bucks, I guess.”

“He’s stupid then, isn’t he?”

“I don’t think he’s stupid, just he probably got tired of looking and he already made enough money.”

“But we’re smart.”

Bruce laughed. “Maybe today we are.”

Front yard on US 42

#fathers #fathersday #growingup #1960s #Americana #Ohio


One Hundred Years Tomorrow


Bruce Williams

Fourteen years ago, around this time of year, was my father’s funeral. He lived to be almost eight-six. He always said he wouldn’t live too long past the turn of the century and that turned out to be the case. the last few years of his life he was in and out of hospitals it seemed. He had Parkinson’s and so he had difficulty swallowing properly. As a result, he was prone to aspiration pneumonia. I know he’d say he lived a pretty good life even to his final days.

Family Photo around 2003 -1

He was born one hundred years tomorrow in eastern Kentucky near the town of West Liberty. His childhood was largely about work and helping support the family. It was a hard life but also a honest one.

Dad did not have a high school education. He finished the ninth grade. He came of age in the midst of The Great Depression and served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helping build the infrastructure of highways, parks and dams that modernized Appalachia. In 1935 he married my mother. He went away to Ohio to work on a farm and saved money to bring my mother to Ohio to live.

Mom, Dad and Baris (Brother) Circa 1940

The following May my brother Baris was born. My parents lived in a chicken coop at the time. Mom chucked rags into the cracks between the clapboard siding to keep the cold out in winter. Even so, it was always drafty.

Baris died a little more than a month before his ninth birthday. He had suffered in the aftermath of a fall earlier in his life when he struck his head and was prone to seizures.

Genette, Joyce and me in early 1960's

My sisters were born in 1947 and 1952. I came along in 1956. Seeing that us children had the best possible education was their priority. Dad wanted us to at least have the opportunities he and Mom never had: to graduate from high school. But his goal was for all of us to receive college degrees. His other goals were to own his own farm and his own house.

By the time I was born Mom and Dad had saved enough to buy land and build a house near the village of Selma, Ohio, a few miles west of the town of South Charleston. That was where I spent most of the first ten years of my life.

In 1965 my oldest ester, Joyce, became the first of us to finish high school. Later that year Dad realized another of his personal goals, buying a farm. A year later he build a new house on the farm and we moved into it.

Family Pics-9

Joyce married soon after high school and her son, Jay, Dad’s first grandson, was born in 1966. My sister Genette became the first of the family to graduate from college in 1974, the same year I became the third to graduate from high school and begin college. Genette continued her education while serving as an officer int he USAF. I would receive my first degree in 1978 and my second in 1981. Later on I received another degree while in the Air Force.

Genette at wedding reception with Joyce, Jay, Mom, Dad and Me

In 1985 I was married and a year later my son, my dad’s second grandson, was born. A couple of years the first of my two daughters, Dad’s granddaughters, was born.

In retirement Dad and Mom sold their farm in Ohio in 1978 and moved first to south Texas and later to the west coast of Florida. My parents lived out the last days of their lives in Palm Harbor and were interred in nearby Dunedin.

Dad and Mom on beach in Florida

There is so much more to tell about how my dad lived and what he stood for but I think it is best to leave that for another time and perhaps in another way. Suffice it to say he was a good, hard working, decent and God fearing man who loved his wife and his children and did everything he could to help other people. I never met anyone who didn’t like my dad. He overcame a lot to achieve what he did in life. I believe everyone who knew him misses him.

Mom and Dad


Finding My Purpose In Life


 We start out not knowing anything about the world. It’s fresh, new, exciting – everything is interesting. That’s what being a kid’s about… for many years, at least. Then at some point the kid in us starts learning the ways of being an adult. And a part of that is finding a purpose in life. Unfortunately, I think a lot of us look for The Purpose more than A Purpose, and so, we fail.

Maybe that’s why I packed up and moved out of the house, pretty much, and went away to college. Going far away, at least to mean, meant a school in the next state over from where I grew up. It was a over couple of hour’s drive, almost three actually. That was quite far back in the day, especially farm boy.



Take in my perspective of the world: I lived two miles from Nowhere, which is what I called my hometown. From the back deck of my dad’s house I could see for miles and maybe there were a couple of other people who lived within eyesight, but their houses were dots on the horizon. That’s the Midwest.


There were a lot of things to like about living in the country but most of those escaped me. What I wanted from life had nothing to do with raising livestock and grain, taking over my father’s way of life. I was allergic to farming, literally.


Being outside in the sun everyday had given my father a farmer’s tan, though he had a fair complexion and mainly his skin was red from exposure. If anything, I was a paler version of him. Dad coughed, hacked and wheezed a lot from all the dust he inhaled from working. I broke out in a rash from exposure to the oils of freshly cut grass. Can you imagine being a kid and having an allergic reaction to grass? Fortunately, over time, I grew more tolerant of that.


So Dad gave up on the idea of me taking over his farm, at least running it as he did. What he figured I’d do was go away to college, study agricultural engineering and return home to manage his farms but also the farms he had operated for many years, those belonging to my godfather. He referred to it as being a ‘gentleman farmer’. Whenever he used that term I got this picture in my head of Oliver Wendell Douglas, the guy character on Green Acres who rode a tractor wearing a three-piece suit. I think what My dad had in mind was something more along the lines of having people working for me running things more like a corporation than a family business.


The only trouble with that dream was it wasn’t exactly shared. I disappointed him a little when I told him I wanted to study journalism. Dad watched the evening news every night that he was home from working on the farm in time to catch Walter Cronkite not he tube. He respected him. But in general Dad didn’t like the press that much and couldn’t understand why I wanted to be one of them.


It turned out that after nearly four years of studying mass communication at Purdue University I had tended more toward radio and TV production than journalism and also studied advertising and public relations. Those actually became my major concentration.

I studied consumer psychology, labor relations, social psychology and a lot of other things that were skewed closer to business. And so I decided to change my major late in the game.

Like most people who go to college, at some point I figured out that at the end of my matriculation I needed to find a job. So there had to be a practical use for what I had learned in college. I dreamed of being a writer even then, but I figured I needed to have a paying gig and pursuer the writing as more of a hobby.


By then my parents had sold their farm on land contract, packed up and moved to Mission, Texas. If you have never been there, it is just about as far south as you can go in the Continental US. Dad had always dreamed of going out west. He loved to read western pulp novels when he was younger and by then time I was a kid he watched westerns on TV every chance he got. Fairly often he talked about movie to Arizona, California or Texas, which got my sisters riled up about moving away from their friend. Not me so much, because I had always been of a mind that I wasn’t going to spend my life in southeastern Clark County, Ohio.


So dad was living his dream, living in Texas. We had flown down to Corpus Christy and stayed in a room some radio evangelist let us use. Dad contributed to his program and his school for wayward girls. We borrowed a beat up station wagon and drove down to Mission to look at houses there. That was a long drive in a car that didn’t look like it was roadworthy, let alone capable of making the trip.

I liked Mission. It was a small town close to McAllen and Edinburg, resting not he Rio Grande. A lot of the architecture was Mexican, as were the descent of the people, but that was part of why Dad and I liked about the place. They raised grapefruit there, and so there were miles and miles of orchards bearing the ruby red variety of the citrus fruit.


We spent a whole day there looking around with a real estate agent. And, although I advised Dad to have Mom come look at places, he claimed she had given him permission. I could even hear her voice in his remark that he said she told him anywhere he liked was fine. But i also knew her. Maybe better than Dad did in some ways.The house he was going to buy was a lot smaller than would comfortably fit their furniture. Dad said they were foregoing to sell off most of their stuff. So, okay… maybe that will work. But then I asked the obvious. “Do you realize you don’t know anybody who lives down here?” 


It might seem a silly question. Of course, he didn’t know anybody. But Dad had the gift of making friends easily. He always had. So that wasn’t a concern for him – but Mom, not so much. I was sort of in between the two in their personalities. I got along with everybody but I never had too many friends, just a few and even then they were never the sort that felt close.

 So, Dad bought the house. I help them move to Texas. Then I finished my degree at Purdue and transferred to UT Austin to study Marketing. I figured I’d be perfect for a job in advertising or public relations with degrees in mass communications and marketing.


I mention all this because until recently I have always tried to figure out why I did everything that I did. Other than having some good stories to write about, it was hard to explain why I worked in advertising for only a year, how I got a wild hair and joined the Air Force, learned Chinese and ended up on the other side of the planet for a while. And then, how did it make any sense for me to get married when I did, start a family and wind up working in retail for most of my adult life? The simple answer is, it didn’t. However, that would also be the wrong answer.

 You see, it has occurred to me that all along The Purpose for my life was always there while I was settling for A Purpose instead. I was born to be a writer, not anything else I did along the way. Yes, all those many things I have done give me a somewhat unique perspective on things so I can write in a semi-intelligent manner about a number of topics. But The Purpose in my life was to be a writer. I allowed many other things to get in the way, but now that I have arrived, I won’t let that happen again.

That doesn’t mean I still don’t need to survive. Writing for a living is not all that lucrative – at least not while one is starting out. But I have all this other knowledge and experience that I can share with others and, guess what? Most people don’t have the same knowledge and experience I have. That’s how it works out. I know a number of other authors now and most of us have the same problem, we’re obscure at best. I’m helping a few of my friends with publicity. And that was The Purpose for a lot of what I did for all those years at college other than learning how to think differently, learning a little bit about life, and exploring any number of things I might have never experienced living on a farm in west central Ohio.