Life threw me a curve ball last fall that has had me reeling since.  We knew my father was not himself.  He described some feelings that his doctor and others thought indicated some significant depression.  There were some physical symptoms and emotional symptoms, but all physical tests came back good.  Papa and I went on a cruise to Cozumel in mid November with friends.  While we were gone, I had the overwhelming need to contact home.  When I did, my Mom told me of new developments with Dad that had me very concerned.  In short, we returned on Sunday afternoon at 1, made it to Mom and Dads as soon as we could and we had Dad to the ER by 4.  He had finally had some CT scans on the Friday before and the results were available to the ER doctors.  He was diagnosed on Monday morning with fatal type of brain tumor in the mid-brain near the brain stem and passed on Friday with Mom and I at his side.  The purpose of this story is not to seek sympathy, not to defend my lack of posting for the past 4 months, nor to encourage others to be more diligent in taking the symptoms of loved ones more seriously.  Although it may have those effects as well, the following words are meant to be a tribute to my Dad, the man who helped raise me and my brothers, who helped to shape us into the people we have become today, the man who was a loyal son, husband, father, and friend; a man who loved his country life, his cows, his tractors and his family.

Dad was the first born child to my Grandparents.  My grandfather was 13 years older than my grandmother, and he doted on both my grandmother and my father.  After loosing a second child shortly after birth, they never had more children.  While my father was an only child, he was still raised with a strong work ethic and strong sense of family.  After having polio at the age of 8, and suffering no long term affects, he didn’t like doctors or hospitals.  For years he said he could still smell the odor of the hot wool blankets they would wrap him in during his treatment at the hospital.  I can’t help but think he was blessed from an early age to come through that illness, an illness that took the life of so many and crippled so many others, unscathed.  The Lord knew he was a special man, and that he would go on to be a great influence on others and contribute so much to so many.

He lived his all his years in the country, loved guns and shooting, raising cattle, dreamed of having his own farm and was loved by all the adults around him.  His parents worked hard to provide a life full of the necessities and many things that were considered luxuries at the time.  He was a typical boy, ornery, and loved to have fun.  His mother loved to tell stories on him about his childhood pranks and activities.  His friends were often older than he was, which often lead him into situations that caused his parents to shake their heads.  While his pranks were never mean in nature, they followed him into adulthood, where he often found himself doing things with his friend Harold or his Brother-in-law, Butch, and others that would have him laughing until the tears rolled.  For years after the incidents, he would try to tell the stories, but would have to stop in the middle because he would be laughing so hard he couldn’t complete a sentence.

After graduating high school, he married his high school sweetheart.  Together they started a family, that began with me; then they added two boys.  One of my brothers was born 3 1/2 years after I was, and my youngest brother was born 15 years after that.  In the early years of their marriage, they milked on a dairy farm in rural Douglas County in Missouri.  My Mom says I was occasionally missed, only to be found down at one of the barns.  They had a very tame heifer, that I loved to ride.  Apparently, I would be lifted onto her back, sit astride her like a horse and holler, “Go, Dinger, go!”  I believe those early days on “The Ranch” was probably where my love for country life, farming, and raising animals first became ingrained in my soul.

Just before the birth of their second child, they left “The Ranch” and moved to small house near Strafford and Dad went to work at Harry Cooper where he worked until he retired nearly 40 years later.  One more move to a rental house east of Springfield to be closer to my Grandparents farm, where my Dad had the beginnings of his beef cattle herd and he and Grandpa cut hay for the cattle, preceded our move to their original farm near Ash Grove in 1973.  Since that time, they added to more parcels of land, many head of cattle, and another boy to the family.  Over the years we also raised hogs, growing out feeder pigs, gardened, raised wheat and oats, but always Dad’s main focus on the farm was beef cattle and hay.  With the life we lived, all three of his children were taught a strong work ethic, the importance of honesty and family, and making your own way in life.  He never settled for “good enough”.  He always pushed to be “better than before”.

Mom and Dad were married 54 years, a milestone that not many reach these days.  I only remember them having one or two real disagreements in front of us during that whole time.  They set a wonderful example of a happy marriage.  They worked side by side on the farm  and complimented each other in all aspects of life.  Dad was quiet and reserved; Mom has never met a stranger.  Dad didn’t like big crowds; Mom was the scheduler of social gatherings.  Together they made a team that accomplished the things in life that they felt were right for them, right for their children, and best for future generations.  Their love for one another, and love for their children, grandchildren and great-children will always be a model for the rest of us to follow.  If we achieve half of what they have, we will be successful in life.  At the time of Dad’s passing, in addition to their three children, they had two daughter-in-laws, one son-in-law, three granddaughters, three grandsons, 6 great granddaughters, and 3 great grandsons.  We have since learned that a new grandchild will be born this summer.  It is a shame that this baby and Dad will never meet one another.  We will all make sure that this child know his/her grandpa from pictures and stories.  I wonder if Mom and Dad knew, back in 1962, when they got married just how many lives would be created and affected by their love for one another.

I wrote the following, with the help of my Mom, brothers and other family members to be read at Dads funeral.  It sums his life up well.  Although there are many more memories and stories that can be told.

Leon was a private man, who was always happy to have the simple things in life.  His family and his farms were his world.  He was respected for his strong work ethic, quiet nature, and loyalty to those he loved.  His perspective in life changed over time.  When and Vicki married 54 years ago, she had $200 she gave to him, he had 3 or 4 cows and they each had a 1956 Ford.  From that they built the life they have now.  3 children, 6 grandchildren, 9 great grandchildren and an infinite number of additional family and friends.  He worked hard, providing for the needs of his family. 

In his younger more naïve years, he was heard to say that if he couldn’t retire by 40, he would take his hat in his hand and head down the road.  Well, he didn’t retire at 40, and neither did he the take his hat in hand, except to pay respect.  The walks down the road were to check his cattle or move tractors.  There was, however a particular walk down the road that Vicki, Lisa and Larry will always remember.  After playing cards with friends on New Year’s Eve, the family piled in the truck and drove the 2.2 miles to the 120 acre farm to check for any newborn calves.  The snow was about 6 inches deep with a hard layer of ice covering it.  As luck would have it, the back duals fell through the crust of ice and the truck was going nowhere.  By the light of the moon, the family headed back home, on foot, on the ice covered roads.  The leather soles of cowboy boots that Leon always wore were not very compatible with icy hills.  As they started down the first big hill, Leon’s feet slipped, and he stated, “the first one of you that laughs at me, gets a spanking.”  Fortunately, he never fell, and no one laughed.  At least not until after they returned to the warmth of home.

One of Lisa’s memories of her Daddy when she was young is when he would come home from work, right after starting at Harry Cooper Supply.  She would crawl up on his lap and fish the roll of Life Savers out of his pocket.  It didn’t always please Vicki for her to have candy right before dinner, but it still happened many evenings regardless. 

Many people collected things.  Leon collected hats when he was working and working in the fields.  Every time he bought a new implement, a part, or pretty much anything, he talked them out of a new hat.  At one time, he had over 200 hats displayed, and stored in boxes.  If there was anything useful that could be gotten free or inexpensively, he collected those, too.  Vicki has a drawer full of tape measurers and voltage meters, from Harbor Freight. As the years went by and he got a bit older, he began collecting tractors.  He now has 8. He had one for each day of the week, and one for Vicki.  Vicki found a “collection” of money in his wallet.  Apparently, he was able to gather that collection in HIS wallet by spending the money in Vicki’s purse instead of his when they went to town. Leon believed it was not the business of others what was going on in a family. 

He never understood Face Book or the internet at all, for that matter.  When the Donald left home, he converted his bedroom to a sitting room, but never once sat in it.  Vicki is convinced that this was way of keeping people from spending the night with them, other than the young grandchildren. 

Leon loved his grandchildren and loved for them to visit, but he also expected them to be well behaved and he was good at ensuring that that happened.  Brandy says she remembers one time when she, JD and Donald were with Grandpa to check the cows.  As children do, they began rough housing, laughing and creating a ruckus.  Grandpa calmly lit a cigarette, looked sideways, and said, “I don’t think we will be acting like that.”  Instantly, they sat up straight up settled down, and knew they had crossed the line.  No one could communicate more with fewer words than Grandpa.  Natalie has an endless supply of energy and frequently forgets she should not run in the house.  Grandpa Leon would remind her on occasion.  Vicki remembers a specific time when she continued to “walk really fast” through the house and Grandpa said, “do you remember what I told you?”  Natalie instantly stopped, stood up straight and took small, deliberate steps until she could no longer be seen.  Morgan was always a bundle of energy during his younger years as well, but Grandpa got him settled one evening to the point that they lay on the couch, watching TV, and eating popcorn side by side. 

Some of most uncontrolled laughter happened when the grandchildren were around.  Many will remember JD stuttering at the dinner table, with Grandpa laughing until the tears came, or when Aden lost his shoe in the pig mud and kept repeating “oh my goodness”.  He refused to retrieve it from the mud, and when Nana Lisa got it out, caked in mud and other less desirable substances, he said “that isn’t my shoe, MINE is blue.”  Grandpa Leon was beside himself with laughter and unable to speak for several minutes. 

Many stories have recently surfaced and also been repeated about Leon in his younger days.  Some include cats and electric fence chargers, M-80’s and Lisa’s little red wagon, and laundry soap and the beautiful fountain that graces the grounds of Cox North. Leon would laugh until he cried even years later, as he described just how high a cat will hit a screen door after being touched with an electric fence charger.  He never did convince his own mother that he had nothing to do with the soap suds overflowing from the Cox North fountain.

In the later years, he and Vicki were blessed to be able to have some nice things that they wanted.  Leon had an attention to detail and the things that were important to him were very important.  His attention to detail led to some frustration when he and Vicki bought their last new car.  He went over every detail to please Vicki, and the one thing he wanted, an ash tray, was not in the car.  He could not understand how someone could pay $30,000 for a new vehicle and not get an ash tray.  He insisted on being given an one before he would pay for the car, but it is still sitting in the closet today.

Leon was a man’s man.  He tilled the soil, worked the cattle, baled the hay, and occasionally would drink a cold one after a long, hot day working in the fields.  He smoked for well over 50 years, and never really had a desire to quit, but you would never catch him lighting a cigarette with a purple lighter.  These were all stuck away in drawer and given away to those who needed or wanted them.  It just wouldn’t do for a man to light a cigarette with “girly colored” purple lighter and there was always at least one in every package he bought.  All his children have multiple purple lighters at home, all thanks to Leon.

Every holiday, Leon would fuss at Vicki about the amount of decorations she would put out.  He saw no need to cover every surface in the house with something that served no purpose.  All these years, it seemed that the Christmas lights that she always enjoyed on the house, were secretly enjoyed by him as well.  According to Leon, not only did they make a good night light on his frequent trips to the bathroom at night, but Vicki has finally shared that he liked their “romantic glow”.

The holidays will never be quite the same, nor will any other day from now on.  But the love of our husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, cousin, brother-in-law, and friend will be felt each and every day.  Hopefully, the love he shared and memories made will be a comfort in the coming days and weeks and years.  He will be missed, but never forgotten.

Here’s the text of Paul Harvey’s speech, made famous by an ad during the Super Bowl of 178.  The words still ring true today and are a testament to Leons life. 

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.” So God made a farmer.

“I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife’s done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon — and mean it.” So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.” So God made a farmer.

God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor’s place. So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church. “Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does.'” So God made a farmer.

I’m not sure what took me so long to write this post, or what has kept me away from my site since Dads death.  Whatever it was, hopefully, finally being able to write this tribute to him will give me a bit more closure and allow me to get back on track.  This is definitely more personal than I usually share here, so for those who aren’t interested in the personal side of Modern Missouri Pioneers, I apologize and will get back to sharing more homestead oriented items.

My brothers decided to line up Dads tractor collection, with all of them running to put into the video we did for Dad’s service.  He had what we called a Christmas fleet, half red and half green.  It probably won’t mean much to you all, but to us, it was very special to have them all in a line, started and running in one place, just for Dad, one last time.

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