My old man


 Dad’s story

Dad was born in Valley Head, West Virginia on October 18, 1892.  His father was Gordon Ware who had a twin, Samuel, and they were born on Feb. 22, 1869.  His mother, Fanny Irene Parker, was born in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia in 1870, the exact date unknown.  Dad had a sister, Lucinda, born June 13, 1897 and over a dozen aunts and uncles.  He was named after his father’s twin brother, Samuel, and Samuel returned the favor by naming his first born son Gordon.   The picture on the mast-head of Chronospots is of Dad, his father Gordon and mother Fanny.

Dad left home at 13, so I’ve been told, and went to sea on a clipper ship.  That would have been in 1905 and there were few clipper ships still in operation then.  He told me that he worked his way up to 2nd Mate and claimed he devised a system of rope and pulleys that allowed him to pull his ship by hand.  He also told me of sailing around the world and of the beautiful women in Bolivia.  Now you’re thinking, ‘wait a minute, Bolivia doesn’t have a coast’.  You’re right, of course, but Bolivia used to be over twice the size it is now.  It has had wars with just about all its neighbors and lost land every time.  At one time, not long before dad’s trip there, they reached to the Pacific coast and I suppose, to the people that lived there, they were still considered Bolivians.  However, in giving dad the benefit of the doubt here, I have to say that I spent time in Bolivia and the native women I saw there didn’t do much for me.  They were interesting though, in a National Geographic kind of way.

Dad also claimed to have swum with Johnny Weismuller (the original Hollywood Tarzan) and sparred with Jack Dempsey.  He did know how to use his fists and taught my older brother Pete how to box.  As a side note, I remember seeing pictures of Springfield Union High School’s boxing club circa 1948 with Pete in them.  My sister, Millie, said Pete wasn’t very successful because he had a glass jaw.  Anyway, most of this stuff that dad did was before he met and married my mother in 1921.   He would have been almost 30 years old by then.  He had also joined the Canadian Army and fought in World War I in Europe.  I don’t know if he shot anyone, I sort of doubt it.  The only war story he ever told me was of sharing Christmas with the Germans when they were in their trenches.

Dad had various jobs in the northeast and in West Virginia and Florida during the 20’s.  Coal-mining was usually available and a lot of family members worked in the mines and dad did that for awhile.  The family was growing and he was generally a good provider but he had some problems. He was a rigging foreman for a chemical company and got hurt and lost that job and then he was painting cars and got lead poisoning.  They continued to move about and ended up in Philadelphia.  Millie, Pete and Dolly were born there and this was in the early 30’s so times were very tough.  Then Theresa got sick and my folks decided to move to Oregon where Uncle Sam and his boys had gone in hopes that the change in climate might be better for her.


In 1932 dad bought a used Hupmobile and piled mom and her six kids in and headed for Oregon.  The problem here was dad didn’t drive and mom only had one arm and couldn’t drive.  So dad picked up an itinerant who could drive and headed west.   This was during the Great Depression so times were very bad but there was a lot of interest in this young family and their journey so in a lot of towns they were expected and celebrities of sorts.  People and churches would take them in when they passed through.

That’s not to say it was a pleasant trip, mom didn’t hit it off with the guy dad picked up to do the driving and was sure he was a nefarious character.  At one point, while going over the Rockies, mom demanded that they stop the car and she got out and went to sit on a rock and said she wouldn’t go any further if dad didn’t kick the driver out.  The driver advised dad to leave the old bag there but the kids were yelling and crying not to leave mama.  Dad finally talked mom back into the car and they continued on their way.  At this time the roads were bad and services were few and far between.  At times they burned kerosene for fuel.

They made it to Eugene, Oregon where dad’s uncle and cousins were and found a place in Springfield.  Shortly after arriving mom saw a picture of our driver in the Post Office in Springfield and made sure my dad knew that her suspicions were correct.  My sister, Omie, was born at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene in 1936 and I was born at the same place in 1941.  Dad worked at whatever he could find and even swept chimneys to make a buck (or a quarter).  He was usually a painter and tried to stay in that profession when he could.  He was also an artist and did landscapes and portraits.

We bought a lot in Springfield that was actually about an acre.  It was on Mill Street and bordered by J Street on the north and 1st Street on the East.  It was divided up later as my sisters got married and Theresa got the corner lot of Mill and J street and Ginnie got the lot bordered by J street and 1st.  Millie didn’t want a lot and Edythe was going to university.  There was an alley between the lots and we kept several goats there for the milk and we had a large field where we grew vegetables.   We built a house at 1007 Mill Street and while we were building it we lived in a tent.  This is about the time I was born and Millie tells about carrying me out of the tent and tripping on a guy wire and falling.  Then she picked me up and, trying to determine how she could have done such a thing, retraced her steps and fell and dropped me again.

When World War II broke out, my eldest sisters, Edythe and Theresa, found work in the shipyards in Portland building Liberty ships.   About this time dad started traveling to Alaska to work on government projects that paid far better than anything he could find locally.  He was a painter of smokestacks and high buildings and he also did some murals for some of the bars and saloons in Anchorage and Fairbanks.  Someone told me they had seen a mural he had done for a saloon there.  Some of my earliest memories are of dad catching a train in Eugene to go to Seattle from where he would catch a boat to Alaska.  He never did drive a car.  The Pullman cars and the train station in Eugene still are good memories.

He spent several years working in Alaska and coming home when he could and I remember that I got $7 a month for a time when I was about 7 years old.  I saved it up and bought a Roadmaster bicycle.  My sisters got an allowance too and this was probably the best time for us as a family even though dad wasn’t there.   When the war ended, my sister Edythe went back to University of Oregon and Theresa went to work for the phone company.  Ginnie went to work at the railroad yards in Eugene.   Millie and Pete were in the new high school in Springfield.  Dolly was right behind them and Omie about five years younger than Dolly.  There were three of my brothers that never made it past infancy between Dolly and Omie and I guess the gap between Omie and me can be explained by dad’s being in Alaska a lot during that time.

Dad was sort of a renaissance man and a free thinker.  He tried every church in Springfield before settling on St. Alice Catholic Church.  He painted a mural for that church too.   He had a library in our home and he tried to instill in me a love of books which I eventually acquired but from a 5thgrade teacher, Icel Case, not from him. (But that’s another story.)  He was a vegetarian because he visited a slaughterhouse and was traumatized by what he saw there.  Fish and dairy products were OK.  He had planted trees and grapes around our house and he kept bees.  He had a cider press and an apple grinder and planted Rose of Sharon around the house because it reminded him of when he was a kid in West Virginia.  They do make good apple butter in West Virginia, Patty orders hers from there to this day.

After the war the work in Alaska slowed and he came home again.  He found jobs as a painter and belonged to the union.  He and mom were always social liberals and belonged to The Worker’s Alliance which during the McCarthy era was dangerous.  It was labeled a subversive organization but it wasn’t.  Dad wouldn’t cross a picket line or get a haircut in a non-union shop.  While working on a job at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene he fell down several flights of concrete steps and cracked his head pretty bad.  He had brain damage and lost his sense of balance.  That must have been about 1952 because Pete was in the Army and had been wounded for the second time in Korea.  We managed to get Pete out on a compassionate discharge since he was the only adult male in the family that wasn’t disabled.

The union didn’t do much for dad.  He ended up on Workman’s Compensation which was about $300 a month.  That was it and there were still Omie and I in school and Ginnie’s family and ours shared what we had to get by.  Pete got out of the Army and went to school on the GI bill taking something to do with aviation maintenance.  That turned out badly when he and another student working on an engine turned the prop and it fired and chopped up Pete’s partner.  Pete then went to work at the mill like everyone else in Springfield.   He didn’t like it and didn’t stay long.  I don’t blame him, I worked in a mill there too and it about killed my brain.

During this period dad was pretty much stuck at home reading his books and getting into trouble on a regular basis with mom.  He would wear a heavy coat because he was always cold and lean over the heating stove and groan.  That drove mom crazy.  She’d yell at him, “Parker!  What’s the matter with you?!”  and he’d reply, “Nothin’” and continue to groan.  I began to suspect that this was a game they were playing.

That was pretty much how it went the last five years that I lived at home.  I joined the Navy while still in school and left as soon as I graduated.  I got back home in 1962 just before my dad, who had pretty well wasted away and was a shell of the man he once was, died of a stroke.  As a matter of fact, I had to cancel a date with Patty because of my dad’s death and I’ve always been sorry that he never met her.

I didn’t get along well with dad, probably because he was always gone as I was growing up.  And then, when he did come home, he was injured and disabled.  He couldn’t do much and a lot of the stuff he should have been doing fell on my shoulders.  I remember him telling me once as I was helping him to the toilet, “You may not believe me but you are a lot like me.”  He was trying to tell me that he was more than what I was seeing.  I’m sorry I didn’t understand.

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One Comment on “My old man”

  1. […] My old man  August 17, […]

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