RAMBLINGS • Second Gen Of 'Westward Ho'

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Now I know how my mom felt (and I suspect Judy’s parents too) when Judy and I came west.

If Judy’s parents were worried about us, neither said anything to me. Perhaps they asked Judy some questions, but if so she didn’t tell me. If they didn’t have doubts, they should have.

Perhaps for Dean and Eleanor our marriage and departure in late August of 1966 was a relief; I’d like to think so. They were “hobby” farmers; they bought a ten-acre hill with a big farm house, a wooden-pegged barn (complete with a barn bridge), and a concrete block milk house just off Route 286–six miles from Indiana, PA, and three miles from Clymer–from my great uncle Orie and great aunt Claire McCunn, my mom’s family. The family of Deabenderfers to which I belong lived about half a mile away. I walked that distance often in the evening after chores were finished.

The first attraction was her only brother Danny; he was two or three years younger than I (I suspect I was a late developer, as I started first grade before I turned six and always felt more comfortable socially with those a bit younger–that’s true today, now that I think about it). We played barn basketball together (their barn–I had a hoop in mine, the sole Christmas present my seventh grade year, but ours was a working barn. Theirs was not); we played a variety of fast-pitch softball as members of the Rayne Raiders, named after Rayne Township where we lived. He was one of my better summer friends. We didn’t see life in the same way always, but we both paid as little attention as possible in the young mens’ Sunday School class which his dad taught in the Rayne Presbyterian Church. Eventually that old-timey church was the site of Judy and my wedding, and Danny was the best man.

Judy had three sisters: Joan, a year older than she; Susie, three years younger than Danny, and the youngest of all, Colleen. Dean was chief staff engineer at an asphalt company with a branch in Indiana. Natives of Tipton, PA, he and Eleanor shared a backwoods upbringing, but she and the girls were pretty and gracious. Dean was a Marine vet from WWII; Dad had been exempt as a farmer, but they were friends as much as Dad would be friends with anyone who wasn’t a farmer.

Joan and Danny were married before Judy and me. Joan married one of our classmates, a basketball star in both high school and at Indiana University of Pennsylvania who headed for a career as a college basketball coach, for a time serving as an assistant to George Raveling at the University of Iowa. Danny married his high school sweetheart and graduated from Penn State with an engineering degree. Sadly, he passed from a brain tumor before the turn of the century, after Judy died. He and Karen lived in Massachusetts. A close family, the Cherries all suffered from the loss of the two. When they moved to the farm, though, they brought a touch of class to our community. I was in awe of Dean, who wore a suit to work in town.

As I’ve written before, Judy was the prime reason I attended college. Dean drove us to North Carolina for our freshman year. After our arrival, her parents asked that I watch over her there. That was a challenge as well as a pleasure; she was so homesick the first month or so that I couldn’t be until WWC became home. We were good friends–that started in her senior year in high school, which for me was a gap year as I worked to save some money and consider what I wanted from life–but unlike young people seem to be in our current culture, we were friends without benefits. She was intent on “saving herself” for marriage, and I had the same intentions. 

She did date; she had two steady boyfriends, which is another term I haven’t heard recently. Both were classmates of mine. The first found himself attracted to another, so I was someone to talk to as she rebounded. The other was a person I shared much with until I said I wasn’t headed for college; he was bound for Penn State. She was still his girlfriend when we headed for North Carolina that fall, but she dropped him when his mom wouldn’t allow him to drive down to see her.  That too brought about venting during long walks.

I didn’t date in high school at all. I was very shy to the point of almost having a social disorder. When Judy and I became friends, she worried about me and had her best friend, Kathy, ask me to their senior prom. We double-dated with Charlie and her, or I wouldn’t have gone. I had to have quick dance lessons from my sister (thanks, Janet), and my last dance was with daughter Jenni at her wedding reception. 

In the fall of 1964, I enrolled as a junior at Berea College in Kentucky. She was back home; her dad’s income was above the level for students to be accepted at Berea. Her dad was mad. With Joan at IUP and Dan at Penn State, he felt he was overwhelmed with tuition payments. My family’s income was well below the permissible level. Judy and I wrote often–I to her more than she to me–and she expressed depression because she was at home while all of her friends were elsewhere, doing something. Then she was accepted at Blackburn for the spring, 1964, semester.

Meanwhile, I was called home for the second time. I had spent three weeks putting in the crops in the spring of ‘64 as dad had a lung removed (cancer); WWC graciously let me miss the three weeks without academic penalty because of the emergency. In November or December of ‘64, Dad fell while in the barn; the lung removal had been too late, and the cancer had spread to his brain. I was able to return to Berea to take my finals, but then I had a year at home, working in a factory and doing farm work on the side. While I was back in Pennsylvania, Judy was in Illinois; by June of 1966, she had one semester left.

The year we were apart made us closer. I remember the letter she sent saying I was her one and only after all. I suppose I owe a debt of thanks to Wayne, a Navy vet/Blackburn student who asked her to a movie and then took her to a bar afterwards. Neither of us drank and neither had been in a bar; she was horrified. We were both anxious for the summer to come.

Dad died in December of 1965 (December has been a bad month for me). Judy came home for the summer in May or June of 1966, and I asked her to marry me a couple days later as we walked on a red dog road near the cemetery above the church. Wild flowers lined the road; she didn’t seem surprised and said yes. It was just time for us to be together.

If she wasn’t surprised, my mom was. She’d envisioned my living at home longer, hoping I would commute to IUP (I did attend a few classes there in the summers while dad was ill). Typical of women of her generation in her economic circumstances, she hadn’t traveled much, so the thought of her son and daughter-in-law moving to far-away Illinois was daunting. My sister had work in Washington, D.C.; now her eldest was flying away from the coop too–an eldest who couldn’t cook, clean, or do laundry because she had done that for him most of his 22 years. She also knew Judy and I didn’t have money (I had a dependable car, a 1956 Buick Century with perhaps 40,000 miles on it, and $600 cash; Judy had a $500 student loan at an Indiana bank), and mom had none to give us.

I applied to Blackburn immediately, with a letter explaining that we’d live in an apartment and commute so the only space I would need would be in classrooms. My high school, WWC, and Berea transcripts plus the SAT I’d taken in early 1962 indicated I had the academic potential to succeed, so I was admitted on short notice. God watched over us.

Of course, with a generous helping of self-confidence based on what I now realize was silly, I had no idea of the problems we might encounter. We headed west to an apartment Judy’s once room-mate at BC leased for us.

I’m sure Judy’s parents had doubts when we bought the farmette (73 acres) off what is now Wonder Trail in what was then South Fillmore Township. The house was tiny, Judy was pregnant with Dawn, it was far from my job in Hillsboro and not really close to her job in Coffeen, and Judy couldn’t drive. Still, when they visited us the summer after we moved to the farm, all Dean complained about was the size and abundance of critters in the night air–the biggest bugs he’d ever seen. The Cherrys didn’t have an empty nest; Colleen came with them and slept on a folding cot in the kitchen with nary a complaint that I heard.

Mom’s nest wasn’t empty either. Her mom, well into her 70s, moved in, and Dale was 11 or 12 when I married. Janet came up from D.C. when she could, and Judy and I drove the Buick back and forth at Christmas and once every summer. I suspect both Judy’s family and my mother thought we’d return to western Pennsylvania once I graduated, but our buying property and having children dashed those hopes for them.

All those thoughts flashed through my mind when youngest daughter Jenni called to say they’d purchased 309 acres of arid ground in Montana. Jenni had a highly successful career as a partner in an accounting firm in Indianapolis. She and her first husband had built a better house than mine in Brownsburg, IN–that was only a four-hour trip from here, and Joan and Hank had settled after retirement in Westfield, another Indie suburb, so family was in the area. Then marriage number one fell apart. She remarried, a Wounded Warrior with two children. She’s a hard worker by all accounts taking on tasks others should have but wouldn’t do–until a doctor said she needed a lifestyle change for her health’s sake. The work day of an accountant can be too long in tax season, so she left the firm.

Phil, her second husband, was hired this spring as an undersherriff in Treasure County, MT, so I expected the move–almost. What I didn’t know was how off the grid Treasure County and its 300 people are. The county borders Indian reservations, and I’m sure the white man didn’t give the red man land of great value.

Jenni, though, is as self-assured as her father is career-wise. She has plans for an animal rescue not-for-profit. She and hubby are living in their RV with four dogs in a campground until housing arrangements can be made on their land. On her last trip out, in early August, Dawn and my youngest granddaughter Kamryn rode out with her in her Jeep. Also in the Jeep was her first rescue dog (in its own seat belt); tied to a rack on the back was a generator to be used in Montana.

The rig reminded me of ours on our first trip west on I-70, which was only partically complete. Dean built a tall box to strap to the top of the Buick for our wedding gifts and clothing and painted it white. Two of Judy’s cousins, the Nolder brothers, tried to paint Just Married in big red letters on the front of the box as we were preparing to leave. However, either because they couldn’t spell or out of maliciousness, they painted “Just Marred.” We didn’t notice the spelling error until our first stop in Ohio; it stayed that way until we unloaded in Carlinville. Fortunately it wasn’t a prediction.

Dawn and Kamryn didn’t see the land purchase, but they saw Mt. Rushmore and Old Faithful in Yellowstone before Jenni dropped them off at the airport in Billings. They are back home in the ‘Boro. Jenni called to say she’ll be doing accounting work remotely for a company in Texas.

Will I ever travel to Montana? I suspect I will if health allows; I’d like to see a county with more cows than people. I no longer have a desire to live in such a place, though, so it won’t be the answer to the daughters’ question, “What are we going to do with dad?

I don’t do remote.

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