At the age of 60, Harold still had enough physical stamina to be of good use on his youngest son’s hobby farm. He and his wife would pile in the Buick and make the three hour trek for long weekends of painting, building fences and planting gardens. The days, though hot and long, gave Harold a sense of accomplishment. What his son lacked in physical capabilities because of his chronic medical condition, he made up for with vision and passion. It was an honor for Harold and his wife to support their son’s dreams and help bring that vision to life.
The summer days on this small Iowa farm had air that was so thick you could practically chew it. The morning grass had drops of dew big enough that they could visibly be seen – from a distance, no less. Undaunted, Harold put on his coveralls early in the day and headed down the steep hill to the barnyard, where he and his family would spend the day building a new corral for the horses. A lunch of ham sandwiches and lemonade would be delivered by Harold’s granddaughter at high noon, with additional deliveries of ice cold water in the Coleman water jug being made on the hour. This heat was nothing to mess with, and everybody knew it.
At the end of the day, Harold and his son admired their accomplishments and made a list of tasks to be done the next day. Soon after, Harold made his way back up the steep hill toward the house – this uphill trek being perhaps the most challenging part of any day spent working in the barnyard. One foot in front of the other, he told himself, but each step proved more challenging than the one before it. Struggling and straining, Harold stopped at the midway point and rested against a fence post to catch his breath. His thoughts began to race, and worry set in that something was terribly wrong. He didn’t call for help, though the thought did occur to him. He worried that his 60 year-old body may be giving out on him.
Harold slowly and painfully made the rest of the long haul up that hill and arrived at the back porch of the farmhouse, breathless, red-faced and spent. His daughter-in-law greeted him with a look of concern. “Something’s wrong,” Harold said. “I don’t know what it is. I think I might be having a heart attack.” Ever the caretaker that she was, his daughter-in-law helped him into the house and plunked him down a rickety old kitchen chair. She gave him a big glass of ice water and a cool washrag for his forehead, keeping a watchful eye on him as sweat ran down his face.
Harold’s daughter-in-law insisted that the first order of business was for him to get out of those hot, sweaty coveralls. The two of them decided that a long, cool shower would do Harold some good. His daughter-in-law, also overheated after having spent the day in the kitchen canning pickles and beans, agreed to get the window unit air conditioner running in the den so Harold could relax in the recliner after his shower and continue to cool down.
After his shower, Harold came out of the bathroom in his shorts and undershirt. As was usually the case, he was whistling a tune and laughing to himself. “You sure seem to be doing better,” said his daughter-in-law, now feeling at ease that the threat of a medical crisis had passed. Harold sheepishly confessed that he was sure he was not having a heart attack. It turned out, Harold had spent the afternoon barely able to move his legs because the elastic in his underwear had broken, and his underwear had fallen to his knees underneath his coveralls. The mystery was solved, and a new story was added the family archives. It would be delightfully shared at family gatherings for decades to follow.
Harold was my Grandpa “Fox” and my family has a million more stories like these. He was goofy, silly, full of laughter and the kind of guy who admitted that were it not for bad luck, he might not have had any luck at all. He spent a lifetime modeling the art of self-deprecation. He also taught all of us the subtle distinction between being the butt of a joke and being its punchline.