Elmer Bruce Young, named after his father, Elmer Young, was a first son [of five children], born February 9, 1927. He lived on a tenant farm with his parents, first in the Mackinaw, Illinois area, then later in rural Atlanta, Illinois, where he also attended school.
We have pictures of him at three years old, astride a big looking horse. As a toddler they would send him, horseback to the mailbox. Remarkable that he never slipped off and hurt himself or had to walk home. There are pictures of him with the livestock, one of him crouched down with a young calf. He grew up with a farmer’s heart. He grew up with a commitment to his Mom that thrived all his life. I think he was her favorite of the four living kids, though I have no particular reason to base this on. Their farm was a hardworking place, with room for church, 4-H, high school sports [ I think there is at least one picture of each boy in a basketball uniform] and family. There were hogs, chickens, milk cows, water tanks, corn cribs, first horses then used tractors and farm equipment. There was always an outside dog, some barn cats, sometimes a turtle in the stock tank. With three boys, there were always hands to the hard work and a dad known to ‘horse around’ with the boys [we have pictures of them wrestling on the ground to prove it]. Their Mom, my Grandmother, was the epitome of a farm wife, able to cook the best hearty meals, walk dinner to the field [I remember the walks personally], can and freeze everything that grew in a large fenced garden, dress chickens on a butcher day [I remember them running headless in the yard before collapse], separate the milk, from the barn, and rinse and clean the several hundred parts to the cream separator. She made homemade cottage cheese, homemade hand-churned ice cream, pies, every food that makes a house a home and sew in those precious free moments seldom found. She had a piano, but I only remember her playing her ‘recital’ piece, which would rouse Grandpa to any task she requested before she could play it again. [I don’t know why we had a piano, I would guess it was for my Dad’s sister. The ‘recital’ piece was just banging on the keys!]
My Dad, graduated high school. His senior picture shows him with combed hair and glasses. [I never saw him with any but a burr/flattop haircut and never any glasses.] He dated my Mom in high school and they married on June 11, 1948 at the Methodist Church parsonage in Atlanta. He wore a black suit and she wore a grey suit. Their first home was a rural country school. The blackboard was the headboard in the bedroom. He was what I recall as romantic all his life. We have pictures of them kissing next to the farmhouse in the country before they were married. He was never bothered about hugging and kissing her when us kids were around. It was just the nature of them.
He did lots of ‘work’ related things during his life. He worked for local farmers, he drove a semi for a time, he ran an Illico gas station in town, across from a rental house where we lived. He worked at the Stetson China Factory in Lincoln, Illinois running the paint department where all the paint for the dishware was mixed. I believe he WAS the paint department. He would have liked, in his heart, to be a farmer and live on a farm again, but his wife was adamant she would not live that lifestyle and he acquiesced. He always tried to ‘keep a hand in’, farming 10 acres on the edge of town, often with some pigs or sheep or ponies for the kids. [I hope that my heart for farmers comes naturally] He gardened. He hunted….just squirrels mostly [they are disgustingly hard to get buckshot out of. I know, because I had to help with the skinning and he and my Mom LOVED fried squirrel and gravy….ugh, ugh, UGH! There isn’t enough meat on a squirrel for more than one person – they shared!] He finally worked at Caterpillar in Decatur, Illinois. He car-pooled to work, worked overtime any chance he got and in my heart, i know it was a long way from the farming life he longed for. A wife and 4 children can quickly part a man from the longing of his heart and so it did my dad. He was, even so, a gad-about-town. He worked a part-time job at the local Standard Oil Station, but in his little free time, he was having coffee at the local cafe. He always knew the latest gossip, who was sneaking about, with who and where and when. He visited his Mom at least three times a week or more. He was the one in town called to plow and disk gardens in the Fall and Spring. He kept a seed book with who had called and what they needed and checked them off as he finished their garden patch. The book shows what he charged [maybe $5 or $7]and whether they paid and even if they didn’t pay, he still plowed or disked the next year. He plowed all the drives he had time for when there was deep snow, especially older folks and neighbors.
You could take some of the farmer out of my Dad, but not all. He owned off and on, 3-4 used tractors at a time and a two bottom plow and a disk and a blade. Usually the tractors needed repair and he was a number one mechanic – cars, pickups, tractors especially.
If he got a really good tractor up and running, he might take it to his brother in Wisconsin who farmed. He was good for a quick run to Wisconsin on Friday evening and home on Sunday. When he was tripping,making good time was critical. No leisurely stops, no detours, no extra bathroom breaks….drive!
Leisure with my Dad was a rarity, but if he was inclined and if we passengers were able to behave, a Sunday drive might be in the works. We didn’t have a destination, ever. We just took a drive, I think now, to check the status of the fields. I didn’t know this at the time, but I liked driving in the country down roads new or familiar, zooming fast up a hill to make our tummies drop on the other side. I’m still a great rider on any drive.
I never spent much one-on-one with my Dad. I was the oldest with others to babysit. It was my job to see that coffee was ready when he came in the door from work [I still make the only coffee in my house with that same vacuum stove-top coffee maker]. On Wednesdays when he had 30 minutes home from Caterpillar before work at the Standard station, I had supper ready. Sometimes fried bologna, or fried potatoes and eggs among other things.
We never had pizza when Dad was home. He didn’t like cheese. We had fried liver and onions, more times than I ever care to remember, because he and Mom liked that crap and we kids had to eat a portion, even if it took all night. If we went to a family get together, either a holiday or reunion, Dad would pile the food on his plate, saying it was all going the same place anyway.
He had false teeth and delighted in sticking them out to tease me. I hated that look. It didn’t stop him.
He was not a great teacher. He would show you something and you were expected to ‘get it’ first try. I wanted to drive our column shift old truck for the first time to visit my Grandma across town. He told me if i got it out of the yard, I darn well, better get it home again. I only bucked for a couple shifts and got it home too.
When I had married, lived as far away as Kansas while my first husband was in the service and returned to Illinois, delivering my second child on the morning of October 15, 1973, my Dad’s Dr. diagnosed him with lung cancer. He was 45. I was 23. Misty was newborn.
They shouldn’t have told him, but they did tell him that he had about 14 months to live. [Unfiltered Pall Mall’s were his preferred choice, but he stopped right then.] On February 5, 1975, at the age of 46, just a few days from burying him on his 47th birthday, he died at Carle Clinic in Champaign, Illinois. That was when my children were almost 5 and 14 months old.
I never saw him in his casket, I couldn’t, but our large Methodist Church was standing room only for his service. He was that kind of man.
Today is my Dad’s 93rd birthday. He has been gone 45 years. AND YET, he has always been right here with me. Lucky me.