In his heart, he was a farmer with rhythm

Contributing WriterApril 12, 2014 

It took me years to recognize that my farmer father wished he had gone into show business.

It wasn’t because he hated farming. He took pride in that. And he was actually running a farm when he was 13 years old and placed in charge of his siblings. His father, a veterinarian, spent much of his time roaming the countryside, repairing horses and cows. That was like being a tractor mechanic, except the tractors my grandfather worked on had four legs and a lot of hair.

My grandfather was too busy to spend much time running the family farm. That forced him into a decision that was unfortunate for my father. Dad envied his father for having gone to college where he learned to mind the medical needs of valuable farm animals.

But somebody had to be in charge of the farm. So my father, the eldest male child, became the boss at age 13. The sad part was that he had to abandon education. The eighth grade was his last formal schooling.

He had loved all eight grades in that one-room schoolhouse, especially when he had become the teacher’s assistant. She taught the older kids. He taught the younger ones.

I would realize one day that he had other dreams. I knew he and my mother loved barn dances. They had a knack for it. (I, by contrast, have been an ongoing disappointment to dozens of dance-happy women.)

One year when we sat watching the winter Olympics my dad spoke in praise of Dick Button, an American gold medalist in figure skating, explaining Button’s moves.

Not long thereafter, our father went to an auction and bought an old pair of ice skates. He headed for our frozen stock pond.

Soon he was spinning with some skill, revealing that he had spent hours on ice skates as a child.

On another occasion, he appeared at an auction as the auctioneer, standing on stage, using the traditional chant. And he was good at it. I enjoyed the look on his face as he received some applause.

Then one day as I turned 13, he announced that our family was going to put together a Shetland pony ride and go with a traveling carnival. And we did, for two summers. We traveled with the carnival to small towns all over Montana, the Dakotas and California.

I was soon barking for a fun house, using a microphone to call out to the crowd to come plunk down their money and see one of the lesser wonders of the show business world.

Our family left that business for calmer pursuits and I was soon looking through a university course catalogue. My father, the eighth-grade lover of learning, picked up that catalogue and savored every page.

He pointed to the paragraph describing a PE class in tap dancing. He told me I might want to go into real show business. He said tap dancing is a common need in that profession.

It dawned on me that he wished he could have taken that class. That ice-skating, dancing farmer plainly wished he could have earned his living touring towns, growing applause and harvesting laughter.

Actually, I briefly considered a career as a stand-up comedian. However, I realized I would enjoy that life for about two weeks. Then I would want to go home and get a real job.

Of course, this is not quite a real job. But it is entertaining for me if not also for others.

My father is long since gone. Among my regrets is that I wish I could have sent him to college for a shot at that tap-dancing class.

Bill Hall can be contacted at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501

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