Feb 8, 2012

I was the luckiest of children. My grandfather was a farmer.


     I found the card above in a box of my Grandmother's mementos. Thrilled when I discovered this treasure, I knew I would share it.  It's old and it's beautiful, and it's interesting.  I started putting my thoughts down this week, but realized that writing about this treasure, and the man it belonged to, was no easy task.  This yellowed card, given almost 90 years ago to a boy, has impacted many.      

     I'd known my grandfather, Howard Waterman, belonged to 4-H in his youth.  I remembered the silver cups inscribed with his name on living room shelves, and the photo of him at The World's Fair.  He'd done some cool things with chickens. What he did was actually fascinating, but growing up, my curiosity did not extend beyond cool things with chickens. I already knew how cool he was.  Cool across the cosmos.  He was that big in my world.  I'd followed him, imitating his limp-stretch stride since I could walk, and every wintergreen Lifesaver scented moment in his company was magical.  

    When I grew older, I belonged to 4-H as well, mostly because of him (my parents are being unjustly overlooked here, but of course it was because of him).  Now my daughters are active in 4-H.  My grandfather would have enjoyed them so.  He would have especially enjoyed attending their shows, as he did mine.  He never missed one. He knew everyone ringside, and they, him.  I remember waiting for him, a bit impatiently, to make his way to me, even at Eastern States Expo.  Surely he didn't know everyone there, too ... but of course he did.

     Reflecting, now, I know being active in 4-H gave him skills and experiences he utilized his entire life, personally and professionally.  Public speaking, presentation, 4-H project records, and competitions at county, state, and national levels provided personal growth opportunities which taught him skills. Farming taught him critical thinking, compassion, and common sense.  Forging friendships enriched his person.  The stories are many, and marvelous.  They all come back to who he was, and how he was impacted by the card, above.     

     Over the course of his life several newspaper articles were written about him, his professional accomplishments, and distinguished career in Law Enforcement. My grandfather was not formally educated beyond high school. He became the Chief of Police in a small New England town. What that meant, in the middle of the twentieth century in a rural American town, was that anytime anyone needed help, they called him.  The police car was the town's ambulance, housed fire equipment, animal control and emergency veterinary supplies, and evidence, as needed. He even prosecuted his own cases at the county level. He was an independent thinker, and his opinions were valued and sought for town, county, and state committees, from public health to land use practices.  He was active in service organizations.  I cannot begin to remember how many times, when I was with him, someone began a sentence with, "Did you know your Grandfather ...".  And while well-respected, he was also very well-liked, and when he prepared to retire the town held a special town meeting, and voted, with the largest attendance ever, to honor him with Life Tenure as Police Chief.

     The newspaper articles cited his professional accomplishments, but failed to convey the man his friends, family, and colleagues knew.  My grandfather's physical presence was impressive. He was a tall, strong, handsome man with a quick,charming smile. He exuded a trustworthiness and decency to which people, and animals responded.  His insight, often crinkling the corners of his green eyes, assessed without judgment. He inspired those around him to meet expectations by his confidence in their ability to do so.  While respecting the law, he also recognized when the law failed to address/resolve a situation adequately, and used his common sense.  He owned these decisions comfortably. His easy manner remained unflappable, even in confrontational, or dangerous situations.  He approached a difficult personality with the same gentle, firm manner he approached an unruly Angus bull.  Both behaved.

     He was a farmer.  He enjoyed his career, but his career supported the life he chose to live.   His day ended with him returning home, to his farm, and his family. He had large vegetable gardens, and cut his own hay. He raised replacement dairy heifers, beef cattle, chickens, and pigs, and two strong boys.  And he raised them well, his younger son David received a Presidential Appointment to West Point.

     Farming shaped who he was.  I knew that, but it wasn't until I found the card above in my grandmother's mementos that I stopped to consider how farming, and his involvement in 4-H, defined who he really was. Many youth found worth and satisfaction haying with him, or at least were too tired that night to cause mischief.  Someone once commented that many of the town's most upstanding citizens had had their ear tweaked by him in their wilder days.  What many call Human Relations was his intrinsic respect for the least among us.  His concern about a failing calf and a struggling family were the same. He dropped off fresh vegetables as if the family were doing him a favor by taking them. To him, they were.  A woman at his funeral wanted me to know about the birth of her firstborn. Her husband was away when she went into labor early, alone. He delivered the baby, took her and the baby to the hospital, and stayed with her until her husband arrived.  She gripped my arm while she told me, that she knew, when he came through the door, everything would be okay, and it was.

       He could have done anything in life, professionally.  Farming, and 4-H, prepared him for that.  He could have pursued a career in science, business, or even philosophy. He chose to enjoy them all, farming.

       Howard Waterman's life will never be the subject of a documentary, but his life was a life well-lived, in a simpler time.  He loved his family, and his community.  Like the radio that magically came on with the lights in his barn, every place he was a nicer place because he was there.  The boy who grew to be that man was active in 4-H.  He honored the pledge he made in his youth.  He never stopped using his head, his heart, his health, and his hands.  It impacted his club, his community, and his country.  In his unique and very special way. 



  1. Well done, my friend. He would have been proud of your literary skills as well. Sounds like the type of man this world could use more of. As a father your words are making me think hard this a.m. about what kind of man I am.

    Thanks for that.