Loss and Laughter, a Summer to Remember
Written Fall 2009
When I was eleven my dad lost his job. He had been working for Teleflex in Colmar for many years and was suddenly laid off in the spring of 1972 during a cutback in the labor force. It was the summer of Hurricane Agnes, the Munich Olympics, and my sister going to Goshen College’s Study Service Team (SST) in Germany.
Daddy was resourceful and found a job at Haeberly Orchard along with my brother, Steve, picking produce in season, mainly cantaloupes and watermelons. Since my mom worked at a terry mill in Souderton and I was too young to be left alone at home, my dad and brother took me along and I learned to know the youngest Haeberly girl. She was quite an adventuresome individual who even had a pet raccoon. We usually went for a bike ride to a nearby school playground and she entertained me with her stories of boyfriends and other antics. Then we came back to her home, watched a little TV and visited with her cats, dogs and raccoon. I think we both were so bored by the dog days of summer that we didn’t mind spending time with a complete stranger.
Steve and Daddy worked till noon and then we went home for lunch. Daddy did his usual check in the garden for what he called our “daily manna.” Daddy found great pleasure in our zucchini plants that had once again provided us with a meal. Daddy used a little bit of butter, chopped onions, and the zucchini to mix up a tasty noon meal. To break the monotony, sometimes he added a few eggs. That was our lunch day after day. It was the only time I remember my dad cooking and it’s been an image that has stayed with me.
Daddy had a way of making us kids feel like we were lucky to get any food at all and that we didn’t have enough money to pinch two pennies together. “Things are tight this summer,” he’d say, “we’re going to have to learn to live on less.” Now sometimes Daddy said things like this even when he did have a job, but there was something in his calm determination that summer that had a powerful effect on us. We really felt the uncertainty of the situation, of waiting for our lunch from someone who had never cooked before and his excitement on finding yet another zucchini. It was the unexpected goodness of God during an unsteady future.
My sister Linda planned to go back to college at Goshen in the fall. When my dad filled out the financial aid forms that summer, he looked at the space provided for his occupation, and wrote “migrant worker.” He didn’t know what to call the work he and Steve had done that summer to provide for the family. My sister did receive more financial aid that year and as a family we laughed about my dad’s new found title. To be honest, even though I’m sure my dad felt totally deflated by life, his sense of humor carried us through that time.
On one night we laughed so hard that we even shook our Ford Torino with our spasms of laughter. We were at the Neshaminy service plaza on the PA turnpike meeting a bus for my sister Linda to take to the NY airport and then on to Germany for SST. The bus was very late, in fact 3–4 hours late, because it had broken down and the director had to get another bus in order to make the connecting flights. It could have been a very unpleasant experience, but for some reason we laughed our way through it. Daddy was in rare form that night, talking in a dutchified voice and recalling silly family stories …and I don’t remember ever laughing so hard, before or since. It was a summer filled with many pleasant experiences, despite my dad being out of work, and one that shaped my values and surrounded them with humor. -BBM