Twin Beeches -- an Illinois Love Story
Author: paul schoaff

Chapter 5
Why I Never Met Daddy

(all Mary Jo)

How it is I Never Met my Daddy Joe

 

Several things having an impact on my future occurred in the next two years. 

One thing I don't want to forget.  Mama told me about two weeks after the funeral for Grandma Weiser, she got a thick envelope in the mail, addressed to "Mrs. Weiser's Daughter, the orphan, Woodland, Illinois.

The postmark was Laredo, Texas.  Inside was the deed to the house.  A short note, too.

"Young lady, whose name I am sorry to have forgotten because I didn't write it down when Bader told it to me, your mother was a fine woman who worked very hard to help me take care of all the regular customers while I concentrated on taking care of Ray Farley's finances and properties after his disappearance.  I'm sorry I didn't hear of her death until I got my copy of Bader's newspaper with the awful pictures.  I feared for many years the dust there would get me, but it turned against your mother, instead.  The least I can do is wrap up my arrangement with you on the ownership of the house.  Your mother still owed me 12000 on it, but I sure don't need it and only let her pay me out of her pride and foolish determination not to take any charity from anyone.  Now she can't object and neither should you, as it is a blessing to this old man's soul to do a little good before my time comes.  Consider it, if you wish, an early wedding present for you and that fine young man you have that Bader told me all about when I pried it out of him over the phone.  However you want to think of it, it is now yours to do with as you please."

The note was signed, of course, by 'Charles Varner'.

 

Yes, my folks got married.  I have one picture of them standing up in front of a JP in Havana, and it is one of the only pictures I ever saw of Daddy Joe.   Mama, with her little bouquet of asters looks calm and serious, and not at all pregnant.  I didn't happen for almost two years.   Mama says Mrs. Deppermann and her husband and daughter came to Havana with them to be witnesses.  She wasn't yet 18, so she lied on the license application since, really, to go to court to get someone appointed her 'guardian' for a few months was a little crazy.   Joe could prove 21 already so he didn't need his parents' permission to marry!  Good old Illinois.

 

Funny, though, as I have already said, Daddy Joe never went to a doctor in his life and the only time he ever saw a needle came when they had to go for their blood tests.  Mama says Joe fainted when he saw the blood pumping out of his arm into the test tube.   She panicked and grabbed a cup she thought to be water from the nurse's cart and threw it into Daddy Joe's face to wake him up.  Turned out it wasn't exactly water.  It wasn’t even Joe’s ‘water’….

 

Daddy Joe had never gone to a doctor’s office? -- no, not quite right, he did walk nervously into Dr. McMeen’s office next to the barber shop in Vermont to get a physical for the job at the Foundry.  The good Doctor yearned to head out for an afternoon of fishing, so he just looked Daddy Joe over from top to bottom and asked him if there existed any reason he knew of why he couldn't do the job he wanted at the factory.   When Daddy Joe said 'no', McMeen scribbled his name at the bottom of the form Joe had brought with him and muttered something about “what do they expect for $10?”

 

There wasn't much time for a 'honeymoon', but they knew the folks back home would kid them if they just went back to work.  Besides, Joe had been at the Foundry for a year and had earned a week's vacation.   They started by pulling the old Airstream down to Hannibal to see Mark Twain's cave and Tom Sawyer’s fence.    He showed her the big gas line he had helped hang from the bridge when they went over the Mississippi at Quincy. When they were finished with the bridge two mile section, a man could drop a coin on the top of the line on one side of the River and  his buddies on the other end could tell if it rang like a dime or a quarter (Mama said Joe said).   Mama had lived within 30 miles of the Mississippi all her life and had never seen it.  She figured the big river looked more or less like the Illinois, until she saw the mighty size of it and began to put into perspective the flooding pictures she had seen on the TV in the front window of Beck's appliance store a few years before.  No wonder those barges looked so much smaller in the Mississippi than in the Illinois!

 

Down the river road they traveled, past the Chain of Rocks, down to St. Louis, where the big Arch stood as the latest attraction.  After the Arch, they went to the Zoo and wondered if they might someday come back to see a game at Busch Stadium.  Joe knew a young player, Garry Templeton, from the Cardinals and from Lockney, TX, down the road a ways from Amarillo.

 

Templeton, a young, fast player with a high batting average, fell out of grace with Whitey Herzog during the 1980 season as he began having more and more problems with his feet.  He blamed the problems on Astroturf and the resultant excruciatingly high temperatures on his soles.  He played less and less during 1981 and got traded, with other players, for Ozzie Smith and other players from San Diego around Christmas of 1981.  Whitey Herzog said of him “He -- Garry Templeton --  doesn't want to play in St. Louis. He doesn't want to play on turf. He doesn't want to play when we go into Montreal. He doesn't want to play in the Astrodome. He doesn't want to play in the rain. The other eighty games he's all right.

 

St. Louis  proved to be about all the excitement they could stand for one trip, so they wound up back home four days after they started.   The first thing they saw, Friday morning, led the headline in the Argus,  “Vermont Foundry Sold”, and the story went on to say the new owner would transfer all the work from the Vermont factory to his other plant in Kewanee, where employees of the Vermont location would be given consideration for work as new hires.   Kewanee being far too far for Joe to think about driving every day, he just sighed and said, “Guess I'm out of a job.  I'll start lookin' again tomorrow.”  At least Mama told it so — no cussing, no foot stomping, not even a 'throw the paper on the ground and p**s on it.'  I think I can see Joe's point of view.  The job could be awful – eight solid hours a day of grinding seams off of castings.  What could be worse for a man used to being outdoors and his own boss most of the time?  

 

The job he wound up with is probably the last one you might think of.  There were no openings at Harvester in Canton, or at the Havana Power Plant, or at the Albright fan shop in Beardstown, and, as far as Joe was concerned, Caterpillar in East Peoria lay too far away to drive.   Just then, most folks were letting men go, not hiring.

 

Things weren't desperate, though.  The bookkeeping work continued pretty well, even without the elevator.  Mom had hired a Lewistown lawyer to see if there may be any chance of a settlement from the Washog's, and Homer Washog claimed the problem wasn't the new electrical they had installed -- ( It didn't come up because no one reported it) -- but, rather, a space heater Grandma had brought in.  No matter the explosion was on an A/C day, not a heater day, and the A/C unit blew in, not out, they hung their hat on it, and there it stood, well, until a lot later – almost twenty years.  Washog had made sure the coroner's report wasn't too clear on the details – his cousin, after all, was the coroner as well as the local 'mortuary' director.   Too bad for Mama, I guess, but we never really missed it.  What Mama missed was Grandma.  The first time she went to pick out a new dress at Marshall’s in Macomb, she cried silently half the way home, and Joe eventually understood why. When the lilacs bloomed in the spring, Mama tried hard not to think about how nice they smelled, just like Grandma.

 

 

HOMECOMING IN WOODLAND:  Homecoming in Woodland to this day remains a very big -- the only reason for a Chamber of Commerce -- deal.  Folks came from miles and miles around to see the stage shows and the parade and to ride the rides on Wilson's Famous Shows, a small time traveling carnival.   Except for the county fair, the carnival presented about the only time you could get cotton candy and funnel cakes.  There were usually four high school bands.  Every grade at the school and all the clubs, like FFA and FHA, and the VFW and American Legion, and most of the businesses and just everybody, had to have a float or old tractor or fire engine or covered wagon in the parade. Yes, we looked forward and look forward to it, mark our calendars, repair our costumes, and simply enjoy it.  No, it isn’t like ‘Carnaval’, neither in size nor in temporary lack of morality across the entire population, but many a young lady has gotten her first kiss at the top of the Ferris wheel overlooking the town square.

 

The loud old diesel generator powered all the rides and all the lights for the show.  Daddy Joe told Mama later, when he had been with the carnival for awhile, it used to be they didn’t need the generator in Woodland, because Woodland housed the Wilson Shows during the winter and the Mayor always just let them run a heavy line from the substation.  Funny thing was, and everyone noticed it right away, the Carnival didn’t seem like a Carnival without the noisy generator, so after a few years they went back to using the generator set and everyone thought it to be the best way.  “See!" said Mayor Pollitt – "just then when you started up the Ferris wheel and you could hear the generator bearing down to catch up?  That’s what I was talking about!  That’s what I meant!”

 

  I remember the time the 6th graders had a float for the United Nations, and they dressed up all the kids on the float like the puppets in the Small World ride at Disney.   They were o.k. until they decided to use paint or makeup to get the skin tones right.  The only boy whose parents would allow him to be an African had blond hair…and it took so long to cover the rest of his body with brown paint the parade started without him and he had to chase the float down the street with people whistling and shouting “Jiggaboo” at him.  

 

Talk about 'Vanilla' – no black people lived within 20 miles of Woodland.  In fact, I learned later on, a town ordinance keeping Negroes from staying in the town overnight found it’s way into the town laws way back when!   I don't think anyone who lived there when I did even knew about the ordinance or would have paid much attention if they did.  Daddy Joe may have been the closest to a colored person they had ever had around there.

 

Mama told me one time she had a high school friend who went to Western Illinois U. and took a teaching job up in northern Minnesota.  The descendants of Finns and Swedes who lived up there had a nice high school and, just like in Woodland, the classes raised money as they went along, selling pop at the games and sandwiches at the Fair and tractor pulls, so they could have a class trip.  Mama's friend privately laughed to learn most of the kids were anxious to travel to Minneapolis and to visit the Mall of the Americas there so they could see 'Black' people for the first time, in the flesh – maybe even touch one!

 

Joe wasn't having any luck on the employment front, and he got to talking to some of the people at the carny hoping to pick up a few bucks putting the rides up and taking them down.   He did, and Mr. Wilson asked him if he wanted to go with them next January when they headed south.  He did and they did. 

 

The only other picture I have of Daddy Joe is the one taken in the little curtained stand you see at carnivals and such places, and I suppose it must have been the time the carnival took its turn in town before he left with them.  It’s a strip of two pictures with Mama and Daddy Joe just looking at each other, just happy looking at one another.   The other two from the strip were cut off, and I like to think one of Mama slipped into Joe’s billfold, and the other, Mama keeps in her jewelry box, with her and Joe kissing.

 

Mama got pregnant with me during the winter, probably right around the only real Christmas they ever had in their house.  Daddy Joe knew before he left town with the Wilson's, but neither of them were concerned about pregnancy, per se, only they would be separated for so long.  Joe took his Airstream out of storage, hooked it behind one of the Circus trucks, and off he went, hoping to be back right before the baby came.

 

Mama says she got calls from Joe from time to time, and he missed her a lot.  It seemed to her after awhile he didn't call unless he had been drinking, a habit apparently he picked up from the other carnies.  She told him not to drink so much and to be careful.  He said he had worked his way up to running the Tilt-a-Whirl and Ferris Wheel at the same time and earned a pretty good buck. The loud music and the sound of the diesel generator all day gave him a headache and he couldn’t sleep without a glass of whiskey to knock him out. He sent quite a bit home every couple of weeks, Mama says, but as the season went on and she got bigger and bigger, his calls were less frequent.  When he did call, at the end, he would sometimes talk about how much he missed her and, also, the Llano Estacado of Texas.  He wanted to take her there for a visit, and maybe to Houston, as well, so his mother might meet his new wife and baby.  She said she couldn't wait until the Woodland Homecoming when they would be together again.  There were some wanderlust thoughts buzzing around in Daddy’s head, but Mama thought she knew how to fix it, just as soon as Joe got home.

 

Then, Mama says, came the call, the one no one ever wants to get – the bad dream you can’t seem to wake up from….  Some gears Joe had been trying to repair on the Tilt-a-Wheel jammed again for the third time in an hour, and Joe slipped back under the platform, this time without turning off the electrical disconnect...  While he struggled to force the gear shafts into the right spots, along came Mr. Wilson, who cussed a couple of times as he saw the line waiting with money to spend, heat lightning already in the air, and 'no Joe', so he pushed the button to start the ride.  The loud music started, the generator belched some stinky exhaust and the ride began to turn.

 

 

 

 

 

Daddy Joe's hand caught in the gears and his arm pulled into them and ripped off and he bled to death before Mr. Wilson ever realized something was wrong.  If Daddy screamed for help, no one could hear him over the music.

 

A little girl finally asked Wilson “what happened to the man who crawled under the ride to get it started again?” Joe had gotten turned around and almost out from under, just behind the burlap skirt, when he passed out from loss of blood.  They pulled him out, and people screamed and threw up and some even fainted.  Mr. Wilson had EMT's there within a few minutes, but too late for Joe, too late for Mama, too late for me, too.

 

Too late for Mr. Wilson, as well, as Mr. Wilson didn't have any paid-up insurance, leaving him broke and broken, according to Mama.  Other towns cancelled their engagements once they heard the news.  After a bit, they took him to Jacksonville Asylum where he now spends all his time doing paint-by-numbers pictures of clowns.  Another caravan took Wilson's place in Woodland, starting the next year;  folks who don't know about Daddy still remember the 'year without the rides' at Homecoming.

 

The Carny's took up a collection to send Daddy's body on to Woodland by the local hearse.  Mama says, for the first time, she realized she had no idea on earth how to contact any of Joe's relatives in Texas.  In fact, the thought never occurred to her until much later.  Joe's funeral is still too painful for Mama to talk about,  but, of course, he is buried next to Grandma Weiser out in the Town Cemetery.  Mrs. Deppermann once told me she asked Mama if she would be staying in Woodland.  Mama said, "It's my home.  Where else do you think I would want to go?"

 

Six weeks later, never to get to know my Grandma, my Daddy Joe or my Grandpa Weiser, I arrived in Rushville Hospital.  You can imagine my Mama and I were very close, are very close, and always will be.

 

 

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