Tom's Corner

Discovering Today
Tom Irons

Chapter 2
Old Farm

       My oldest memory is of my sister, Nancy, waking me up one morning and leading me down the stairs by the hand, through the living room and kitchen then into the back storage room. There, she instructed me to, “Look out there.” When a response was not immediately forthcoming she asked in a conspiratorial voice, “Well, what do you see?”

Old Farm House

Old farm house on Taylor Pike circa 1952
(Tommy at the door)

        Look as I might I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The row of wild plum trees along the little drainage creek were all there, their small, multicolored leaves shimmering with dew. The concrete bridge that our dad designed and built was there. Over the years I’ve marveled at the structural integrity of that span. I don’t know how Dad mixed the concrete for it but I expect it was done by hand. I appreciate the fact that to create a structure strong enough to carry a farm tractor and some of the other heavy equipment that has passed over that bridge in the last sixty years is an impressive feat for a swampland farmer.

        I said I didn’t see anything and she urged me to “Look again.” Off to my left nearly out of sight stood the chicken house, and everything appeared to be in order. Directly to the south of the window where we stood was a shiny green car. I assumed that meant someone was here to see Dad. It didn’t happen often but now and again a neighbor or one of the county trustees would stop by to visit or to arrange delivery for a load of coal, sand, or gravel. Look as I might I didn’t see what Nancy could be so excited about.

        That was 1949 and Nancy was eleven. The old family snapshots from that period show her to be a pretty girl, with long black hair like our father, but unlike him she had the promise of being tall and thin. I think her height was something of an issue for our brother, Fred. He was the oldest of my immediate siblings and to his dismay his stature was derived from our mother’s side of the family. Remember, she never quite reached five feet in height.

        So it was easy for Nancy to drape her arm across her little brother’s shoulders as we stood next to each other. I think she wanted me to share her excitement. Maybe I did feel something more than the upset of being woken early for no apparent reason or the need to trundle down the little path that led to the outhouse. But then again, maybe I didn’t. I do remember finally demanding with exasperation, “What is it?”

        Her brown eyes sparkled and danced as she replied, “The car. Daddy bought it last night. It’s ours.” I could feel the excitement, the joy, and the need to pee.

        I was somewhere in my third year that memorable morning. I think this memory is a fairly accurate one since I haven’t told it repeatedly. It seems clearer than some of my mid-life recollections, certain navy experiences or those from my first marriage. Not having been used, handled, or bent to the occasion, this memory is still pristine, valid, pure.

        Many times I had watched Dad fill up his tractor and truck with gasoline pumped from the big tank he kept near the barn. The tank probably held 250 gallons of gas, and transfer was accomplished by means of a manual hand pump and a small diameter hose. I was fascinated with the little ball that danced and jumped around showing flow as the gasoline was forced through the mechanism and down the hose. I’m sure Dad never gave a thought to my being able to climb up on that tank. He simply topped off the truck, said, “Goodbye,” and drove down the drive and off towards town.

        A sharp biting wind came whipping off the snow-dusted cornfield and I was glad to have the fluffy warm jacket that day in mid October. I was probably four or five as I stood there watching the old truck slide away into the distance, the acrid odor of gasoline hanging invitingly in the sharp air. What is it about the carbon chain that is so engaging to the male persona? As young as I was, I felt a magnetic attraction to it even though I knew it was a ‘hands off’ sort of thing.

        When the truck had finally receded from sight I turned and looked up at that red tank. It stood lengthwise on the ground. L-shaped steel bars welded maintained balance and provided support so that it could not roll or move once it was in place. As luck would have it, the adjacent fence provided me an unwieldy but usable ladder. There was a moment when I had climbed as high as I could on the fence, a moment at which I had to cast my fate to the wind. I released the top strand and turned to one side, lunging as far as I could onto the tank top. Until I had secured a position on the top of the tank, I risked sliding off completely- either between the tank and the fence or, clear over the tank onto the frozen ground if I lunged too far. Neither of these choices was a desirable option. Luckily, I managed my cat like maneuver just right, and gained a perch atop those 250-flammable gallons. Feeling elated and a bit proud of my agility I slid myself toward the vertical hand crank, making note of how the cold of the metal had already penetrated my thin pants.

        Reaching the hand crank, I slipped the hose out of the retaining latch. Grasping the handle I carefully pulled it toward me while I watched the mouth of the hose. I only wanted to pump enough gas to see it come up to the end of the hose. The handle reached the end of its swing but nothing had happened. With a little more exuberance, I pushed the handle to the other stop. Still nothing. Once again I pulled the handle toward me and suddenly gasoline gushed from the end of the hose, which was still pointed full at my face. The nature of the gas leaping from the hose was overwhelming. It took away my ability to breathe, it seared my eyes, it filled my nose, and when I opened my mouth to scream, it filled my mouth. I recoiled in shock, released hold of the hose and the handle simultaneously, and tumbled off the tank to the ground. I expect my thick winter coat helped cushion the fall to some extent, but the pain from the gasoline bath still registered loud and clear. My eyes felt like they were burning balls of fire, my lungs ached, my mouth was filled with acid, and any uncovered skin felt frozen and hot at the same time. Gasoline was everywhere; in my hair, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, down my front, down my neck and back, up my coat sleeves, and soaking through my pants. I was a very unhappy camper.

        Picking myself up, I started screaming and wailing for my mother but she was in the house - at least 80 yards away. Slowly, painfully, I started walking toward the house. The going was slow due to the fact that I could barely see. Twice, I stumbled over frozen clods of dirt and each time I’d pick myself up and stagger on toward the blur that was my haven. Mother heard my wails before I reached the house and came out to see what was the matter. As she approached she smelled the gasoline and immediately grasped the dynamics of the situation. She realized the threat of permanent blindness and acted immediately. Quickly she stripped the gas-soaked clothing from my little frame. She ordered me to “Stand there and don’t move.” She ran and got the washtub, filled it with water from the well and made me get in. We were in the yard, it was still October and the freezing wind had not ceased. My squalls of protest and claims of freezing water did not deter her from her desire to wash me head to foot, paying special attention to my eyes, which she flooded numerous times with fresh clean well water. By the time she pronounced me clean and safe enough to take into the house, I was one miserable, frozen kid. I have no memory of actually going in or what came after. I only remember that cold-water bath and the humiliation of taking it outside. Nor do I remember Dad’s reaction to the story of my misdeed. I do know that I never ever again touched the gas pump.

        1950 was the year of the great Ohio Thanksgiving Day blizzard. We were snowed in for many days while the entire state dug out from under the storm’s havoc. Fifty-five deaths occurred. Busloads of stranded travelers sought and found shelter from the storm in farmhouses near the roads.

        I recall how a neighbor drove a pair of horses pulling a big wooden wedge down our lane to clear the snow. One horse was white, the other dark.

        Dad used Fred’s rifle and the family dog to put rabbit meat on the table. Nancy and I dug a cave under a big drift in the yard and I was in it when the top caved in. I blamed her for that but I’m not sure she was actually at fault.

        In 1951 we received word that my half-brother, Richard, had been injured in a vehicle accident during mobilization of his army unit. He was in a hospital in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It had been foggy and the convoy had stopped on or near the road. In the limited visibility a rear-end collision occurred. Richard had been caught between two jeeps as they slammed together doing great damage to his leg. It marked the end of his military service. Mother and Dad quickly packed up and drove down to see him. I stayed with a neighbor lady during the day but went home and was watched by my sisters at night.

       Richard remained in Fort Bragg for more than a year until he was transferred to a veteran’s hospital in Dayton. He refused to let the doctors amputate the damaged leg and it gave him trouble for the rest of his life.

        Another story is about the night our barn burned up. I know most people speak of barns burning down but I’ve never really understood that phrase. Sure, the walls collapse and the roof falls but the heat, flames, smoke and insurance all go up with a fire.

        After Nominy, but before 'Stubby Jim' had slipped away, there came a biting cold December day. The year was 1952, the month was December and I had stayed home with Dad while Mother drove up to Springboro to visit with Aunt Anna. Fred was off at college, Frances was at nurses training, and Alice and Nancy were in town attending a school function. I was six years old and in the first grade. I was given the choice of joining Mother or remaining at home with my father. It was an easy choice; I didn't hesitate to stay. I was happy to have my Dad all to myself.

        Our farm was in the part of southern Ohio called 'cyclone alley' by many of the old timers. Twice, before I was born, Dad had to go over to the neighbors' farm to retrieve the roof of our house. There were a lot of big storms in our area.

        Watching the storm clouds billow and build all afternoon, Dad said, “ I hope your mother doesn't have any trouble getting home tonight. There looks to be a doozy of a storm coming our way. We'd best get the stock fed and the cows milked before dark.” It always thrilled me to be included in the work and speculations of farm life. Looking back, I like to think that Dad enjoyed involving me in doing what he loved so much. I know it was his intention that I follow in his footsteps, tending the land he loved.

        Two weeks earlier Dad had bought a new Farm-all ‘H’ tractor and had only used it to appraise the condition of the sodden fields. I’d ridden on it with him and had even found a perfect little “seat” for myself. It was the cover for the power take off, which was located behind and below the drivers’ seat. The first time I sat on ‘my’ seat Dad had immediately seen danger. Directly in front of my face was the tapered coil spring that supported the driver’s seat. When Dad dropped his considerable weight onto that seat, the coils of the spring compressed and closed down upon each other. If I should ever use that spring for a handhold I would lose every finger on both hands. Dad had the foresight and intelligence to realize that for a six year old, it would be all too easy to use that ever so convenient but hazardous support.

        After I had settled myself on my seat he said, “Here, hold onto the spring right there. That’s a good place to hold onto.” Then he climbed up and settled onto the driver’s seat. When the coils of metal started closing, I began to yowl and screech and tried to remove them from the vise but could not do so until he lifted his weight.

        My fingers had been pinched but he had only lowered enough of his weight to do just that, pinch- hurt while inflicting no permanent harm. It was his wise way of insuring that I never again would place my fingers in harm’s way without his knowledge. He knew that there might come a time when he would forget to look after my safety as he sat down. This was his way of putting the impetus on me to ensure that I would not get hurt. When I ceased my squalling he explained his action and showed me how I could hold on safely to the rear light fixture while riding behind him without jeopardizing my digits. I was fairly upset with him and his tactics. However, to give him his due, I never did forget the danger of that seat spring; I still have all my fingers.

        The thunder rumbled like giants bowling with granite boulders as he tucked me into bed, “Don't let the noise scare you. The storm may get loud but you'll be safe here under this pretty quilt your mother made.”

        He told me that I should allow the sound of rain on the old shake roof to drop me deeper into sleep, and when I awoke in the morning our family would be together again.

        When the storm finally broke, I had been asleep for about an hour. I never heard the rain, nor the accompanying lightning storm of terrible fury.

        Like Dad, most of the neighbors were up watching the magnificent electrical show. The time of year made this storm extremely unique. December is not normally a time for thunderstorms. Later, Frank Brown said, “It was a great big yellow-green bolt of lightning.”

        Jimmy Fields, an older neighbor boy, proudly informed me it was the biggest bolt of lightning he'd ever seen.

        They were speaking of the bolt that struck our barn. Although he was two hundred yards away and inside the house, Dad said he had felt the force of that blow. He believed that the size of the electrical charge left nothing alive; that there was nothing inside to be saved. Alice told me that she heard Dad say that he didn’t have the heart to hear the cows dying and had chosen to remain inside the house until neighbors started arriving.

        Before the epic strike, our barn was one of the largest in the southern part of the state. Years later, Dad told me that when he ran to the kitchen window he discovered a sight that would chill the heart of any farmer. His barn, which housed all his equipment, grain, tools, cattle, and pigs, was completely engulfed in flames. Thick black smoke boiled heavenward in a tremendous writhing, twisting column. Soon there would be nothing remaining but a smoking pile of rubble. That rubble would smolder and smoke for days.

        Neighbors quickly came from miles around that night to lend Dad a hand. He asked one of the women to keep an eye on me, but he knew there was nothing to be done except to let the barn burn as cleanly and completely as possible. The animals were certainly dead, and there was no way for any of the equipment to be safely retrieved from the inferno. Dad refused to let them fight the fire. He knew there was no way to accomplish anything positive at that point. Planters, harvesters, tillers, the two-week-old Farm-all tractor, grain, hay and all the necessary tools of farm life were lost that night while I, a little six year old boy, slept peacefully.

        At Dad’s request, a lady I only remember as 'Beechie' came upstairs and sat near my bed to keep watch, and to soothe and reassure me if I should wake amidst all the noise and hubbub. She said I never stirred, not even as the fire trucks, with their sirens blaring and screaming, came down Taylor Pike and turned into our lane. They came from Newtonsville and had taken a long time to arrive.

        Everyone was amazed that I apparently had slept through all the noise and confusion, never showing any sign of being aware of what had happened in the night.

        However while I lay sleeping, Alice and Nancy experienced waking nightmares of their own. On their way home from a school event, they had to drive slowly because of the storm, but they saw the glow of the fire long before they turned onto Taylor Pike. They knew the location of the fire because there were so few farms in our vicinity. However, they had no way of knowing that the fire was not our house, and it never occurred to them that it might be the barn. People always expect the worst in those situations.

        Many times over the years I have heard my sisters tell of their individual fears while covering those last long miles home. Their voices rise and they speak faster as they describe the flames and the sparks rising up into the black night sky. Nancy, at fourteen, became almost hysterical. It was not until the car passed the small stand of trees before Teevan’s corner that they realized the house was safe and we had lost only the barn and its contents. Their speech would begin to calm as they described the bittersweet relief. They knew we quite possibly were facing financial ruin, but at least we would face it together as a family.

        As the neighbors began to arrive and Dad stepped out into the storm, he saw the cows across the pasture, huddled under trees in the furthermost corner, as far from the flaming barn as they could get. I'm sure its impossible for anyone to imagine his joy when he made that discovery. We never knew why they chose to remain out in the storm rather than seek the warm dry shelter in the barn. Dad always said that they knew disaster was going to strike. I'd like to think he was right.

        The next morning the air was filled with smoke and the smell of charred rubble. Weary from the stress of the night and suffering from lack of sleep, Dad forced himself to approach the heap of smoldering embers that had been his barn. It was in the morning light that he came upon the second wondrous discovery.

        Perched on the concrete slab of the well was my favorite pet, 'The Little Red Hen.' Singed, dazed, and unsteady on her yellow feet, she allowed Dad to scoop her up and joyfully deliver her to the kitchen door where she would receive love and care from the whole family. We never understood just how she managed to find a way out of the burning inferno.

        I'm sure that Dad was sick at heart. Down, but not out, he had little time that day to reflect on his ill luck. Neighbors from all around the county were already arriving with tools and materials to help put up a shed for storage. The corn, yet to be harvested, would need to be stored some place out of the weather and the cows needed a dry shelter for milking. Dad would need a dry spot to store necessary items (which needed to be purchased or borrowed) to keep the farm running. He said that life would go on, and it was best to be prepared.

        Throughout the day, I watched postholes being dug and filled with wheelbarrows full of cement that had been mixed by hand. Through the intermittent, bone chilling drizzle, in air thick with soot, ash and the acrid smells of damp char, a lean-to was erected next to the corncrib. To the six-year-old eyes the unfolding of a new structure was not unlike the opening of a magician's hand when he mysteriously conjures up a magic coin. I was caught up in the excitement of the moment, never suspecting that the previous night's events would haunt me for the next twenty-two years.

        Alice tells how a couple of days after the fire, a neighbor came to the door and insisted that she take some money from him. He had been required to work the day of construction and wanted to contribute. She tried to refuse the money he held out but he would not accept “no” for an answer.

        A number of times I heard Mother tell the story of the last driver’s license test she ever had to take. At some point in the early fifties she discovered that her license had lapsed and she would have to take the complete test.

        On a day when she accompanied Dad to the stockyard auction in Wilmington, Mother decided that this was a good opportunity to handle the test. She stood up from the bleacher seat and said to Dad, “I’m going to run over to the DMV and get my license.”

        At the DMV, she filled out the necessary paperwork and took the written test. With that out of the way the officer told her, “Wait for me in your vehicle. I’ll just be a minute.”

        Stepping out of the building she crossed to the vehicle, opened the door and took a seat behind the wheel. Parked in front of the building in plain sight, she sat and waited. The test conductor soon stepped from the building, paused on the steps and looked around at the parking lot.

        As Mother recalled: “He had a pretty puzzled look on his face as he stood there looking all around. Then he turned and went back inside. I waited for about fifteen minutes and he didn’t return so I finally got down and went in to see what was taking so long.”

        “He was sitting behind his desk just reading a newspaper and I said to him, ‘are you going to give me that driving test or not?’”

        “ ‘Well, I went out and looked for you but you’d already left.’ That’s what he said.” She informed him that she had seen him come out, look around, then return inside. “I told him I had to get back or my husband would be upset at having to wait.”

        When the officer discovered she was planning to take her driving test in a truck he was doubtful at best. When she parallel-parked that old five-ton dump truck he was speechless. Never more than five foot in her tallest of times, nevertheless she could handle that truck like most men wished they could.

       A short time later Dad would say to Mother, over their ritual cup of coffee, “I want you to take the truck into Berwanger’s station and get the clutch adjusted. I talked with him and he’s expecting it this morning. I have some maintenance to do on the tractor today.”

       “You know I don’t like driving that truck- especially in the rain. If you haven’t noticed, it is raining out.”She responded.

        “That’s why I want to get the maintenance done on the tractor. I can work in the barn and stay dry. Just take it slow and be careful and you’ll be all right. I’d rather have you drive it than one of the hired hands.”

        Years later Mother would describe the tricky right-angle corners of Taylor Pike. They were difficult to navigate and the hill just before Route 133 gave her a fright but the worst was yet to come. She applied the brakes to stop for the streetlight in the center of town and realized there were no brakes (at all). Rolling past Berwanger’s garage she leaned out the window and yelled for Don Berwanger (who was pumping gas for another customer). He stopped pumping gas and ran after her down the street. By the time he caught up to the truck, she had it safely pulled over to the curb.

        Stepping up on the running board the mechanic said, “Your husband said the brakes were going but I didn’t realize they were gonna’ be this gone.”

        “He told you the brakes were going out?” Mother said incredulously. “He told me it was the clutch that was going out!”

        “Well, he mentioned that, too.”

        When Mother got home and confronted Dad as to why he hadn’t mentioned the faulty brakes to her, his answer was, “I didn’t want you to worry.” With disbelief in her voice, she repeated, “He didn’t want me to worry. Your father was always doing something like that to me, just because he knew he could trust me to get it done.” Shaking her head at his apparent lack of sensitivity she added, “And he knew I didn’t like it.”

        A few months after the barn fire I first experienced the nightmare. I don’t know why I never discussed it with anyone, but I remember vividly the stark terror that would grip my entire being each time I awoke from the dream. In it I was both an observer and a little boy, Tommy as he slowly made his way down the steps of the old rickety stoop, over the rock path, across the lane, and through the tall grass until he came to the pasture fence. Shading his hazel eyes from the bright summer sunshine, the little six-year-old carefully counted the milk cows contentedly grazing in the adjacent field. The rolling hills and rich soil of southern Ohio was prime pasture. Satisfied that they were all accounted for, he retraced the steps to the drive and turned down the short slope. Reaching the bottom of the incline, he plopped himself down in a pile of sand and began arranging toy cars and trucks for intricate road construction; a tribute to his father’s profession and a task that Tommy loved.

       Ever since I turned four, Dad took me along in the big dump truck when the county trustees requested that another load of gravel be spread on one of the many county roads. It was a grand adventure to sit on the big bench seat of the truck, sharing the cab with Dad. The gravel pit was noisy, dusty, and scary, but also a wonderful source of stories and songs from my father. I always laughed when I heard those songs. Who could picture an old mule slowly trudging toward some place called 'Delaware' and not laugh?

        In the dream, the sun on my shoulders and back felt warm and comfortable. I had short blonde hair, gentle eyes, and thirteen freckles across the bridge of my small pudgy nose. I sang because I hadn't learned how to whistle yet. As the dream progressed Tommy settled more comfortably into the cool sand. It was good to be outside with the rich pungent farm smells, the buzzing of insects, and the knowledge that when his Dad returned from town that day he would bring another new calf for the pasture. Buying a new farm animal was a big event and Tommy had been told that he could name this new calf. So while making roads in the sand, his young mind was busy thinking of a good name.

        Tommy was absorbed in his work, but he noticed Terry, the family's big collie dog, raise his head and look off down the road. When he was really little, Tommy had crawled through a hole in the fence. Terry saw the wayward toddler out there with the cows, grabbed the errant child by his diapers, and drug him back through the same hole to safety. He was one very smart dog.

        With one eye on the dog, Tommy spread a toy truckload of sand on the newly-bladed roadway. It was tricky to get a good spread job and Tommy was using everything he'd learned from his dad. Just as the sand began to slide from the rear of the little truck, Terry rose and began to growl deep in his throat. His legs were braced and there was fear in his flashing eyes.

       A distant high-pitched note floated overhead. It was so indistinct Tommy wondered if he’d imagined it. He paused in his work, hand arrested, head slightly cocked. He stopped singing and searched his memory, trying to identify the illusive and ghostly note. When the sound dropped down and away, Tommy ceased all play and listened intently. His heart started beating faster and he became aware that his body felt as if it were being slowly wound up like an old spring-driven clock.

        Certainly there was no apparent need to feel the building fear. He was perfectly safe there in his sand pile. Wasn't Terry there? And his mother was just inside the house. There was nothing a mother couldn't handle.

        Gliding on the slight breeze, Tommy caught the rising note again. This time it was the beginning of the cycle, and as the sound rose in volume so did the feeling of familiarity. He had heard this before, he was sure. But what was it? And why was he feeling scared? Looking over to where Terry had stood just moments before, Tommy was amazed to find the dog gone, nowhere in sight. It was very strange and unreal.

        Now Tommy was truly scared. He wanted to join his mother in the house, to seek her strength and comfort. He attempted to stand up. With the noise still increasing in volume, flooding down the road toward the farm like an invisible river, Tommy discovered that he was frozen in place. His rising fear and some irresistible force made it impossible for him to move. Ever louder and nearer the sound came. He knew now that it had been sent to get him. In complete terror, he tried to call out for his Mother but he was unable to speak. The "thing" had blocked off all paths, and there was nothing to do but wait helplessly. Numbness enveloped his body and a roaring in his ears blocked all thought. Closer, ever closer, it came. As darkness sifted like blown leaves over the landscape, a block of ice encased Tommy's heart. The fear, the terror, and the all-consuming wail was overwhelming.

        Each time this scene played out in my subconscious I would awake drenched in sweat with fear gripping my heart. Between the ages of five and twenty-seven, the nightmare would return once, twice, and sometimes three times a year. In my younger years it was more frequent. As I grew older, the dream lost some of its terror because I would fail to identify myself as the little boy, Tommy. Thankfully, I eventually learned the trick of telling myself I was dreaming and was able to wake myself before the dream played itself out.

        I didn’t reach an understanding of the nightmare until I was twenty-seven years old. I had served my time in the navy and was just getting settled in a good job in aerospace in southern California and I was learning how to look for answers to a lot of questions.

        By then I had experienced so many losses in my life (Dad, that big old barn, the farm, my first wife and daughter, the security of the navy) that I needed to find out why. I was attending a lot of groups where people like me were asking questions. One evening I joined a group of friends and listened to a psychologist speak about dreams. He talked about night-dreams, day-dreams, all kinds of dreams, and how sometimes they reflect something from a person's early childhood. It was then I realized that the old nightmare of me in the sand pile was a manifestation of the night the barn burned. The terrible noise of the fire engines, along with the fear of that unknown sound had somehow been recorded in my six-year-old mind, to be played over and over again throughout the following years until, as an adult, the facts finally fell into place for me. Once I understood that the scary noise was from fire engines, and what was behind it, I never again had the nightmare. Somehow, understanding removed the fear and it all fit into place just like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

        I can't describe the feeling of discovery and enlightenment. Suddenly I saw all of it from a new perspective and I gained valuable understanding from it. Through the years I’ve come to see that life is multifaceted in ways I could never know as a child. Answers to important issues may change over the course of a lifetime, and it is the act of questioning that holds the greater importance. Our world is full of wonder and mystery especially for little boys who love to play in the sand.

        It was January 20th 1953, a cold 40 degree F day with rain off and on, that Mother took me down the road to the Brown’s house. She was certain this was an event that would mean a lot to me in years to come. I realized from her serious mien that something of importance was happening but I really didn’t understand the full ramifications of the event. Even though the Brown’s owned a color television I quickly lost interest in all the grown-up talk. Luckily, the youngest Brown girl had a big box of comic books and was willing to let me read them.

        The post-war General, Dwight David Eisenhower, was much loved and highly revered across the country and around the world. However, he was a military man, first and foremost, not a politician. Many Americans looked on this president as a father figure; strong, wise, and capable of leading the country into prosperity and peace.

       Eisenhower is remembered for creating the spider web of highways that overlays our nation yet even this accomplishment was strategic, and not for the convenience of the citizenry. The General had learned from Hitler that military strength lay in the ability to mobilize and move supplies to an army engaged in defending its mother/fatherland, and that’s why the Interstate System was created. “Ike” was a ‘middle of the road’ president, refusing to take a stand on important domestic issues of the day like civil rights or Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red witch-hunt. Conversely, he was a hawk on foreign policy and used the military power of the US with no apparent concern. With complete disregard for the rights and wishes of the countries involved, he used the CIA to conduct secret wars in Iran (Operation Ajax) and Guatemala, where the people were horribly oppressed by the United Fruit Company’s employment practices. He employed CIA disinformation programs and Red scare tactics and he supported Anastasio Somoza Garcia in his dictatorial power over the people of Nicaragua. On the home front, Ike secretly authorized the CIA and the pentagon to build thirty U-2 spy planes.

        He would later introduce the ‘domino theory’ regarding Southeast Asia, to which many Americans quickly subscribed. He would maintain no less than a 64% Gallop poll approval over his two terms, relying on his military record in the European Theatre and his father figure-image he created with his ready smile and can-do attitude.

        That January day in 1953 I was not yet seven years old and did not grasp the importance of an inauguration. It was not until the inauguration of Richard Milhous Nixon on January 20th, 1969, that I became aware that inaugurations were both an ending and a beginning of political eras and how those dramatic shifts of political power affect myself, the country, and the world.

Fred, Frances, Alice, Nancy and Tommy -1946

Fred, Frances, Alice, Nancy and Tommy - 1946

Father and son circa 1952

Father and son circa 1952

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