Updated: Sep 8
Haying season brought out the best and worst in Dad. He would fret about the right time to seed, what mix to use, and when to cut. Would we get enough to feed the animals through winter? Would the weather hold? Was the equipment ready for the task? Do we have the labor we need?
This annual ritual was necessary, not just because of the 20 acres of field that needed tending and the horses that needed hay, but because of the agricultural use benefits we needed. We were among a number of families in the valley that relied on haying as part of our livelihood and as a way to maintain larger plots of land. After all, Jackson Hole has been known for its ranches as well as for its spectacular views -- all part of the currency that draws millions of visitors a year.
At the height of the season, it wasn't uncommon to find Dad out in the gravel parking lot fixing a broken baler or fiddling with a hitch. He was determined. He was also partially paralyzed. At age 23, on his first day back from his mission as a bomber pilot in the South Pacific, he suffered an aneurysm that left him with limited use of his right side.
He was living with his parents in Connecticut at the time and had excellent care and therapy for two years. Despite the setback, it didn't stop Dad from following his dream to live a rich in the Rocky Mountains. He had traveled there as a teen with his father. John, Sr. was a businessman, avid skier, and one of the founders of the National Ski Patrol. At one point he worked for the Union Pacific Railroad and was on the team designing the first ski chairlift in Sun Valley, Idaho. Even though Dad couldn’t ski, the mountains, cold powder snow, and ranch life beckoned.
As you might imagine, Dad wasn't one to ask for help. It wasn't that he thought his five daughters were incapable. Rather, it seemed like asking for help meant defeat. I can remember sitting next to him on the ground as he struggled to put on a bolt with one hand. When I offered to help, it was usually greeted with an "I'm good" though I could tell that he wasn't. If I could only....I thought to myself as I sat there feeling helpless. And yet, part of me admired Dad's determination. It was this same quality that had gotten him through therapy, to woo my Mom away from a career in publishing in New York City, and to design and build a home on 100 of the most beautiful acres in the world.
Though we didn't know Dad as the athlete he once was, his disability didn't stop him from being who he was. If anything, it may have made him even more determined to live a rich life. He was the main breadwinner for our family of seven -- learning how to be a home designer and rancher. He volunteered for the planning commission and school board, was a regular at ski events as the announcer for the Little Waxers, and as a timer for cross-country races. He bought a motor boat and got us all out water skiing on Jackson Lake, and made sure to help out on any 4-H projects. There was never a dull moment as he and Mom were always scheming ways to keep themselves and us busy.
Even when Dad wouldn't let me help, he did appreciate me being there. He would let me sort the bolts or be his assistant as he knew that my helping was as much for me as it was for him.
As I think about the fifth Principle of Positive Money as being about giving and receiving, I'm noticing my own struggle to accept help and wondering how I might learn from Dad. Yes, he did find it hard to accept help. And, yet, he was the embodiment of give and take. He gave so much of himself to others over his 76 years, two-thirds of those in a body that would not have survived without the help of others. What he took was the satisfaction of living a rich life even if it meant doing it one bolt at a time.