My Dad, Rod Perry Hughes

It is hard to know where to start when describing your parents because one gets such a flood of events and emotions pouring out of ones early to late interactions with your closest relative. Dad was always in my mind a gentleman and he knew it. He was not my most verbal parent but when he gave me direction or advice you had the opinion that he was probably right and expected at least a modicum of behavioral change on my part.

 

My father was a friend and a farmer. As a youngster, it seemed to me that my Dad knew everybody in the country, and they liked him. He was usually called “R.P.” by his casual friends and “Rod” by his close friends of which he had many. His best friend was Alan Gaines. He and Alan probably went to high school together, joined the Army together serving in the same unit in France during WW1 and typically saw each other almost every week during their adult life. They were both avid bird hunters and their time together increased during hunting season. His wife, Anna Pearl, was a cousin of my Dad. Naturally, I called them “Uncle Alan” and “Aunt Anna Pearl”. It was the practice of the time for kids to address their parent’s close friends as “Aunt” and “Uncle” even if there was no ancestral relationship. Another close friend of my father was “Uncle Skinny Lane” a fraternity brother of my Dad at UK. He and “Aunt Lolly” lived in Lexington so we saw them infrequently, but they would come for weekend visits. “Uncle Skinny” was appropriately named and probably was about 110 pounds. I do not know what his real name was. He died relatively young at about the age of 60.

 

I could go on for pages about my family’s friends but let me go back to more diverse characteristics of Dad.

When I used the term, farmer, above, it Implies to me more than an occupation. Most farmers by their nature are highly independent, inventive and risk taking in their living habits. I just hope I inherited or learned some of these characteristics while growing up. Almost daily, there are accidents on the farm that require immediate actions without help from the outside world in terms of labor or supplies. Immediate actions are required when a bull decides it is going to tear down a piece of fence to visit a neighbor’s cow. You must retrieve the mad bull who doesn’t want to go home and fix the fence on a very quick schedule. Much improvisation is a necessary skill for a farmer to servive. All crop growing is at risk from weather, insects and labor availability at critical times of plant growth and harvest. Planning is also required for farmer’s success. Planting and harvest times must be scheduled based on prediction of weather, the characteristics of various plants and animals and other unpredictable events. Longer range planning included crop rotation to preserve fertility and soil erosion issues since much of our land was hilly. Dad kept a simple handwritten book in which he recorded needed records of plantings, breeding and other farm events.

 

Three words come to mind when I think of Dad: 1) Honesty, 2) Fairness and 3) Manners. I do not remember exact words to me on these subjects, but I know from the training I got that they were a high priority with my parents. My only memory of a painful experience was a spanking event where Dad thought I had told him a lie and I thought I had told him the truth on a subject I have forgotten. His evidence and my memory of what happened were probably both at fault. A large portion of one’s personality comes from observation of their parent’s habitual practices with other people. I spent a lot of time following Dad around as he carried out the farming business and had the feeling that he always dealt with other businesses and labor in an honest and fair manner. If he shook hands on something it was the equivalent of inviolate contract. I recall getting rather consistent lectures on manners: stand up straight, do not frown, keep your shoes tied and your shirt tucked in, always address seniors with “Sir” or “Ma’me” and always be on time for appointments.

 

Dad was an exceptional dresser for a famer. Even for work, he never wore overalls or raggedy pants. His work pants were ironed with creases and his shirts were clean every day. His watch pocket had his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity fob hanging from it. For social events or Sunday family lunches, he wore a suit, white shirt and tie. The suits typically came from Eilerman’s in Covington or Burkhart’s in Cincinnati. He wore the best of hats. His Army buddy, Steve Murrin, from Texas often sent him a Stetson felt hat. I was always amazed that they remained friends for decades without seeing each other. Dad visited him once in 1942. Steve ran a restaurant in Ft. Worth, Texas. I am, likewise, amazed that I remember his name. In the summer Dad wore seersucker suits and a straw boater hat.

 

 

A digression on Steve Murrin:

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As a long shot, I Googled “Steve Murrin” and found a prominent philanthropist in Ft. Worth. He was 11 years younger than me. Probing their House of Fame Museum I talked to a curator who gave me the cell number. Steve Jr.confirmed that his father knew my Dad and Alan Gaines from WW1. He also remembered his father buying Stetson hats to send to my father. He invited me to his 81st birthday party on July 1.    http://www.cowboysofcolor.org/profile.php?ID=109

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An almost weekly social event for Dad was a trip to John Farrell’s barber shop in Crittenden. This was the standard meeting place for farm men to discuss sports, crops, weather, current events and elections. It was not required to get a shave or hair cut to go to the barber shop. It was as much a social need as a barbering need to make a trip there. Just remember that there were no Sports Bars in Crittenden. In addition, John had a backroom on the barber shop that usually had a good card game going to add to its attractions. When Dad partook, John had a collection of old comic books to keep me occupied.

Dad was a skilled farmer. He had attended UK AG school for a couple of years and he had 3-4 generations of ancestors who were farmers.  He was careful in his use of land by carful rotation of crops, erosion control and the nature of crops in the rotation to preserve nutrients in the soil. He also took care of wildlife by planting a field of a seed and cover crop like lespedeza for the birds. This was probably related to his interests in bird hunting. The loss of these crops is blamed for the loss of the quail population in our current habitat. He prided himself in his judgment of good stock and went a lot a local and state fairs to keep informed. I think he was involved in judging stock at some of these fairs. I recall being taught “stock judging” in 4H club. Mr. Bob Hume was the county AG agent who mentored the club. We were taught characteristics to look for in good and bad stock. I never developed much skill in this art – I couldn’t tell a good hog from a bad hog. Mr. Bob was a distant relative and was the brother of Aunt Dody’s husband, Uncle Phil. The 4H club was about the only group social activity outside of school available to me and provided recreational event as well non-parental farm mentoring. I recall a weeklong 4H club trip to the Smoky Mountains in about 1939 lead by Mr. Bob and one of the Grant County school teachers.

A couple of other characteristics of Dad were his kindness in trying to teach teenagers how to grow up and how strongly he could let you know what you should not do. On the later point I recall orders about what should not be done with a 14 acre crop of hemp that we grew during 1943. Hemp was in short supply and large demand during the war and selected farmers were chosen and licensed to grow the stuff that might now be regarded as low grade pot. I was convinced that if I even walked through that field, I could be sent to the narcotics hospital in Lexington for a prolonged stay there. As a result, I have stayed away from all pot and other narcotics over the years. His teaching methodology centered around phrase “Let me show you how to---“. He taught life habits and traits by example and I still admire his methods.

Dad had a number of health problems along the way. At about age 41 he lost all of his teeth and wore false teeth for the remainder of his life. During the late 1930’s he had a form of stomach ulcers that are now completely treatable. For several years he ate a bland diet and finally conquered it. In the early 1940’s he had progressive arthritis in his hands. In 1942 he went to Hot Springs  For treatment and visited with his Army friend, Steve Murrin. With this condition, he either got better or adapted to living with it because he seemed less concerned about it after 1943 when my parents started going to Florida in the winter.

Both Dad and Mom seemed to love their winter (Jan. through Mar.) excursion to Clearwater. I went with them on their first one in 1942. The Crittenden farm was sold in 1943 and after that they stayed with Lawrence & Helen Farrell on the Verona farm. Later they rented either a house or apartment in Walton for their Ky. residence. Dad continued to manage the Verona farm and to do some work there until his death in 1960. I was his surrogate during his last year of life and through the settlement of his estate and sale of the Verona farm a year or so after his death.

About September of 1959 I took my Dad to see a Dr. Biltz in Newport. He had been my father’s physician for years. This visit included x-ray exams that showed that had an advanced stage lung cancer. He was given a life expectancy of about six months. It was the only time I recall seeing my Dad being devastated. However, shortly thereafter he and Mom went to Florida early and he seemed to bounce back in his attitude toward a terminal illness. I do not remember the date but Marge, Bart, Ginny and I visited with them in Fla. for a week before his passing. I know he enjoyed that week and we probably talked to each other during more that week than any other week in or lives. For the condition, his suffering was minimal in that he had a stroke a few days before his death. Perry and I visited with him during his few days of hospitalization. He knew we were there but could not respond.

Rod Perry Hughes was a great parent-mentor-friend. I still think of him often as a model for “The good life”.