Throughout the upcoming week, we will be featuring Father's Day posts from our Blog Team. We kick off the week with this fantastic post from Phoenix Captain Ray Stark.
It was prior to the Great Depression when my grandparents divorced. Two years later, after my father's mom re-married and her new husband voiced great displeasure at having to feed two hungry boys, my grandmother told my father, then twelve, and his brother, nine, that they had to go live with their father in Oklahoma. With a few dollars in his pocket, and with his nine year-old brother in tow, my father headed out to the rail yard in Stockton, California to ride the freight trains to Oklahoma. It was 1929.
A hobo, having just gotten off a freight train, scolded these young boys telling them, "A rail yard is too dangerous a place for two young boys like you." My father replied, "But, we have to go to our father's in Oklahoma because our mother cannot afford to keep us anymore." The hobo replied, "I just came from Oklahoma. I ain't got nothing better to do. I guess I'll take you boys out there myself."
The hobo taught these two boys how to outrun the conductor and safely jump on the train while it was moving. Like a guardian angel, he made sure their trip was safe. But, when they arrived in Oklahoma, their father said, "I cannot afford to feed you boys. You need to go back to your mother's in California."
To earn money for the trip back, Ray, and his brother Ralph, worked on a farm for about a month. When they went to get their wages, the farmer told them, "You boys have been working for room and board." They headed to the rail yard in Oklahoma with less than a dollar between them.
Two days later, the found themselves in El Paso. The trains had stopped running. They asked someone why the trains were not running and they were told, "It is Thanksgiving. The trains never run on Thanksgiving." The boys had not eaten in two days.
Starving, they walked up a side street in El Paso and knocked at the back door of a home. They were told to stay on the steps and soon, a plate of turkey and dressing was brought for them to share. They were told that they were to leave as soon as they were finished, and not come back. Three days later, they arrived back in Stockton.
With little support from his mother, my father worked in CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) Camps building roads in the Sierra mountains. Later, he worked in a fruit orchard in Modesto, California. The farmer that ran the fruit orchard he worked at was married to a school teacher who impressed upon my father the need to "get as much education and training as you can." "That," she said, "will open up opportunities for you." By the time he was 16, he lied about his age to get into the merchant marine. A year later, he was accepted into the Navy. As far as formal schooling, he never finished 7th grade.
By the time he retired in 1983, my father had been an aerial photographer in the Navy, a camera repairman, a civilian flight instructor, flight school owner, and an aircraft and engine builder. He had taught himself electronics and ultimately retired as an associate field engineer, having put three children through college.
When I hear people today talk about how tough times are now, I think back to my father's generation. He literally had nothing. No wealth, little family support, no formal education, and little in the way of direction or mentoring. There was no welfare, no minimum wage, and no food stamps. And yet he was very successful because he believed in the value of hard work, continuing education, and living an honorable and constructive life. All he needed was opportunity.
I remember hearing this story from my dad, only once, while I was about ten. He never dwelled upon his hard life. But, as a young kid living in a loving family with every need taken care of, I knew how very lucky I was to have the father that I had. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him. Or miss him.