Mom told us we needed to weed the garden again! At least it was a warm summer day -- not hot like last week. I went to the garage to get the hoe for the weeds when I saw him walking up the driveway -- a tall man, with wide shoulders, a heavy brown mustache and a long stride. Unlike some of the other "visitors" to the farm, this man was someone I knew. There was much poverty in the 1930's and we did get vagrants (my mom called them bums) who could be intimidating to a young girl, but we all liked Julius even though his appearance could be revolting when you saw his face.
Julius would show up to "help" dad about twice a month. He lived in a tiny shack near our property. There he had enough land for a garden and a shed where he kept one cow. Since he did not have a horse or a car, he left his property only on foot. There was a small grocery store about a mile away where he could get necessities for which he needed a little cash. My dad always found some task for him to do in return for a dollar or two plus a good meal.
My sisters and I were not afraid of him, for he had always treated us kindly, but we could not help but stare at him. Julius looked old to me but he could have been anywhere from 30 to 50. He could see out of only one eye; the other eye was always wide open, never blinked. What got my attention was the eyeball -- white with swirling red, bloody splotches. The eyeball would track with the other eye, but mom told us he could not see with that eye. Years later I learned a split log had hit his eye during a logging project. Maybe something could have been done to save his sight, but he had no money to seek medical help, so he learned to live with the disability without complaint.
Julius would invariably stay for one of my mother's famous dinners. With a big smile on his face, he would enter that kitchen which held the delicious aroma of fried chicken, beef roast or whatever mom had prepared. It did not matter, it was always good even though the kitchen was hot on these summer days for the "cook stove" was fired up from early morning until after the milking chores were done. When he stayed for dinner I had to sit at the table in the high chair, though I had outgrown it, because we did not have enough kitchen chairs.
It was the custom in our household for each sister to recite a prayer before every meal. When guests were present, my dad would add one of his own and, since there were five sisters, that made a total of six prayers. It was a lengthy process but Julius always listened carefully and politely while my mother had some concern that the food was getting cold. When the prayer business was done, I had time from my vantage point of the high chair to stare at that red, sightless eye. It was both ugly and interesting. Maybe we were not frightened of him because he and my dad carried on a running conversation in a friendly manner. Julius was also full of compliments to my mom, the cook, and to me and my sisters for our series of prayers.
I never knew if Julius had always been a bachelor. I do know he had some family because his sister came on occasion to "check" on him. One summer she left her two sons with Julius for a few days. Even as a kid, I wondered how he could live such a lonely life. He could leave his property only on foot, he had no electricity, no radio and no access to a library. I'm glad my dad was kind enough to befriend him. Those were, as I have mentioned before, tough days!
Laura W. Berglund
Copyright, June 2017