Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dad's Story. Part TWO

He was born on May 18, 1936, a twin to his sister, Margaret and a younger brother to 7 year old John. He has no memories of his father and the first twelve years of his life were spent fleeing Russia. Of those years, he talks about fear, famine, family and lack of underwear. He’s often told us about the best pancake he ever had; it had fallen off the back of a bakery delivery truck, and then run over by a convoy of army tanks. He scooped it up and took it back to share with his family. He remembers fondly his first “toy”; a ball of tar. Which was later snipped from his scalp after he slept with it on his pillow. They crossed the Atlantic on the Aquatonia (a sister ship to the Titanic) which was grander than his imagination could comprehend. Even though their tickets were for passage below deck, he snuck up to the dining room and ate all the butter squares set out on the tables. Predictably he got violently ill, and his love affair with butter ended.

Dad and his family settled in Manitoba in 1948. Uneducated thus far, and unable to speak English, dad, a streetsmart twelve year old, was placed in a grade one classroom. By age 14 he had learned all he wanted to, so with his grade three graduation certificate in hand, he left school and went to find work. Mr. Heppner hired him as a farm hand and for the next three years he lived with the Heppner family in Plum Coulee. He didn’t like farming. “How can I get out of combining?” he wondered.
“The tractor can’t go if the spark plug is wet” he thought.
“I’ll pee on it” he decided.
So, with the engine running, he stood on the seat, opened his fly and aimed a stream of urine at the spark plugs.
He woke up, behind the plow, flat on his back and had to finish the field anyway.

Mr. Heppner, a parent to his own brood of seven kids, became a father to my dad as well. He was a loving, praying, generous dad to a fatherless teen.
“So Mary, what do you think? Does Peter look sad?” Mr Heppner said to his wife.
“Yah, a little,” she replied.
“Maybe he misses his mom?” he suggested.
“Could be.”
“Peter. What do you think?”
Dad just shrugged. Most of the Heppner kids were away at camp.
“Here. Take the truck. Go see your mom.”
He gave my unlicensed, inexperienced fourteen year old dad the keys to his pick up truck.

With no hesitation, dad took the wheel of the rusted out, duct taped vehicle and immediately felt like a somebody. Needing an audience to witness this momentous occasion, he drove directly to town and with one arm resting on the window; he slowly cruised through Winkler’s one and only intersection without stopping at the city’s one and only stop sign. As luck would have it old man Feldi, the town’s lone police officer, happened to be stopped at the corner and pulled the law breaker over.
“Ach. Peter? Peter Klassen?”
“Were are you going?”
“To visit my mom.”
“In this fine truck?”
“Yah. Mr. Heppner let me borrow it.”
“Peter. You didn’t stop at that stop sign.”
“We can’t have people going through stop signs. I want you to go through town, and come back again. I’ll watch this time. I want you to stop at the sign.”

After three years of learning to pray for rain, and then alternately pray for sunshine, dad left the farming life and received his wages. He was paid $900 for three seasons of faithful service which he immediately handed over to his mom. She in turn gave him $29 for a bus ticket to BC, and $20 spending money. He was off to the Promised Land.

On his first Sunday in Vancouver, at the 43rd Avenue MB church, dad slouched into the back aisle seat. He noticed a cute little girl with curly blonde hair sitting across the aisle. He winked at her. That adorable blonde was 13 year Hilda Neumann, who would one day be my mom. She turned to her friend and said, “I think I’m going to marry that guy.”

“My first job was at Grimwood Construction. I made $1.66 an hour” dad remembers with pride.
“Better money than farming.”
It was 1954 and dad discovered that he really liked earning money. And driving nice cars. The 1950’s heart throb, actor James Dean became his idol, and soon dad was dressing and acting like the ‘Rebel without a Cause.’
“I felt like a million bucks the day I bought my 1952 Hardtop Chevy . I was on my way. Owning that car gave me confidence. Driving that car made me feel like a king.”

Dad was a Christian. He knew it. God knew it. Others weren’t so sure. His stylin’ hair, flashy clothes, expensive red and white showy car, a passion for country & western music, a black and white TV, and “underdog” friends gave his mother cause for concern. She worked hard to get him saved. Some family members still are.
“A Pastor would come over and Omi would cry to him. He would say, ‘Peter, lets go downstairs’. He would talk to me, tell me to kneel and he would pray. A few months later, another Pastor would do the same thing. …I went down to that basement a lot. Don’t know what they wanted me to do.”
All of that changed, however, when he was twenty two.


ramblin'andie said...

I'm sorry, but there is at least one book in this story. Seriously.

Grandma_bel said...

It's true, you have to write some books.