Day-to-Day Life in Dad’s 90th Year

June 21, 2009

Last year, one of my absolute favorite book finds was The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings by Kaylynn Deveney.  This slim volume of photographs captures the ordinary life of an elderly Welsh widow, Albert Hastings.  Hastings wrote the accompanying captions to the photos; his handwritten text graces this book and makes it a true collaboration with Deveney’s intimate photographs.

I’m inspired by Deveney’s thoughtful photographic approach to this project: “I often seek in my photographs the banal moments of the day — the experiences not usually considered significant enough to warrant a snapshot — the quiet clean up after the birthday party ends or the hour before we go to bed.  I look, too, for domestic patterns and arrangements, practiced daily routines that make us feel at home … I believe photographs of our possessions and domestic patterns can be portraits, just like photographs of our faces … the images of Bert’s folded pajamas, nightcap, space heater atop a biscuit tin, and the simple apparatus he engineered to hold a broken daffodil up straight in a shallow teacup, all speak to me of him.”

What follows is my attempt to present a portrait of my Dad inspired by Deveney’s photographic project.  My Dad is a 90-year-old retired farmer, recently widowed, who still lives in the old farmhouse of his childhood.  This is my tribute to him on Father’s Day.

Dad cooking breakfast of sausage and eggs

Dad cooking breakfast of sausage and eggs

Every morning of my recent visit, Dad made breakfast for us — either homemade sausage and eggs, bacon and eggs, or his specialty, pancakes.  He always adds oatmeal to his scrambled eggs and pancake batter.  The bandanna (always red or blue) hanging from his pocket is his handkerchief.  No disposable tissues for him.

Instant coffee

Instant coffee

Dad's favorite, stained coffee cup

Dad's favorite, stained coffee cup

Dad makes himself a cup of instant coffee three times a day, with every meal.  He heats the water for exactly 140 seconds in the microwave.  Although the cupboard is full of coffee cups, he uses the same stained and cracked cup for every meal.

Dad's kitchen countertop

Dad's kitchen counter top

A small, black radio sits atop the microwave, tuned to the local radio station.  Dad listens to the obituaries every day.

Pegging the laundry up to dry outside

Pegging the laundry up to dry outside

Dad hanging his laundry

Dad hanging his laundry

One man's laundry

One man's laundry

Monday is Dad’s laundry day.  He still uses the old wringer Maytag machine in the basement.  And although he owns a dryer, he never uses it.  In winter, he hangs his clothes on a wooden rack and clothes lines in the basement, and they slowly drip dry over several days.  Other seasons, he hangs the clothes on lines outside.

What a change from laundry days of my childhood, when Mom did laundry twice a week to keep up with the demands of our family of eleven.  Then multiple clothes lines could hardly hold all the laundry.  Now, Dad’s few wet clothes fill only half of one of the outdoor lines.

Halving a chicken with a vintage saw

Halving a chicken with a vintage saw

Getting the grill out of winter storage in the smoke house

Getting the grill out of winter storage in the smoke house

Basting the chicken

Basting the chicken

The mid-day meal is called dinner, and it’s eaten at 11:30 a.m.  (We call the evening meal supper, and it’s at 5:30 p.m.) When one of his children visits, it’s not unusual for Dad to prepare a special dinner of chicken on the grill.  He has several chickens in the freezer that my brother raised and butchered.  A whole chicken is too much for Dad to eat on his own, so he doesn’t cook them unless he has company.

Living room window

Living room window

Dad reading the local paper

Dad reading the local paper

IMG_0052-1

The mail comes around noon, Monday through Saturday, delivered to the old mailbox at the end of our long driveway.  The local paper is a weekly, and it comes every Thursday.  Dad looks forward to the mail, even though so much of it is solicitations.

Dad working a crossword puzzle

Dad working a crossword puzzle

Dad with ubiquitous toothpick

Dad with ubiquitous toothpick

Crossword puzzles

Crossword puzzles

Dad takes time most days to work his crossword puzzles.  Other daily rituals include an afternoon nap, attending five o’clock mass, a bottle of beer before supper, watching the six o’clock news, and then watching Wheel of Fortune.

Cracked paint on the east side of the house

Cracked paint on the east side of the house

Window and iron bed frame in upstairs bedroom

Window and iron bed frame in upstairs bedroom

Upstairs storage closet with extra bedding for company

Upstairs storage closet with extra bedding for company

Someday the old white farm house will be torn down.  My youngest brother now owns the half of the farm with the house, barn, and other buildings.  He plans to build his family’s retirement home there.  My oldest brother owns the other half of the farm, and his family already has a house there.  For now, I’m thankful that my old childhood home still stands, and that Dad is able to live out his old age there.

Dad's worn blue jeans hanging in his closet at the end of the day

Dad's worn blue jeans hanging in his closet at the end of the day

11 Responses to “Day-to-Day Life in Dad’s 90th Year”

  1. Katie Rose Says:

    So much of this seems familiar even though I remember my Aunties, who unfortunately, died in their 60s and 70s.
    We were forbidden to be in the same room as the wringer washer; we couldn’t watch them butcher chickens (they thought we would be too upset).
    The sound of the water pump and the cuckoo clock woke me when I visited.
    When I stayed with my Auntie Huldie and we worked together summers in a fruit packing cannery our joy and job was to see how many different vegetables (she had a huge truck garden) we could eat in a single meal (several types of lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, cucumber, corn…)
    Auntie Huldie was of German Swiss ancestry and she enjoyed entering family recipes (and her own modifications) in contests! Both she and her sister, Auntie Lee, made good money (and even their first television set)from prize-winning recipes and jingles.
    Auntie Lee wrote. But her family sadly never read anything she wrote! Before the romance paperback boom, there were romance magazines and that is where her efforts went. Later, we think she wrote more serious works, but she destroyed all of them before she died.
    Rosemary, see what you started? 😉

  2. Lynne Says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your Dad! I love the whole photo essay, especially the close ups of familiar objects, your father himself, and the windows.

    I’m thinking of my father, who died five years ago, a lot these days, as I sort through his 35 mm slides, taken from before WWII into the 2000s. Besides photos of our own family – my parents on their honeymoon, my brother and I growing up – there have been surprising records of Dad’s life before “us”: his father and grandfather butchering a hog, still life arrangements of a special doll that was somebody’s Christmas present, goofy photos of his college friends performing a skit. They say that when a person dies with all their knowledge and experience of the world, it’s like a library burning down. I hope to be able to extend a small part of that knowledge for a little while, at least, by digitizing the best of his slides before they deteriorate. But I sure do wish Dad was here to tell the stories that go with the images…

  3. Margaret Says:

    Wow, Rosemary. What a wonderful tribute to Dad on Father’s Day. You captured the quiet moments of his life and daily routines in perfect fashion. I especially like the laundry photos…lots of memories of hanging or gathering wash from the clotheslines. Happy Father’s Day!

  4. sandy Says:

    Hi Rosemary-That was so perfect-you did such a good job of capturing Dad’s spirit and it brought up a lot of memories.

  5. Carol Says:

    Rosemary,
    I am groping for words to express how this touched me. It is simply charming.

  6. Shirley Says:

    I finally got a chance to share this entry with my husband. He enjoyed all of the shots of your dad’s daily life but he was really taken with the photos of the window with the lace curtain with the tree outside, and especially the one with the crossword paper and pen. He made me print that one out so he can share it.

  7. greg Says:

    I would love to meet your father. He looks like he’s a man of old world values. He reminds me so much (visually) of my grandfather & uncles who have passed away & I miss so much. Our family is from the Adirondacks in Upstate New York. The old school people worked very hard just to survive and appreciated everything they had in life unlike the newer generations. I’m 57 & still very old school about commitments, work ethics & life in general. Enjoy your father & try to spend as much quality time as possible with him.
    Greg


  8. […] my 94-year-old Dad on the family farm.  I’ve written about my father before, most notably a tribute in honor of his 90th year.  On this recent visit, I was reminded daily of the small, accumulating losses that accompany […]

  9. gertyp44 Says:

    This is beautiful! Like Uncle Ray, my dad only uses handkerchiefs, drinks coffee all day, loves puzzles, and always has a toothpick. Funny, I never thought it being family related.

    • Rosemary Says:

      We should get the two brothers together and take some pictures of them with their toothpicks and handkerchiefs!


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