Variegated and Rapidly Flashing Pictures of Papa

Frank Upchurch, circa 1906
Frank Upchurch, circa 1906

Riding the old mule-drawn Cassidy mouldboard plow around and around in the field after the grain had been harvested and threshed, turning about 10 inches of the stubble-sod after each round.

The eagerness and gratitude with which he received the fresh water that I often took to him as he plowed, and the memory of watching his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he drank the water.

Seeing his blue work shirt, or jumper, almost solidly wet with perspiration, and his face flushed by the sunshine and heat.

The blisters and calluses on his hands from pulling weeds, digging Johnson grass, hoeing cotton and corn, pitching hay and oats, the the myriad of perpetual-motion farm work that had never heard of the word “mercy”.

Coming to the Bois D’Arc school to escort us home when the weather was threatening or violent.

Going with me when I was a child, when several inches of snow had fallen, when the rabbits were secluded in their little snow caves, which we could detect by their tracks that led to them and by the two small holes in the snow that their breath had melted.

Going with me when the pipeline was being laid across our country to see if we could find any rabbits hiding out in the long string of soon-to-be-buried pipes.

Going to First Mondays, where large groups of farmers gathered to buy (or, more likely, to swap) farm animals, farm equipment, farm products guineas, dogs, guns, musical instruments, and scads of miscellaneous items; and the joy and excitement of sleeping on the hay in the wagon yard and banqueting on the wieners, cheese and crackers that Papa always brought in from somewhere.

The meticulous reader:

  • The alter-ego crime solver when he read Sherlock-like mysteries and pulp-magazine detective whodunits.
  • The vicarious cowboy when he read Ned-Buntline-like western stories and the briefer and more gentle stories in teh “Ranch Romances” magazine, which we bought for a nickel.
  • The small twitch in his right eye as he read the bible.

Refereeing our “brotherly” disagreements, wrestling matches, civil wars, fist fights, hair pullings, and knock-downs-and-drag-outs.

Stropping his old straight-edged razor prior to his “Sunday-go-to-meetin'” shave and, as I can distinctly remember, sometimes using his razor strop for a purpose other than sharpening his razor.

Relieving one of his sons at the thresher’s sacker position, the dirtiest job around a thresher, allowing us a few minutes out of the never-settling grain dust and chaff as it poured down the spout and into the sacks.

Regularly telling us to take a few minutes of rest when we were picking cotton, and the heavenly feeling of stretching out on our cotton sacks for a few minutes.

Refusing to firmly deny or dispute my word (when I was about 10 years old) as I positively and vociferously argued with my older brothers that I could see the wind.

The peaceful relationship he always sought and most always attained with everyone he knew.

The instant and firm action he always took when he felt that kinsman, friend, stranger, neighbor, school official, or church-related person had wronged Mama or one of his children.

The festive joy and carnival-like atmosphere with which we, along with our friends and neighbors, gathered each year after the threshing season to burn the haystack, and the dramatic moment when Papa set the match to the straw.

Driving our Model T Ford, the only car we ever had, through the rear wall of the garage had built for it, seriously impairing the Model T and totally demolishing my bicycle, for which I had recently traded a horse.

Playing checkers, dominoes, marbles, croquet, hoop rolling, and horseshoes with us when the crop was laid by.

Bravely trying to balance himself on the Tom Walkers (stilts) that we “young’uns” made, on which we expertly walked and ran and all-but turned flips.

Trying to ride one of the ravine willow trees, which we would bend in and arch to the ground, which one of us would wrap our arms and legs around, which the others would gleefully turn loose, which we sometimes rode to a standstill, and which we sometimes didn’t.

Our Yuletide socks (everyday gray socks with white toes and heels) which we hanged on the wall behind the stove every Christmas, and into which Papa put one apple, one orange, and a few nuts each Christmas Eve.

Trading a cow for a piano for Mama, and the joy that came to her, and to our hearts and home, when Mama played the piano and sang.

1886 to 1981

In 1886, when Papa was born, the United States of America was composed of only 38 states, the population was slightly more than 50 million, and the federal budget took in $375,000 and spent $279,000.

In 1981, when he died, the population was 226 million, and the federal budget was nearing one trillion dollars!

In 1886, when Papa was born, the federal government received $1,027.00 per day and spent $764.00 per day.

In 1981, when he died, the federal government was spending almost 3 billion dollars per day.

In 1996, the federal budget (if we ever get one) will be close to 1.6 trillian dollars, and will spend almost 5 billion dollars per day.

Papa lived 94 years, 8 months, and 17 days without owning a foot of land, without owning a home, without having a paid vacation, without riding in an airplane, without seeing an ocean, without having a headache, without being a patient in a hospital, and without eating eggs or fried chicken (except when no other food was available, and on those occasions, he only nibbled.

Near the end of his life, he was physically weary and tired, and emotionally weak and lonely, and repeatedly expressed the desire to “go and be with Mama”. At the end of his life, after death had claimed him, I stood by his coffin and looked at his face and thanked God that he was finally still and quiet and painless and peaceful and at rest. His glimmering hope had become a shining reality, his lonely longing had become a firm possession, his unfaltering faith had become an infallible fact: He had finally”gone to be with Mama.”

Frank Upchurch, c. 1966
Frank Upchurch, circa 1966


Hal Upchurch, 1996