Friday, August 8, 2008

Me and Harve

Because my parents seemed to almost work around the clock, my maternal grandparents, Jim and Alice Rench, pretty much raised me until shortly before his death in August, 1955, about a month before my 11th birthday. My other grandfather, Marion Johnson, had passed away in 1930, fourteen years before I was born.

Harve Vories and his sister, Bertha Machan, lived just across the street from my grandparents. I always liked Harve and often pestered ‘Berthie’ and him long before my grandfather’s death.

Harve was a crusty old man. When I knew him, he was retired but always seemed to keep busy. In his younger days during the early 1900’s, he operated a ‘dray’ in Elnora. It was a light wagon drawn by one horse, and was used to deliver freight and other goods all around the town and surrounding area. Harve’s dray was pulled by his magnificent black horse named Prince and when people talked about Harve, they almost always mentioned Prince.

After my grandfather died, Harve pretty much adopted me as his grandson. Other than his sister, I don’t think Harve had a family, so he and I became really close. In my young eyes, he could do about anything. He had a workshop in his garage (he didn’t drive, but Berthie did) where he made wooden outdoor furniture including lawn chairs, benches, and porch swings. When I started school, long before my grandfather’s passing, Harve crafted a sturdy wooden desk for me complete with a center drawer in which I could store pencils and other supplies. He was also adept at carving hickory nuts and walnuts into little Easter baskets. I still have one that he made for me so many years ago.

We spent many days on his yard bench swapping stories and hand feeding the squirrels that ventured near. Some of his tales were a bit too ‘adult’ for my young ears, but rather mild by today’s standards. He always had a supply of Canada peppermints which he would share with me near the end of each visit. He kept the white ones in a big brown paper sack and the pink ones in a smaller bag. He’d hand me a few white ones and when I’d eaten them, he followed up with a pink one. At that point, I knew it was time to head home.

Harve was a pipe smoker and taught me how to make corncob pipes. He puffed Old Hillside tobacco which came in a little white cloth bag closed by a yellow drawstring. One day, after I’d made another corncob pipe, I finally convinced him to let me load it up with Old Hillside. He handed me a big kitchen match so I could light it myself, and after a few hearty draws, I felt like I’d swallowed a tub of dirty dishwater and the result wasn’t pretty. I don’t think I’d been that sick since my grandfather slipped me a wad of his Beech-Nut chewing tobacco years before.

I was amazed at what a great rifle shot Harve was. There were four mailboxes clustered on a wooden stand directly across the street from his house. He could take an old-style kitchen matchstick, put it into a crevice in the wooden post, sit in his yard chair across the street, and light it with one shot from my .22 rifle without knocking the match from the post. In those pre-PETA days, I also remember him shooting a big, black crow out of the top of an old, dead oak tree in my grandfather’s barn yard. The shot was also made from Harve’s front yard, a good hundred yards from the bird’s perch.

Grocers certainly didn’t make much money with Harve Vories as a customer. He ate the same thing every day of the year: Post Toasties and milk for breakfast, Dinty-Moore Beef Stew for lunch, and two slices of bread crumbled into a bowl of milk for supper. He was even more frugal when it came to haircuts. After the winter thaw, he’d head down to Sheldon Eubanks’ Barber Shop for his annual haircut, or should I say his annual shave. He would have his head completely shaven clean so by the time cold weather rolled around again, between his hat and the fringe of hair around his bald head, he’d keep warm until the next spring.

I didn’t see much of Harve after I went off to college in 1961. I’d visit him occasionally during summer breaks and even less often after graduation. Harve never forgot me, though. When our first son was born in 1967, Harve made him a little stool to sit on, saying it was the first project he’d done in his workshop in many years. After Scott outgrew the stool, it remained a fixture in our house, used primarily as a stepstool for Carol to reach to the tops of high shelves.

I learned of Harve’s death after it was too late to attend his funeral. To some, he was probably just a strange old man who sat on his bench with a squirrel on his shoulder. To me, he was like another grandfather.

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