Saturday, November 19, 2016

Great stories about a great father

I don't like to be a public speaker, but my job this week was easy. I got to tell people who knew my father as a great guy stories about how great he was. I decided to tell about character traits that were obvious in Eldon Metteer's life, and where I believe he gained those attributes.

I started in his birthplace, Antelope, Oregon. Yes, Antelope is as small as it sounds. Let your mind work as you hear these facts. Antelope is on the dry side of Oregon, but there is adequate grass for a few cattle ranches and many more sheep ranches. It is about ten miles from a wide spot in the road called Bakeoven, but you have to travel a long way to find another town of even moderate size. The town has dirt streets that become mud streets when it rains. There are only a few hundred people who live there. The commerce is done mainly by people who cater to the ranchers, or provide goods for those heading east to Oregon's gold country. It is the kind of place that has a kid named Cabbage Murphy. My dad told me many stories about Cabbage Murphy, and how you could identify him because he was smoking a cigar, and he smoked stogies since he was five years old.

But I concentrate on another colorful character from Antelope, an older gentleman named Farquhar McRae. He was known for three things: He was a big drinker, he swore often (although he never did either of those around children because they needed good examples), and he had a heart of gold. If someone needed help repairing a barn, Farquhar was there early in the morning. Need help loading up a wagon? Farquhar was there. Pictures of him show Farquhar in a battered hat, dusty shirt, dusty pants, dusty boots. Farquhar was a common visitor to the Metteer homestead. My grandfather, Elmer, worked at a big cattle ranch, and my grandmother, Olive, had to take care of the house and her family. Farquhar was familiar with sheep ranching, and he served as foreman of some of those ranches. The story my dad told me centered on Farquhar showing up one day and asking my grandma what she needed. She said they were getting low on meat, and some mutton would be nice.

My dad was about five or six years old when this happened, and he tagged along with Farquhar as he did the task. Farquhar then had a large amount of fresh meat for the Metteers, and he brought it into the kitchen. My grandma asked him what she owed. My dad remembers Farquhar's reply like this: "M'am, if you happen to make a mutton stew, one bowl would be a right fine payment." That was the kind of statement you expected in Antelope. People didn't expect much because they didn't have much, but you took care of others and followed Farquhar's lead and went the extra mile.

What did Dad owe Antelope? Be tough-minded because this is a tough land, and care for others. Those lessons were part of Dad's way of doing things throughout his life.

The Metteers pulled up stakes and moved to The Dalles, a town about 80 miles northwest of Antelope on the banks of the Columbia River. They lived on a homestead outside of town for several years. Eldon was educated at St.Mary's Academy, The Dalles High School, and headed off to the University of Portland. He returned to The Dalles after his college years. Now, think of this next story as something out of the movie It's A Wonderful Life. Dad is walking down the street and a car pulls up beside him, and the driver bangs on the side of the door and says, "Hey, Dach, I have someone I want you to meet." (They called Eldon Dach, which is short for dachshund, because he was tall and slender.) The speaker was good friend Ernie Fagan, and he wanted Dach to meet his niece, Virginia, who was in town from Los Angeles. Well, Virginia saw Dach and thought he was a handsome dude, and Dach thought Virginia was a cute young woman. They dated, and they fell in love, and they were married on August 22, 1941. That meeting on the street started a 73-year relationship between Eldon and Virginia, and that's another attribute of my dad: intense loyalty and love. One picture on his memorial page shows Eldon tending to Virginia during the final few days of her life. There's Eldon loving on his girl, and taking care of her to the very end.

My dad also had a work life, and he took those earlier characteristics into his work. He heard the Union Pacific Railroad was hiring, so he headed 80 miles west and went to the railroad's Oregon headquarters in Portland. He was told there were no jobs available. What did the tough-minded kid from Antelope do? He waited in the office through the rest of the morning, lunch hour, and the entire afternoon. The district manager came out of his office to head home, and the secretary pointed out this young man who waited all day. The manager told Dad there were no jobs. Dad told him he was getting married soon, and he had to have a job so he could take care of his wife and any children they might have. The manager called Dad into his office, probably heard stories about growing up in Antelope and The Dalles, and he hired Dad on the spot.

Dad worked for the Union Pacific for nearly four decades, but that was only part of his responsibilities. He also was a union representative, and he often defended employees the company wanted to penalize. I remember many times when Dad would come home from a road run into far Eastern Oregon, and he would be dead-tired. He might nap for an hour or two, but I would see him carrying a big stack of papers down the hall. He spread those papers out over our dining room table, and Dad would spend hours going over railroad handbooks, union guides, and papers he prepared for other cases. He would jot down his thoughts on a legal pad, and he was more than ready by the time he showed up to take on company officials in what were termed "investigations". My dad had a lawyer's mind, and he carved up the company's arguments in the vast majority of the investigations he handled. Can you see those life attributes at work in that union job: tough-mindedness, caring for others, intense loyalty?

Dad also was true to his faith. He not only gave a mental approval to Christianity, but he put those foundations into action. He was active in church food programs, visitations to the elderly, and healing ministries. He was the kind of guy who would go the extra mile to take care of others at the prodding of this revolutionary from Nazareth.

I am a journalist, and I could go on and on with things to say about my dad, but I leave the final words to someone else. That man is Ace Brown. Ace was one of those Union Pacific officials Dad locked horns with during investigations. I ask forgiveness from the pastor doing Dad's service for my next statement, but I said Ace got his ass kicked by Dad on more than a few occasions. Well, I worked on the railroad during three summers in my college days. One year I headed to Spokane, Washington, and who is the district manager there? Ace Brown. I passed an oral exam before Ace that was required even if I had previous experience on the railroad, and Ace had me sit down after the exam. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I told him I was attending the University of Oregon and studying journalism because I wanted to be a newspaperman. He said the railroad was looking for good young people, and I told him I didn't want a railroad job. Ace then leaned forward and looked at me. "No matter what you do, if you get later in life and are as good a man as your dad, then you are a complete success." Those words were from a guy who often was Dad's adversary, but Dad earned Ace's great respect.

I will say this in response to Ace: If I am half a good a man as my dad, then I am a complete success. I thank God for the 99-plus years He kept Dad with us. We were blessed beyond measure.

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