Sunday, June 17, 2007

Grandpa Vic

When Father's Day comes around, I always think of my grandfather, Rolland Victor 'Vic' Phend. Tuesday (the 19th) will be the 113th anniversary of his birth in 1893 and tomorrow (Monday the 18th) is the 16th anniversary of his death in 1991. Grandpa died the day before his 98th birthday. Since his birthday was always so close to Father's Day, there was usually a family gathering or picnic around that time. Sometimes everyone would be able to attend and at other times it was just a few, regardless, we always had a good time.

Photographs: Vic Phend, probably about 1917 - - With his family, 1942, backrow: Ginny, Billy, Phyllis, Pat. seated: my grandparents, Hazlette and Vic. in front: Shirley - - Grandpa with his WWI picture, taken in the spring of 1990.

Grandpa Vic was not what you would call a 'hugger' or 'kisser' which was good in a way, because he chewed tobacco and always had a big hunk of it in his mouth. I vividly remember the coffee can beside "his" chair and the smell that emanated from it. We tried to avoid it at all costs but occasionally, being rambunctious kids, the can would get bumped and overturned and the contents spilled out. It was not a pleasant site, believe me.

The oldest of the ten children born to Henry and Susie Yarian Phend, Grandpa was born in Harvey, Cook County, Illinois . His parents had moved there shortly after their marriage in the fall of 1892 at Nappanee, Elkhart County, Indiana. Henry was one of the thousands of workers hired to help with the construction of the buildings for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Sometime after Grandpa was born Henry became sick with "the fever" and they returned to Nappanee.

Grandpa stated many times that his father was quite sick and stayed with his parents at Hepton for a time. Grandpa stayed with his mother at her parents' home in Locke. Hepton was a mile south of Nappanee and Locke was a mile north. He also spoke of "having the run of the town" as a child, along with his younger brother Cecil. His mother had three sisters and two brothers and their families living in Locke and Nappanee. His father had his parents, four brothers, a sister and their families living in Hepton and Nappanee. Grandpa said he really did not like going to his grandparents' house at Hepton (the Phend's) as they were too strict.

Just before the turn of the century, about 1898, Henry moved his family to Columbia City in Whitley county, Indiana. He became a well-known building contractor and most of his sons worked for him at one time or another. Even as a youngster, Grandpa would carry bricks and clean up the work site. His father often took him out of school because he was needed for a job. Though his formal education did not extend beyond the 8th grade, he was a well read and educated man.

As a young man, one of the things Grandpa did for recreation on a Sunday afternoon was to take a train ride to another town, usually Plymouth or Fort Wayne, spend a few hours there and then return to Columbia City. After one rather long and hard job (the Methodist Church in Columbia City) was completed in 1913, Vic and a buddy, Tim Hively, caught a train out of town that was heading west and didn't come back for quite a while. They went as far as their money would take them and ended up somewhere in South Dakota.

They worked around a small town for a while when a farmer offered them room and board and clothing until the crops were sold the following fall, then he would pay them their wages. So they worked for the farmer until that fall, but the farmer didn't make any money so he couldn't pay them cash. By this time, Tim Hively was homesick. They worked odd jobs until they had enough money to pay his fare back home. Grandpa got a job working a crane dredging along the Mississippi River, so he stayed on a while longer. He never did say how long he was gone. Now, I don't know how much of that is true, because Grandpa had a tendency to exaggerate a bit when telling his tales. His children inherited that trait also. ;-)

However, I recently found the following on Ancestry's newspapers: The Fort Wayne Daily News, Thursday, March 15, 1917 - "Victor Phend left Tuesday for Muscatine, Ia. to accept a position on the Chapman Bros. dredges, the manager, L. L. Chapman, leaving here Monday for the west." His World War I Draft Registration Card gives his occupation as "Craneman on dredge" and his employer is listed as Chapman Bros. So at least the part about his working on a crane dredging the river is true!

Grandpa was very proud of the fact that he had enlisted in the Army at the beginning of World War I instead of waiting to be drafted. I don't know if it really made a difference, but he thought that he had gotten "special treatment" in the Army because he was an enlistee instead of a draftee. While in the Army, Grandpa was assigned to Company C, 309th Engineers and served in France. Although he never saw combat action, he was an expert marksman and as such was assigned to reconnaissance missions and sniper duties. While on a patrol to go after a prisoner, he was gassed. His mask didn't work properly so there was extensive damage to his lungs. He was sent to a French hospital for about two weeks, then returned to his company for regular duty.

At the time of his discharge in June 1919, he wanted to get out of the Army so badly that he told them he wasn't sick. That denial of his illness prevented him from receiving many of the benefits awarded to other victims of World War I gas attacks. He wasn't out two weeks before he was back seeking medical help. Because of the damage to his lungs and asthma-like attacks, the diagnosis was that he probably wouldn't live long. Well, he proved the doctors were wrong, living until the day before his 98th birthday. But he was sick for many years and for a long time had to sleep sitting up in a chair.

Because he could no longer do the heavy construction work he had done before the war, the government sent Grandpa to a typewriter repair school. He got a job with Rozell Typewriter Service in Fort Wayne. He was living in Columbia City at the time and commuted on the train.

On October 15, 1921 Grandpa married my Grandmother, Hazlette Brubaker. They raised a family of five children. Their's was not a perfect marriage; rather stormy at times. They were divorced, got remarried, and divorced again. They lived at various times in Columbia City, Fort Wayne, Troy township in Whitley county, Elkhart, and finally settled in Larwill in Whitley County.

Often were the times when he'd load up the kids in the car and take off for a "Sunday ride". There would not usually be a destination in mind when they left but when cherries or peaches were in season, they knew they were off to Michigan. And never did he go anywhere that he came back the same way! Back roads were the rule. You'd see more that way than you would if you stayed on the main highway!

When I was about 10 years old Grandpa and my aunt, Shirley, took my brothers and me on a trip to the Wisconsin Dells. I don't know if he ever took any of his other grandchildren on a trip, but we sure felt special at the time.

For nearly thirty years Grandpa worked for Rozell's, then he opened his own shop in September 1950, with his son Bill. But even before he had enlisted in the Army, Grandpa had been an apprentice at a Columbia City bakery. He learned to make the usual pies, cakes and cookies as well as candy. Many a weekend and evening he would spend making his delicious candies. Most of them were given away or donated to bake sales. Christmas was a time when he was especially busy. We looked forward to those candy making times and just couldn't hardly wait to get a taste of the turtles or cashew glace. A bit of "fame" came his way when the Warsaw Times Union printed a feature story on his candy making exploits in December 1963. At that time he had already been making candy for twenty-five years. My favorites were the turtles, but he also made cashew glace, chocolate fudge, fondant, caramels, candy canes and taffy.

Grandpa worked as a typewriter repairman, traveling to Fort Wayne every day for nearly sixty years, until he was 88 years old. He retired only because he could no longer lift or carry the machines. The candy making stopped a year later when he sold his house in Larwill to my cousin and moved to a small apartment in Columbia City. He still drove his car to visit his children and friends until the car died when he was 95!

Grandpa was also an avid gardener and passed his love of growing flowers and vegetables down to several of his grandchildren, including myself. After his car quit running, I'd go into Columbia City every Sunday and bring Grandpa out to "the farm" where we lived in rural Noble County, about 10 miles north of Columbia City. As we drove out from Columbia City, Grandpa would give me the directions by grunting and pointing in the direction we needed to go, as if I didn't know the way! As we passed the Scott/Kiester cemetery he'd always say "Girlfriend's buried there" and then "she lived there" when we passed by the next farm. Grandpa was engaged to Blanche Kiester when he went into the Army. She died on March 5, 1920 of influenza and pneumonia. I've often wondered how different things would have been if he had married Blanche instead of my grandmother. A moot point, I guess, because I wouldn't be here if he had married Blanche.

In the spring and summer, once we got to the farm, the first thing he would want to do was to go out and see how the flowers were doing and inspect the garden to see if we had missed any weeds. Oftentimes he'd grab the hoe and go to work himself.

Grandpa lived in his apartment until failing health forced him into a nursing home in December 1990, six months before his death. He had an overwhelming sense of curiosity. He loved to tinker and find out how things worked. If something broke you could count on him to fix it, and, like his father, if he did something, you knew it was being done right! He was always willing to help others but seldom asked anything for himself. About the closest he ever came to showing affection was when he'd put an arm around your shoulder or tease you about something silly. Though he never spoke the words, I know he loved us. I miss him, but he is still here, I can feel it sometimes.

1 comment:

Janice said...

Thank you for the heartwarming story and your photographs of your grandfather.