Blasts from the past

Hi everyone,

It was a long week but a good one, as long as I don’t count losing all those books from print. I think I’ll amuse myself — and hopefully you — by posting a few excerpts from books are will be no more. Here are the two opening pages from EARTHQUAKES: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST MOMENTS; Boyds Mills Press, 2004. The dedication read: In Memory of John Harrison.

(Settlers in rustic cabins rousted by violent earthquake.)

In 1811, at two in the morning
just nine days before Christmas,
settlers in New Madrid, Missouri
all woke at once.
Their furniture was bouncing,
pots and pans flying.
Cabins shook.
Chimneys tumbled.
Roofs fell in.

(Outside ground is splitting, streams flowing into cracks, tree trunks flying.)

Outside was worse.
Trees snapped in two.
The ground rolled.
Here and there it cracked open,
swallowed streams,
and squirted muddy water.
People hundreds of miles away
felt the shocks.
At that time it was
the worst earthquake
in our country’s history.

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Visiting Granddad, my W.O.M. poem for August

Hi everyone,

Again I’m sorry to be so slow in posting August’s Word of the Month: men Here’s my contribution.

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned my grandfather William Harrison except in passing when talking about my dad, John Harrison. William was born in 1855 into a family that migrated from England to Canada to the United States, a family of boys who became veterinarians and girls who became nurses. Eventually he wound up in Missouri where he married Anna Webb and set up practice in Springfield. 20160812_122319_resizedHe died at 65 when my father was nine years old. I possess three treasures that once belonged to my grandfather, a text book from his college days, a pair of delicate wire-framed glasses, and his pocket watch. I never tire of looking at them. I wonder what I would have called this man had I known him in person when I was a little boy. Grandfather? Granddad? Granddaddy? Papa? Since I get to choose now, I’ll call him Granddad. This poem is about my granddad.

Visiting Granddad
20160812_125837_resized
Pale moon framed in gold,
metallic blue hands
delicate as architect arrows
aimed precisely at hour and minute.
Where 6 should be, a miniature hand
points to seconds ringed around its rim.

E. Howard of Boston made this watch
that Granddad carried —
on a chain no doubt –
one end fastened to his belt
so he wouldn’t lose it
on a dairy barn floor.

I imagine him,
his bad leg bent slightly,
one hand resting on someone’s cow.
Gold-rimmed spectacles perch on his nose,
E. Howard of Boston faithfully marking
the passing of his abbreviated life.
20160812_121801_resized

A book, glasses, and watch – all I have
of the grandfather I never knew,
personal objects handed down
from him to my father to me,
three generations of men
connected by past and present.

Today I get up the nerve.
For the first time in all these years
I twist the winding stem a few clicks,
wondering if it will snap off in my fingers.
The second hand starts
like a light sleeper startled awake
by the sound of tinny ticking.
20160530_124925_resized
I press the watch to my ear.
Its voice speaks to me
as it once spoke to him.
I smile at Granddad,
one hundred years removed.
I smile knowing I can summon him again,
visit him as he makes his rounds.

(c) by David L. Harrison

Happy Fathers’ Day

Hi everyone,

There have been some tender memories of fathers expressed this week on Facebook. Lots of good pictures too. My father, John Alexander Harrison, 8/23/1911 – 12/6/1989, lives still in a part of me that I visit often. He was my first mentor, my hero who carried me on his shoulders, built snowmen with me, took me sledding, and goofed up so much when he read stories to me that I had to be on my toes all the time to correct his outrageous errors.

The night he died of a heart attack, my parents were here with us to celebrate Sandy’s parents’ anniversary. When Dad excused himself from the table and went to bed, we worried. Later that evening he died in my arms as Mom and I cradled him on the bedroom floor. He was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after midnight so his death certificate gives the date as 12//7/89.

I never heard one person say one bad word about my father. If that isn’t setting the bar high, I don’t know what is. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you.

A sad memory

Hi everyone,

I had this set up to repeat an article about my dad on April 30 but other posts moved in ahead of it. Here it is a little late.
John and Neva Harrison
My father, John Harrison, was a good man. He was a good son too. His father died when John was twelve. At age sixteen he started working part-time to help his mother and two sisters get by. His first job was on the excavation crew for a company that laid gas mains. He carried a water bucket and dipper to thirsty men in the ditches. To break in the new kid, the men took turns yelling, “Water boy!” first from one end of the line, then the other. John’s father and uncles were all veterinarians, his aunts all nurses. John didn’t have the opportunity to pursue a career. Immediately after graduating from high school he went to work fulltime for the city. During the next sixteen years, he never missed a day.

Like many people, John dreamed of having his own business. In 1945, he joined with Bill Pauly and Guy Hall to create a company that manufactured concrete blocks for the construction industry. Bill was a carpenter, big and rough, proud of his skills and his raw strength. My dad was six feet tall but slender, bald, bespectacled, an office type good at math and record keeping. Guy worked for a lumber yard and didn’t become an active member of the firm until years later.

Bill and my dad built the block manufacturing building at the back of the lot they leased at 928 S. Glenstone in Springfield, Missouri. Bill knew how to do it so he was foreman. During construction, Dad was a walking disaster. He would come home after a day of back breaking work with cuts on his head from banging into low beams, his hands so blistered that he could hardly make a fist. But day by day the plant took shape and eventually they got it done. My father was proud of what he had helped accomplish. My first job was cycling down weeds at the front of the lot with Bill’s son Billy. We were eight years old.

Glenstone Block Company grew slowly, but it lasted. A lot of men raised their families on their pay from the firm. Sometimes Dad would take the whole crew to the river to fish. I remember riding on a flatbed truck down bumpy roads, trailing dust on those following us to the water. On one occasion, Bill nailed the head of a large catfish to the office door. Dad was furious. Bill couldn’t stop laughing.

In October, 1972 Dad became the last member of the original three partners. After running the company for twenty-seven years, he was ready to retire. In February, 1973 I accepted his offer to join him. I resigned from my position in Kansas City as Editorial Manager for Hallmark Cards and moved my family to Springfield. I managed the company as president for thirty-five years until I sold it in 2008.

John Harrison’s dream grew even after his death in 1989. The company expanded until it had one hundred employees operating two block plants, a distribution yard, a precast plant, and six hardware stores in five communities. After I sold the company, the new owner – also a block manufacturer – shut down the operation when the economy wouldn’t support it. The buildings, including the modern replacement of the plant that John and Bill built sixty-two years earlier, fell silent. The yard, once stacked with inventory, lay vacant. Vagrants came. Vandals stripped copper from machinery, stole steel pallets, and covered the walls with graffiti.

Monday night, April 30, 2012, someone set fire to the plant. I don’t understand how some people are capable of such destruction. I hope that person is caught. I hope he gets the help he needs before he hurts someone, before he destroys the memory-filled property of another family. My dad was a man of his word. He was liked, admired, and trusted by everyone. He was a loving husband to Neva and father to my sister Jule and me, a dedicated fisherman, and an honest friend. He also believed that you don’t spend your life feeling sorry for yourself or blaming others. The loss of his father when he was so young changed his life forever. He didn’t become a veterinarian. He started a company that supported hundreds of men and women over a period of six decades. In John Harrison’s world, you did the best you could with the cards you were dealt. The fire the other night has brought back many wonderful recollections of my father. For that, at least, I can thank the man who burned down Dad’s block plant.

An anniversary

Hi everyone,

Here’s a repeat from May 7, 2012. An arsonist had just burned down the block plant that my father and two partners started in 1945. A lot has happened since then but I took that occasion to write something about the wonderful man I was lucky enough to call Dad.

Today, December 7, officially marks the day that Dad died in 1989. That’s what the hospital record said. Truth is he died just before midnight on the 6th in my arms on the floor in our house after a fatal heart attack. He was kept on life support during the ambulance ride to the hospital but nothing could be done.

My father, John Harrison, was a good man. He was a good son too. His father died when John was twelve. At age sixteen he started working part time to help his mother and two sisters get by. His first job was on the excavation crew for a company that laid gas mains. He carried a water bucket and dipper to thirsty men in the ditches. To break in the new kid, the men took turns yelling, “Water boy!” first from one end of the line, then the other. John’s father and uncles were all veterinarians, his aunts all nurses. John didn’t have the opportunity to pursue a career. Immediately after graduating from high school he went to work fulltime for the city. During the next sixteen years, he never missed a day.

Like many people, John dreamed of having his own business. In 1945, he joined with Bill Pauly and Guy Hall to create a company that manufactured concrete blocks for the construction industry. Bill was a carpenter, big and rough, proud of his skills and his raw strength. My dad was six feet tall but slender, bald, bespectacled, an office type good at math and record keeping. Guy worked for a lumber yard and didn’t become an active member of the firm until years later.

Bill and my dad built the block manufacturing building at the back of the lot they leased at 928 S. Glenstone in Springfield, Missouri. Bill knew how to do it so he was foreman. During construction, Dad was a walking disaster. He would come home after a day of back breaking work with cuts on his head from banging into low beams, his hands so blistered that he could hardly make a fist. But day by day the plant took shape and eventually they got it done. My father was proud of what he had helped accomplish. My first job was sickling down weeds at the front of the lot with Bill’s son Billy. We were eight years old.

Glenstone Block Company grew slowly, but it lasted. A lot of men raised their families on their pay from the firm. Sometimes Dad would take the whole crew to the river to fish. I remember riding on a flatbed truck down bumpy roads, trailing dust on those following us to the water. On one occasion, Bill nailed the head of a large catfish to the office door. Dad was furious. Bill couldn’t stop laughing.

In October, 1972 Dad became the last member of the original three partners. After running the company for twenty-seven years, he was ready to retire. In February, 1973 I accepted his offer to join him. I resigned from my position in Kansas City as Editorial Manager for Hallmark Cards and moved my family to Springfield. I managed the company as president for thirty-five years until I sold it in 2008.

John Harrison’s dream grew even after his death in 1989. The company expanded until it had one hundred employees operating two block plants, a distribution yard, a precast plant, and six hardware stores in five communities. After I sold the company, the new owner – also a block manufacturer – shut down the operation when the economy wouldn’t support it. The buildings, including the modern replacement of the plant that John and Bill built sixty-two years earlier, fell silent. The yard, once stacked with inventory, lay vacant. Vagrants came. Vandals stripped copper from machinery, stole steel pallets, and covered the walls with graffiti.

Monday night, April 30, 2012, someone set fire to the plant. I don’t understand how some people are capable of such destruction. I hope that person is caught. I hope he gets the help he needs before he hurts someone, before he destroys the memory-filled property of another family. My dad was a man of his word. He was liked, admired, and trusted by everyone. He was a loving husband to Neva and father to my sister Jule and me, a dedicated fisherman, and an honest friend. He also believed that you don’t spend your life feeling sorry for yourself or blaming others. The loss of his father when he was so young changed is life forever. He didn’t become a veterinarian. He started a company that supported hundreds of men and women over a period of six decades. In John Harrison’s world, you do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. The fire the other night has brought back many wonderful recollections of my father. For that, at least, I can thank the man who burned down Dad’s block plant.