Phenomenal Woman

harold and grace crouch with children martin and kathleen
Harold and Grace Crouch CA 1951

The prompt for writers group was: “Bring to mind a phenomenal woman in your life and what made her unique. Write a story in her honor.” This is what I wrote:

She was a stunning brunette with brown eyes and a slender young-woman physique. She loved physical activity: basketball, swimming, golf, walking, and hiking in beautiful surroundings. She appreciated beauty, not just natural beauty, but also finely designed and crafted personal objects, art and music.

These attributes were surprising, given that Grace came of age on the high plains of Western Kansas.

Had I been a young man in that place and time, my heart would have leaped from my chest when I caught sight of her on the dusty streets of Leoti. That role was left to my father, the lanky, bashful, earnest and hard-working young man, who was 4 years her senior. It was reported that Father made a trip to the Post Office every weekday just to buy another stamp and steal a moment with Grace.

Unlike most rural young women of that time, Grace went to college and graduated with a Bachelors Degree in home economics. Having training in diet and nutrition, she qualified for a direct commission in the Womens Army Corps, where her tour of duty included hospitals in the South Pacific Saipan and Denver Colorado.

Born in 1947, I was her first. She was a talented mother, who molded and civilized my childish willfulness with encouragement rather than punishment. She taught me empathy rather than aggression, inspired me to do music, literature, and crafts  in addition to going outside to play. This, despite having four children, a demanding husband and a farm-wife’s role.

My experience allows no direct comparison; I had only one mother. Nevertheless, I will always see Grace as a remarkable woman for her strength of character and ability to do the mothering role with exceptional intuition and ability.

Sunglasses

Aviator Sunglasses
Aviator Sunglasses

The prompt for this writing was a pair of sunglasses motionless on the table. This is what I wrote.

“I have a pair of high-quality sunglasses that I no longer use,” Bill said. “I bought a pair of prescription sunglasses to replace them and if you can use them, I would like you to have them.”

I reached to accept the tan-colored leather and plastic case. “I lost my cool aviator-style sunglasses in an accident,” I said.

Opening the snap case, I’m looking at an old pair of RayBans with the gold frames – the kind we saw on State Troopers and 70’s-era rock idols. “Gee, these are great,” I said as I slipped them on. “The fit is nearly perfect; I’ll take them. Thankyou very much.”

I also notice that these have actual polarizing glass lenses in a green tint that looks very cool with the gold frames. Not often have I such good fortune.

Months pass and the two of us, Eddy and I, are traveling in the car with our son and daughter-in-law. It’s a bright Oregon day and I don my RayBans. My daughter-in-law remarked, “Hey those sunglasses are exactly like the ones my father used to wear. I always liked those glasses on him,” Her father was a state trooper prior to retiring.

I’m thinking that these 40-year-old RayBans are just the ticket for a Fall road trip around the West. Imagine gazing at the Half Dome in the early morning, outwaiting Old Faithful around noon, or watching sunset over the Tetons with my RayBans!

Mom’s Obituary

grace crouch bridal photo
Grace Brandner Crouch 1919 – 2014

My brother Glen Crouch wrote this obituary for our Mom, who died this year.

Grace Louise Brandner Crouch

GRACE LOUISE CROUCH 95, of Oakland, Oregon passed away April 26, 2014 at her home. She was born in Fountain, Colorado in 1919. Grace was the third of four children, all of whom are now deceased. She graduated from Kansas State University. Being a native Kansan, she loved basketball and played on the Wichita County High School team.

Grace enlisted in the United States Army during WW II and served as a dietician on Saipan and at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, Colorado and at a hospital in Buffalo, New York. When the war ended she returned home and married Harold Crouch. Together they came to Oregon and started married life on a farm along Calapooia Creek.

They were members of the Community Presbyterian Church in Oakland for 67 years. Grace was actively involved in the county home extension group and as a 4-H leader. Other involvements include Community Concert Association, Calapooia Ladies Club and Sutherlin Food Pantry. Some of the local people that hauled hay and sheared sheep at the farm are sure to remember her lunches during hay and shearing seasons. Grace raised a huge garden and canned literally hundreds of quarts of vegetables and fruits annually. She was a skilled seamstress, knitter, crotchetier, and an amateur painter. The neighbor children, her children and grandchildren all loved her dearly.

Survivors include her children; Martin Crouch (Eddy), Kathleen Pedersen (Keith), Glen Crouch (Sharnie) and Annette Harper (Randy); 12 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. Grace was preceded in death by her husband Harold L. Crouch and her sister Emma Marie Gray here in Douglas County. The family wishes to thank her companions and caregivers who took such good care of her and Harold. They enriched her life in so many ways. Memorial services will be held Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm at Oakland Community Presbyterian Church.

Dad’s Obituary

harold crouch young man
Harold Crouch 1915 – 2009

I wrote this obituary for Dad, who died five years ago. It is longer and more personal than typical. The obituary received both positive and negative feedback. I was grateful for this as it seemed to make Dad’s life more memorable.

Harold Laverne Crouch

Harold was a prominent Douglas County rancher. He had been living with the progressive symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease for several years. He died July 2, 2009 at age 93, at the Veterans Administration in Roseburg, Oregon.

Harold was born August 30, 1915, the fifth child of Orra Odell Crouch and Blanche Graham Crouch of Wichita County, Kansas. Orra and Blanche were children of homesteaders who migrated from Ohio and Wisconsin to the Great Plains of Western Kansas.

The Crouch family survived the great depression and the severe drought of the dust bowl years without losing their farm. But this time of travail caused missed opportunities. When Harold graduated from the eighth grade at the one-room Lone Star School, his formal education ended and he remained on home on farm, where he helped with farming, animals and machinery.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Harold enlisted in the Army and was sent to boot camp at Fort Lewis. On weekend leave, Harold took an opportunity to drive South to see agriculture in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He was impressed with the beauty of Oregon and the farms that he saw.

Harold met Grace Brandner on his visits to the Post Office in Leoti, prior to his enlistment. During his tour of duty, Grace enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. They corresponded during their years in the service, and Harold saved letters from this time. Grace and Harold were married at on August 21, 1946 at Manitou Springs, Colorado. Dreaming of a better future for their family, Grace advocated for moving away from the harsh environment on the Great Plains.

Shortly, after Grace’s discharge from the Army they traveled to Oregon in search of farmland. They purchased a 350 acre farm along Calapooya Creek between Umpqua and Sutherlin. The farm came with a small house, but was nothing to write home about. When Grace’s mother, Pearl Brandner, came to visit in the winter of 1946-47, she exclaimed, “Well Harold, I see you bought a shack in a mudhole.” With profits from the Kansas wheat harvest in the spring of 1947, Harold worked to rebuild his  neglected farm. He began construction of a three-bedroom ranch-style house, which became their home in 1951. Wisely, he constructed the house atop a broad mound of fill, mined from Calapooya creek. Thus the house stood about 3 feet above the plain. Waters from many floods of the 1950s often surrounded the house, but never invaded it.

Farming in Douglas County is different from Great Plains farming. Harold quickly saw that much of his farming knowledge would not work here, and he sought advice from experienced neighbors and the County Agent at the Oregon State University Extension Service. He believed in adopting innovative modern practices whenever practical.

Harold preferred crops that could be handled with machinery, but local folk wisdom is that Douglas County is livestock country. To achieve a more stable source of income, Harold raised sheep for more than 10 years. Many winter nights were spent scouting for new born lambs. Many spring days were spent doctoring the flock.  Harold kept meticulous records and attempted to improve the health of his flock through selective breeding. After practicing sheep husbandry for several years, he concluded that sheep are not well adapted to profitable ranching in Douglas County. He converted his operation to cattle, which are stronger and less prone to disease than sheep.

Despite the demands of farm, home and family, Harold provided time to give back to the Community. He and Grace attended most of the events at the Calapooya Club House, including the Farm Bureau, Calapooya 4H, birthdays, showers, potlucks and socials. Harold and Grace attended the Community Presbyterian church in Oakland. He provided extra effort in the 50’s, working with hammer in hand to help construct a new church. He also led Sunday School classes and advocated that the church do more to help the needy.

Harold shared knowhow, tools and farm equipment with neighboring farmers. Sheep ranchers having trouble with their operations sometimes visited, seeking help. He showed them how to pencil out a strategy for land and stock, using figures to be more realistic about costs for improving pastures, providing feeds, and buying stock. This helped them aim for ways to profit, always depending on the vicissitudes of the livestock market.

Harold’s talent for farm management was recognized by the community and he was recruited to the board of the Production Credit Association. He disdained the long meetings, but enjoyed the opportunity to review farming operations of loan applicants.

People may dispute what farm crops will grow in Douglas County. But nobody disputes that Douglas Fir grows well over most of the County. Experience with the timber on the adjacent Moore place proved to Harold that timber could provide an income to supplement other crops. His interested in forestry gradually grew.

With able help of Emmit Churchill, Harold added the Elkhead and Drain Hill tree farms in the 1970s and 80s. Many winter days were spent planting seedlings. Unlike most men his age, Harold preferred to work with the planting crew, carrying trees on his back, and a planting hoe in his arms. Because of his reforestation efforts, Harold was recognized as Douglas County Tree Farmer of the year in 1982.

At age 65 Harold retired and sold the family farm. Rather than adopt a life of leisure, he purchased a tired, brush-covered ranch from the Baimbridge family and set about to improve it. On this property, Harold brushed, worked and fertilized the soil to make it productive. He experimented with productive combinations of grasses and achieved remarkable grazing conditions. He added a paddock system of electric fences to easily relocate Cattle and give the grass a rest between grazings. With these achievements in place his son-in-law Randy Harper said, “Nobody can believe that Harold can produce so many grass-fattened feeder cattle on such a small property.”

Although Harold usually registered as Republican, he often thought more like a Democrat. This was most noticeable in his support for a government role of redistributing wealth from haves to have-nots.  When Bill and Hillary Clinton assumed their first term, Hillary was tasked with leading badly needed health-care reform. Unfortunately her efforts were opposed by powerful corporate interests and failed to generate a groundswell of support in the Congress. Harold penned a letter to her, expressing his support for her efforts and his empathy for the failure that she sustained. Hillary replied in writing: “Thank you for your thoughtful letter. Your words of encouragement and support mean a great deal to me.”

Well into his 80’s, motorists passing the farm via Stearns Lane could see Harold harvesting hay, doctoring cattle at the squeeze chute, or herding animals with his three-legged dog and ATV.

The family is grateful to the caregivers who provided in-home assistance for a year and a half, and the staff at the VA Protective Care Unit in Roseburg, who assisted him in the last two months, for their remarkable care and attention to Harold’s needs.

Harold is survived by his wife,  Grace Brandner Crouch, of Oakland, Oregon, their four children: Martin David Crouch of Portland, Kathleen Marie Knee of Oakland, Glen Roland Crouch of Salem, Annette Louise Harper of Oak Hill Road, 12 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren.

Please join the family at a Memorial Service on Sunday, July 12 at 3pm, at the Community Presbyterian Church, on SE 8th Street, in Oakland, Oregon. A light dinner will be served at the church, following the service.

Contributions may be sent to the Community Presbyterian Church or Oakland, Oregon or to the Oregon Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, http://www.alz.org/oregon/in_my_community_donate.asp.

Mother and Empathy

Mother
Mother and Me

Mother and Empathy was my personal contribution to the Grace Louise Brandner Crouch memorial service on Sunday, May 18, 2014.

I remember an early conversation with Mother. I am standing on the stool and washing my hands in the utility room sink. It’s too tall for me because I am only four.

Mother with tears in her eyes – “You told Wilsie that it was time for her to go home and you wanted her to leave. Did you see that she was angry and that she left after you said that? I felt very sad when you told her to go home. I don’t want you to tell her to go home again.”

Me in 4-year old language – “I didn’t mean to make her mad. I just wanted her to leave so you could play with me.”

Mother – “Even when you don’t mean to make someone mad, it’s not OK to tell them to go home. Wilsie is my friend and I want her to come and have coffee with me because I want to have time with my friends.”

I remembered this conversation mainly because Mother was so distressed about Wilsie’s reaction to my request. I had no idea that she was teaching me basic social skills and empathy.

I remember another empathy lesson about creatures. I had just entered the kitchen from outdoors, probably with a guilty look on my face.

Mother – “Have you been chucking apples at my chickens?”

Me – “Um, yes but I was throwing rotten apples and I wasn’t able to hit the chickens from across the yard.”

Mother – “I don’t want you to pester my chickens. It’s not right to hurt creatures just to entertain yourself. If you want to throw rotten apples, throw them at a tree trunk, or something that you can’t hurt.”

I thought that Mother might have a point there. I got that it was selfish to harass the birds for the fun of it. It was the earnest feeling in her message that made it memorable for me. I couldn’t believe that she really cared that much about the chickens.

A few years later, I wanted to impress my neighbors Susan and Sandy. While our parents were square dancing I decided to entertain them by taking apart and putting together mother’s table radio. I did well on the taking apart, but failed miserably on repair. The next day Mother and I had a conversation.

Mother – “Did you do something to my radio? It no longer plays.”

Me – “I thought you didn’t want that radio because I don’t hear you play it — so I was showing Susan and Sandy how to take it apart and put it back together.”

Mother – “That radio was my special radio. It’s the only radio that plays my favorite station in Roseburg. I play it when you are gone to school to keep myself company. It’s not OK to just take someone else’s things and take them apart — even if you think they don’t want them anymore. When I saw that my radio was broken I was so upset that I cried. I want you to promise me that you won’t use things that belong to others without their permission.”

I felt very very guilty about ruining her radio. What was I thinking? I don’t know how to assemble a radio. Anything beyond plugging a vacuum tube into the socket is beyond me.

Mother’s way of interacting helped me to respect the feelings and property of others much more efficiently than other parenting tactics such as lecturing, shaming and punishing.

Mother provided empathy training about the big-picture in human events as well. Throughout our primary school years, Mother routinely took time to read to us at bed time. The most memorable book she read was “Brave Men” by World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle. Pyle was a well known author who covered the War in Europe from the perspective of the ordinary soldier, sailor, and marine.

Pyle told stories from the point of view of men who did the work and the suffering of combat. Through this reading, I began to grasp the terrible cost of war. I don’t know if Mother intended to teach pacifism, but her readings about the experience of war helped me understand the rigors of wartime and left an abiding conviction that war creates far more problems than it solves.