I used to call my father-in-law an “expert fisherman.” Emery loved to start a “lively discussion” at family dinners or whenever the time was convenient to him. He would toss the bait out—usually current politics—and slowly reel his line in. He was very patient; sometimes he would just let the bait sit out there. Cast and reel in women’s rights, cast and reel in the current economy, cast and reel Kent State, cast and reel Viet Nam. Wham! Someone would grab the bait, he lands a beauty—and there is no escape or retreat. A doomed argument ensued, and Emery would get this sly grin knowing that he got ya.
I married my wife, Barbara, 39 years ago. And so began my warm relationship with my in-laws. We went over for Sunday dinners of pot roast, carrots and potatoes, and pies. There was always a pie cooling in the kitchen. I was in heaven. Emery was a very conservative-thinking individual, and after dinner on Sunday, he would read the paper and the fishing would begin. All it took was an article that rankled him. His comments would bait the hook, and we were off and running with the damned discussion. I would mentally smack myself in the head and curse the fact he got me or my wife again.
However, he was the father I never had; he took me under his wing when I married his daughter, and I learned a lot from him. He was always patient and methodical when he was explaining a project. I soon learned to have a mechanical problem or a gardening problem on hand when my wife and I would visit, because that would sidetrack his urge to fish for “lively discussion” topics. After a respectable time passed, and I knew the “fishing gear” was about to come out, I would toss out my current issue. Emery was very geared to mechanical problems, and once he caught the gist of my problem he became intent on solving it. Then I was the one with the sly grin.
He was a person with a great sense of humor, too. The family owned about 8 acres, and Emery’s dream was to be a small farmer. While still working as a project engineer for a company that manufactured rubber products, Emery was set on clearing some of his property for growing cukes for pickling, red raspberries, and to fulfill the wish of his wife—an extended pasture for raising Arabian horses. That is, however, another story.
This project involved cutting trees down, clearing brush, etc. Emery was the person who handled the chainsaw. He paid little attention to where his help might be and would just cut away. It was up to us to duck and run, and if one of us yelled when he was dropping a limb too close to where we were standing, he would just grin and ask, “What were you doing standing there?”
My mother-in-law was the philosopher of the family. I had many discussions with her over the years and she, too, was getting a little tired of the “fishing excursions.” Over the years, Emery had become involved with making wine and beer, and she liked the idea my wife proposed about learning the craft. It would be good for him to pass his knowledge on. After all, Emery had learned the process of wine making from his father, so it was time to hand it down.
This was the best move ever. When were together, our concentration was on brewing beer or wine. We discussed specific gravity, malts, hops, wine chemistry, grapes, and it was a magic process when we were brewing. No politics, no arguments, just the sound of the bubbling coming from the airlocks that kept the outside world from contaminating the brewing wort (beer) or must (wine).
Emery died in 1995 from cancer. During his last six months of life, he endured a great amount of pain. But, even during this time, he maintained his sense of humor. Once, my wife and I brought over some huge potatoes we had grown in our garden, and he immediately ordered me to weigh them on the scale he had in the basement. I obliged, and the one was almost 2 pounds; his comment was, “That was some Joner!” He was also amazed at our raspberries that we grew without spraying or fussing over. My wife would bring fresh-picked berries to their house, and they never made it past Emery. She would give them to him and he would just shake his head because they were so good.
When he was close to death, he died after he was certain that all the family was present and he had spoken to them. He was making sure that all were well. No more “fishing expeditions.” This November marks the 20th year since his passing. I still miss him.