It’s not often you hear about someone in the United States living to the ripe age of 96 and never having to go into a nursing home. I have not had the privilege of meeting many people who are over ninety years old, ever. Fred McPherson was a wonderful, kind, generous and loving man who was like a grandfather to me, and he passed away this week in Itasca, Texas, at the age of 96. I attended Fred’s funeral today with members of our family, and was reminded of a multitude of fond and happy memories which made the occasion joyful despite our sadness over the loss of Fred. This photo was taken back in 2003, when my son and I visited him at his Itasca home after we saw the Kansas State Wildcats lose to the Aggies of Texas A&M down in College Station:
I spent a couple weeks in the summer when I was growing up staying with Fred and his wife Alice, working (sort of) in their hardware store and learning a great deal about life and living. I may have spent time two different summers with them in Itasca, but I am not sure. My memories of Itasca and the time I spent with Fred and Alice are crystal clear, however. These memories as a 9 and 10 year old include:
- The first time I ever drove a vehicle – one of Fred’s trucks.
- The wonderful taste of garden fresh cantaloupe and tomatoes from the McPherson’s outstanding garden for dinner each night.
- The “clean plate club,” of which I was a regular member at meals thanks to Alice’s outstanding cooking.
- Buying my first real pocketknife, a Buck knife, the “Folding Hunter” model which Alice thought was too big for me but I thought (and Fred approved) was perfect for me.
- Going with Fred into the garden to pick tomatoes, cantaloupe, squash, okra, and other fresh vegetables in the evenings.
- Eating WAY too much cheddar cheese from a HUGE block of fresh cheese Alice purchased from a local dairy, and getting VERY sick later that night as a result.
- Camping at Lake Whitney in their Airstream trailer, playing games in the air conditioning (since it was WAY to hot to spend much time outside during the day) including Skip-Bo.
- Getting up early in the morning and going to the hardware store with Fred, and being so impressed at the gun he always took with him and placed on the truck’s dashboard as we drove. (I heard a story that he had once killed a snake with it, and I found that extremely impressive.)
- Delivering air conditioners and refrigerators with another boy who was about six years older than me, and running the “tommy lift” on the back of the pickup as we made deliveries around the area.
- Drinking cold Mountain Dew and eating 3 Musketeers candy bars when we would go on “break” at the store during a summer afternoon.
- Taking afternoon naps on a couch in the dark, 2nd floor of the hardware store.
My biological grandparents, R.D. and Trudy Henley, had been best friends with Fred and Alice ever since they were stationed together as members of the US Army’s signal corps in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, working on the top-secret Manhattan Project as mechanics. Fred was a born “fix-it” man, and following World War II went on to own and operate his own hardware and appliance store in Itasca, Texas, for many years until he finally sold it and retired around 1989.
One of the best things my parents have done, relating to Fred and his life, was conduct an oral history interview with him in the fall of 2005 for almost an hour and a half. Fred recounted what it was like to grow up dirt poor in south Texas in the years leading up to World War I, and his experiences living through the depression, World War II, and afterwards. Our family listened to that interview over the car stereo as we drove down to Itasca late Thursday night, and it was just like Fred was in the car with us.
The recorded voice of Fred, telling stories from his life, is a priceless gift. Digital storytelling and oral history preservation is something EVERY family should commit to do. As Eric Langhorst challenged listeners in his December 2007 podcast, “Create a Family Memory This Holiday Season,” families have opportunities each holiday season (or whenever a get-together happens) to tell, listen, and record stories from elder members.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for recording and sharing those memories of Fred’s life. Fred, thank you for both sharing them, and more importantly, for CREATING so many wonderful memories for me personally during your long and wonderful life.
We’re missing you already, but the memories you’ve given us will last a lifetime.
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