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Many relatives and friends of his thought he might make it to the century mark, but he fell two years and nine months short.
On Feb. 1, Oldtown Valley, a farming community south of New Philadelphia, Ohio, lost its elder statesman of 97 years and three months old. I'm proud to boast that he was my uncle -- Gerald R. (G.R.) Spring.
A lifelong farmer -- he also worked for Republic Steel, U.S. Ceramic Tile Co. and was a rural mail carrier before retiring -- he died peacefully in a nursing home sitting in a chair watching television.
He grew up on my grandparents' farm 7 miles south of New Philly-- along with my mom and younger uncle -- and inherited it upon my grandma's death in the late 1970s.
He loved that farm and he loved the outdoors. Just a few months before his death, he was still climbing aboard his Massey Ferguson 165 tractor to brush-hog fields.
He bought that tractor in 1970 to replace the 1952 "red belly" Ford, which my grandpa had purchased nearly 20 years before. I drove both of them many times over the years.
During the calling hours and funeral, a collage of photos flipped from one to another on two screens in the corners of the room where the casket laid. My favorite was a shot of him pulling a wagon with the 165.
Before the minister delivered the eulogy, the late radio commentator Paul Harvey's touching "So God Made a Farmer" narrative was played. It was a fitting tribute to G.R. and all farmers.
Harvey first gave it in a speech in 1978 at a convention of the Future Farmers of America. During Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, a portion of the narrative was used in a commercial for Dodge Ram trucks.
"[God said] I need somebody with arms strong enough to wrestle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild.
"Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to await lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies, then tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon, and mean it."
Two of the people who attended the funeral were Jack and Ginny Ballentine, who live 3/4-mile down the road from G.R.'s farm. As far as I can determine, Jack, at 93 years old, is now the oldest farmer in the valley.
MEMORIES OF GERALD
Hundreds of times while growing up, I fondly recall slinging bales of hay in a field or in the barn's mow with Gerald, riding with him on the tractor while plowing a field, butchering a steer and picking corn.
I remember when we tore down the silo beside the barn, and especially the many Fridays when G.R. and I filled up the 1948 Dodge "Green Hornet" with cartons of eggs and dropped them off at stores in the city.
We almost always stopped at the Goshen Dairy for a three-dip ice cream cone -- which back then cost 5 cents a scoop -- and visit briefly with my great-aunt and uncle.
At the luncheon after the funeral, my cousin Hallie called for volunteers to share memories about G.R., and many people came forward.
My cousin Chris from Columbus told about how G.R. used to warn him -- when Chris was a little guy -- about the black snake in the old milkhouse watering trough. It actually was a black plastic pipe.
Some people brought up G.R.'s love of purple martins. He built several martin houses at the farm and at his homeplace about 2 1/2 miles down the road.
My story was about the day at the farm when a friend and I pulled some trees from the woods into a field with the 165 to split wood for burning in our fireplaces that winter.
WE WERE about to cut the logs with the chainsaw when G.R. drove up the long lane and started walking hurriedly into the field where we were.
"You can't cut those logs!" he bellowed. "That's walnut. I need that wood for planks for my new bridge across the creek."
He didn't seem really angry about our near-plunder, but if we'd have cut up those logs, I'm sure he would've been. I can't remember G.R. ever getting really angry about anything. He almost always had a smile on his face.
On that day, I learned a lesson about not cutting quality hardwood into firewood. I learned a lot of lessons from G.R. in my 61 years, and I wish he was still here to teach me more.
A memento of G.R. that I've saved and always will cherish is his photo on the cover of "Love Is," a weekly section in the daily paper serving Tuscarawas County which contained wedding, engagement and anniversary announcements.
The photographer -- Eric Albrecht -- who later went to work for the Columbus Dispatch, drove by G.R.'s house one sunny day in 1979 and spotted him hoeing in his garden.
The photo is a silhouette of G.R. with the hoe slung over his shoulder and the sun in the background. Inside the section was a short story about the life of "Farmer Spring," the simple man who touched many lives.
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