by Eric Todd
This is a picture of the barn Grandpa built in 1950, that I maintain and use today.
I have shared this story in a number of forms on a number of different occasions. But I feel it is worth repeating here once again. For anyone interested in seeing a brief video, the condensed version, please look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK3NYJs4nec
My Grandpa, Gus Lohman, was a farmer. He was a farmer all of his life. He came from generations of farmers. His Great Grandfather John Lohman came over from Germany. He built himself a dugout house, and according to a book on the history of Clinton County, Missouri, he became one of the prominent farmers in the area. Grandpa attended the old Deer Creek one room schoolhouse, where he graduated the eighth grade. That is the extent of his formal education. From there he became a farm hand, where he saved up enough money to purchase his own farm. Through his incredible work ethic and farm savvy, he saved up enough money to purchase the adjacent farm, giving him a farm of almost 500 acres, which he farmed successfully for the rest of his life. This is the farm I was raised on.
I grew up knowing Grandpa as a gruff, but kind man with a great sense of humor. But most of all, I remember him for his toughness. I worked on the farm with him a great deal as a kid. I started young and continued through my teenage years. Grandpa was always a fan of feats of strength. It was a huge compliment when Grandpa referred to someone as “stout”. However, I have never encountered anybody who was able to work the way Grandpa could. He never seemed to tire. And I was working with him when he was in his seventies and eighties.
I would later hear stories from the old men in the country store or around the neighborhood about Grandpa. One tells about when someone had been crude in front of a lady, Grandpa punched him so hard it sent him though a barn wall. Another was a story about a stallion that no one could break. This is when Grandpa was quite young. When Grandpa claimed that he would be riding that horse to town that night, no one thought it was possible. Until Aunt Josie and Uncle Sally were in their Model T on the way to the movies that night. A lone rider came galloping past them. It was Grandpa on that very stallion. These are a couple of many stories, and I was always intrigued by stories of Grandpa’s Strength.
However, the most impressive feat of strength was one I learned about after Grandpa passed. Deep into his eighties, Grandpa developed cancer and fought it off valiantly, but ultimately lost. I remember when I was very young, Grandpa “retiring”. He sold off his cattle and all his machinery. This lasted a couple months, and then he bought it all back and continued farming. At the time, as a small boy, I didn’t think much of it. However; after he passed, I was told that at that time, over 20 years prior, Grandpa had been diagnosed with cancer, and was given six months to live. He fought and lived well past that, and worked every day of it.
After Grandpa died, I decided there was no place I would rather live and raise a family then on Grandpa’s farm. I moved back, and took to taking care of it as well as weight training and strongman training there. The Grandpa’s spirit of toughness and hard work served, and still serves today, as a big motivator in my training.
My mother and father also live on Grandpa’s farm. They have most of my life. We always had a pretty simple, hard working life out there. When I was quite young (I believe 3 years old) I took note of Dad going out to run the country roads for exercise. I got the notion that I wanted to do what Dad was doing, so I would throw my mud boots on and light out after him. Before long I was running a mile or two at a time. When I was about nine, and had discovered that wrestling was something I could do competitively, dad made me a dumbbell to work out with. I used it religiously, along with doing pushups and sit-ups. When dad saw how determined I was, we made a makeshift weight room out in the old milk barn, and Dad and I would train together. After the workout, we would talk about what would make a champion, and even more important, what it took to make a man.
I never appreciated my father to the extent that I should have growing up. See, my father was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 13. HE didn’t have control of it through medication until he was around 30. At that time, he was finally able to obtain a drivers license. Because of the late start, he was never confident in his driving, but he braved treacherous roads in the winter without fail. He was often unsteady in walking due to his medication, but he always made it to work, even after a number of falls to ensure he made it to work to make a living to take care of his family.
For a few years as I was on the mend from a severe back injury, me and Dad trained together again. We competed together in powerlifting meets. It was a valuable experience to be able to train with dad again, and ultimately compete with him, side by side.
My mother was always the cement that held our family together. She was the rock that we would lean against for our own strength in hard times. She always gave to her family first, and often went without herself. A few years ago we had just had our little girl. My wife had to go back to work, but we were confident, as Mom would be taking are of Phoebe during the days. This went well for a few months, but one Sunday night, Mom called. She wasn’t feeling well, and would not be able to take care of Phoebe the next day. This worried me. I knew mom would have to be on her deathbed in order to not take care of Phoebe. The next day, I called to check on her. She was feeling worse, so I convinced her to get to the ER. She was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to have emergency surgery. After the surgery was over, I felt like I would need to be strong for her. What did I know? Even though she had been through that incredible trauma, had a ventilator in, and was only able to communicate through writing with her swollen hand, she continued to look after us, checking to be sure Dad had taken his medication and scolding us for not getting anything to eat.
Yeah, I come from good stock. Where will this legacy of Grandpa’s farm go? Where Everett is only 5 months old, Phoebe has been trying to lift things since she could walk. Though I scold her, when she is bench pressing the coffee table, or when she is supposed to be going to bed she grabs this 2# antique dumbbell I have setting by my chair and starts lifting it overhead saying “I’m exercising”, I know it is in her blood. My wife told me one day when she and Phoebe were out on the back deck where I have two throw away ez curl bars setting, and Phoebe went up and futilely tried to lift the first one. She said to herself, “That’s Daddy’s.” Then she went to the lighter one and lifted it about 4-5” off the ground. “That’s mine,” she beamed. I could only smile.
Yeah, I come from good stock. So what is my responsibility to the legacy of strength on grandpa’s farm? I will not push my children into weight lifting or sport if that is not something they want for themselves. But it is up to me to teach them the value of hard work, determination, tenacity, and more than anything, strength of character. To do anything less would do a disservice to those who came before them, and the legacy of Grandpa’s farm.