1st in a 3-part series

My father was Charles Stephen Overmyer. His friends - and there were many of them - knew him as Charley, never as Steve, for he disliked his middle name intensely.

He was of medium height with a lean, muscular build produced by a lifetime of hard work on the farm and elsewhere. Dark, straight hair topped a friendly, easily-smiling face punctuated by a deep dimple in the chin.

In my callow youth I didn't always get along with him, but he never raised a hand to me and for the last 30 years of his life we were the best of friends. He's been dead for over 20 years and a week never goes by that I don't think of him. No subsequent compliment ever has gratified me as much as when he told me during his final years that he was proud of me and that I had been a good son.

Dad was a man of many talents. He had all the skills of a successful farmer, including stamina. Over a lifetime of pursuing material success he, at various times, ran two general stores, did factory work long enough to discover he abhored it, then directed as many as 20 men in the construction of electrical power lines while at the same time operating a chicken hatchery, feed mill and a farm. Later he opened an automobile and farm implement dealership and finally took up the quieter role of realtor. And that gave him the leisure to produce oil landscape paintings of enduring charm, thus reviving a drawing talent he first practiced as a boy.

His partner most of this time was my mother, born Edyth Kingery in Rochester, to whom he was married 43 years until her untimely death in 1957. He was devastated by her loss, but a year later was fortunate to be accepted as husband by a gentle widow, Vivian Wagoner Trout. She endowed his life with such love and grace that he lived enthusiastically for another 21 years, dying in his 85th year on September 16, 1978. It is our good fortune that Vivian is with us yet today.

Of my father's life, of his successes and of his troubles I knew little until he decided near the end of his life, and quite on his own, to record the story. This he did for many days, sitting in the window of his realtor's office on East Eighth Street just west of The Sentinel office and filling 12 single-spaced typewritten pages with vivid recollections. This man, among his other endowments, was an articulate and sensitive writer, which is another reason for me to be grateful to him.

Dad's recollections are a fascinating glimpse into how life two generations past was lived by a boy off the farm who was ever striving to improve his fortunes. Today and the next two weeks I offer excerpts from his memoirs with my own comments placing them into context, sometimes but not always in parentheses.

He begins, as one might expect, at the beginning:

"I was born on December 16, 1893, one mile south of my grandfather's old homestead in Richland Township, Fulton County, Indiana. . . .The house sets up on a small hill with the barn and other buildings at the bottom of it and barnyards bordering onto low pasture land." His grandfather was Levi Overmyer, who emigrated in 1855 from Ohio to Richland Township north of the Tippecanoe River. The homestead was at the corner of today's Roads 700N and 325W. The house south of there where Dad was born is unoccupied today.

"I was the last born of a family of five children (four boys and a girl) and was the runt of the family. My mother often told me that the reason that I was so frail and puny was because I had the whooping cough when I was two months old and they gave me such strong medicine it ruined my stomach and also my teeth."

Dad was about 10 years old when he moved with father Frank and mother Inez to the Overmyer homestead, along with sister Grace and brothers Anson, Vern and Lloyd. The homestead farm "had been a showplace in its time with a wood picket fence in the front yard and a two-story, eight-room house with two large porches in the front and a large red barn with fancy shuttered cupolas on the roof." (The house burned in 1925 and was replaced with a smaller structure.)

My father had an abiding dislike of alcohol. He never tasted it nor did we ever have it in the house for medicinal or any other reason. He was not prone to lecture me or my sister, June, against its use so I often wondered about the origin of his abstinence. His memoir explains:

"My father, as I know now, was the ambitious one of his family and had bought a woods north of where we lived, and to pay for it he cleared it off and cut firewood which he hauled all the way to Rochester in the fall and sold it by the cord. This was a long and cold trip, so I guess the only heat he could get to warm him up on his trip home was whiskey, and sometimes when he got home he was just TOO warm, and this mother did not go for a minute. She just hated alcohol of any kind. I have no recollection of this one incident but I think Lloyd told me that he (Dad) came home one night pretty quarrelsome and mother took the buggy whip to him. I remember that something happened and they didn't speak for weeks. This worried me more than it should have a normal child."

The worry sometimes had to do with his father's condition upon returning from frequent visits to Rochester. "I had a chore of filling the woodbox every evening before night and I got the silly idea that if I did it too soon or too late when he was expected home from town, he would be in bad shape, but if I would wait until the sun was just the same place in the west, he would be in a good mood. So, I would sit and look out of the west window until my sun was at that right place and then I would go fill up the woodbox. Mother knew that I would wait until a certain time but never why."

Children, to be sure, often find contentment in the illogical.

Dad's mother was his love and refuge, as he reveals in another recollection. "I remember she was very sick and I was certain she was going to die. The world stood still for me and then she was converted on her sickbed. This was the work of a God who is always with us and was not by any influence of man . . . . I still can remember her saying she was going to get well and that she was going to be a better woman and go to church if possible, which she did every chance she had until her death. I often thought that if there is a heaven my mother will surely be there. I think I loved her more because of her and dad quarreling so much and I thought that she was all I had. I suppose that I did care for my dad when he wasn't mean, but mostly I feared him." (As an adult and after his mother's death, Dad created an amicable relationship with his father. He purchased from him the family farm, enabling his father to buy a house and move into Rochester for his final years.)

It wasn't long before Dad began to visit Rochester himself and there he met the woman who would be my mother. That story's next.

Published Aug. 17, 1999