Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Guileless Fred Anderson

I don't travel to Idaho as often as I'd like, but I found myself traveling there last week for the funeral of my best friend's father, Fred Clinton Anderson.

This was the picture of him included in his obituary:

Fred was also one of my former employers; our personal chauffeur; my water skiing instructor; stand-in for school projects; ward clerk; and part of a dying breed of humans who knew how to do just about everything.

I'm really sad that Fred is gone, sadder than I thought I would be. Fred lived a good life and lived to a good age of 78. But the older I get, the younger 78 seems, and I'm really sad Fred isn't on this earth any longer.

His oldest son Joel gave a beautiful talk at the funeral about his dad's life, and one of the things he said was how his family was trying to remember all the good times they had with their dad and be grateful for the time they shared with him, rather than be bitter about his passing.

I'd like to do the same with this blog post.

Fred had a large dry-wheat farm just outside Cassia County in Sublett, Idaho. It was approximately 20 miles from the Utah border, and about 45 minutes from my home town of Heyburn. He grew up in north Cache County Utah, married a girl also from north Cache County, and graduated from Utah State University in industrial design.

Fred moved his family to Heyburn with the intent of teaching school in the winter and farming in the summer, so he found a teaching job in Rupert, Idaho, and moved his family to a home in Heyburn. Teaching school and farming proved to be too hard to balance, so Fred gave up his teaching job, but kept his family in Heyburn.

I'll be forever grateful for that, because that's where I met my best friend Keri. She was born exactly 18 days before me, and we like to joke that we were friends in the womb. Her parents were in my parents ward. I sometimes like to think that maybe our families were old friends back in the old country of Denmark.

Keri was the baby of the family by quite a ways. Her older brother was five years older than her, and the next oldest sibling to her brother was nine years older than her. The Andersons had five children in all: Joel, Julie, Jaime, Cory, and Keri.

Since Fred wasn't as busy in the winter, he would often take me and Keri around to anywhere we wanted to go. He'd drive us to the bowling alley, skating rink, store, movies. We'd usually stay for a good three or four hours, then we'd call Fred to come pick us up.

I remember once I was going through a "my hair has to be perfect" phase. Keri and I were planning on going bowling one Saturday, and I was trying to do my bangs "just so." This was the late 80's,  afterall, and a girl's bangs were important: not ratted too high, but not too little either.  Fred pulled up, and Keri ran in to get me.

"Just a minute," I said, as I continued curling, ratting, hair spraying, curling again, ratting again, etc. I think I made Fred wait in that car for a good 15 minutes. Finally Fred came into the house to see what was the hold up. It dawned on me he had been waiting all that time in the car. Sheepishly, I walked out to the car. Today I try to think of Fred calmly waiting when I see my 9-year-old daughter has entered the "my hair must be perfect" phase, and redoes her ponytail for the 400th time. (The other day we were driving somewhere and the first thing she asked as she was getting out of the car was, "How does my hair look?" Oh, how what goes around come around.)

Fred bought a boat when we were around the age of 12. He would take us out boating and patiently try to teach us to waterski. The first time I actually got up on skis was behind Fred's boat. One time the town of Heyburn hosted a "boat parade." We all went down to the boatdocks to be on Fred's boat for the boat parade.

I think Fred brought a few baloons to decorate the boat. Only two boats showed up for the boat parade: Fred's and another person's. We still went through with it, though. As we passed under the bridge that spans the Snake River from Heyburn to Burley, cars were pulled over and people were lined up to watch the boat parade. I'm pretty sure they were all sorry they wasted time to witness the event.

We all laughed, and were also slighlty embarrassed. Fred was probably laughing the hardest, but he didn't care. He was determined to have a good time with his family and friends.

When we were in ninth grade, Keri and our friend Jana decided to make a movie for their Romeo and Juliet project. They decided they would film an episode of Sally Jessy Raphael (a talk show on TV with highly intellectual subjects such as, "My mom thinks my husband is a loser for being a male stripper"). We chose Sally Jessy Raphael because Carol, another one of our friends, could kind-of look like her. Sally Jessy's guest would be Juliet (played by Jana), her mom (played by me), and Romeo's mom, played by Keri. During the show we'd film flashbacks of Jana and Romeo (played by one of the Crockett boys, who were my neighbors).

In one of the flashback scenes, Juliet is at a dance with Paris. We needed an older gentleman to play Paris. Fred happened to be home, so we asked him. He played the part perfectly, bowing with a fur-type German hat, and dancing with Jana, who appeared bored to tears.

Fred loved to work with wood. I have many things made from wood by Fred, and then Keri would later paint the pieces and give them as Christmas or birthday presents. They were handmade and heartfelt. For graduation, Fred made each of the graduates a wooden recipe box. For another school project that Keri and I did for science class, Fred made us a wooden replica of a cow.

Keri has since continued Fred's love of woodworking and has made whole beds for her girls. I'm sure her dad was proud.

One summer Fred hired us to work on his wheat farm. He had a mobile home on his farm with three bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and satellite TV. We were so excited to be there. We slept in one of the rooms that night, and woke up early to work on the farm.

We started with a great breakfast including orange juice, pancakes, and eggs. We'd tell ourselves, "We've got to eat a lot of food to have strength to work on the farm."

Then we drove out to the wheat fields, each of us armed with a scythe. In wheat farming, you walk miles to cut down any rye growing within the wheat. Rye grows taller than wheat, so you can spot it fairly easily. Lots of rye with wheat brings the price and quality of the wheat down, is what Fred taught us. Fred worked right along side of us; always there to point out a rye poking out of the wheat. We started out like gang busters, but as we kept walking, we grew less enthusiastic.

We also became super thirsty. We didn't think to carry water bottles with us. We'd try to make it more difficult by thinking up all the things that make one super thirsty. Dry baked potato. Bag of salty chips. Ice cream. We thought it would make drinking water again taste that much better.

When we finally made it back to the mobile home, and after we had our water, Fred took us outside and showed us how to shoot a handgun. Say what you will, but it was really fun. And then he let us drive on the four-wheeler for a little bit. Then it was back out to pick rye.

I don't remember if he ever had us out a second time, or maybe we got too busy to make it out another summer. I'm not sure how great of workers we were. We dreamed of one day taking over Keri's farm and turning it into a youth ranch for juvenile delinquents.

Keri wanted to have a professional picture of her in the wheat field with her dad. I don't think she ever got that chance.

Fred was known as the guy in the neighborhood who would do anything for anyone. I think if ever there was a Christenson family emergency, it was likely Fred who we called first.

When my parents moved from Heyburn to Burley, it was Fred who showed up with his truck and a flatbed. He took load after load of stuff my parents, 10 children, and years of living had accumulated in our home.

When we graduated from high school, Fred offered to take all of Keri's friends out on the river one last time. I left for college almost as soon as we graduated, so I never got that one last adventure on the river with Fred. Like a college professor would say to us often, you never regret the things you did, only the things you didn't do.

I'm so glad I made the time to attend Fred's funeral. I learned a lot about him, and enjoyed seeing the Anderson family again. Judy, Fred's wife, is the only one left in Idaho now. It's sad to think that soon there might not be any Andersons left in my home town.

I love that pack of Aggies, and I really miss their guileless leader.

Jana, Me, and Keri after the funeral.
If we could, we'd spend a day on Keri's dad's farm and pick rye again one last time.