To Live is to Change: A Tribute to My Father

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Today is Father’s Day, a good time to feature the life of Wally Harris. Why hasn’t he already appeared on this blog? After all, his influence in my life was second to none. I was (still am) my daddy’s girl. He made each of his daughters feel cherished. Some of our favorite memories are those times we spent alone with our dad.

I can credit this blog to his influence. Wally embraced and celebrated change. This blog symbolizes my own fumbling attempts to learn something new and step out of my box.

Thirty years ago, Daddy wrote an essay he entitled “Efil and Htaed.” It described his philosophy of life and his experiences with death through the loss of family members and friends. Having grown up on a Kansas farm in the thirties, his view of life drew analogies from the seasons of a typical farm year. Spring, summer, fall and winter—for him life metaphorically followed the cycle of seasons. The events of life are as changeable and perhaps as unpredictable as the weather. As comfortable as we may be in one set of circumstances, something is bound to change. Our lives continually evolve into new and often wondrous directions.

It is futile to resist those changes so we might as well embrace them. Wally Harris celebrated the changes in his life. With an active and inquisitive mind, his pursuit of new adventures made life sparkle, as surely as the twinkle in his eyes.

My life’s metaphor is drawn more along literary parallels. I view life as a book. Each chapter is marked by changes. Turn the page. Here’s a new chapter in life. Daddy’s chapters began thirty years before I entered the picture. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time he was a family man, his principles were well established. He enthusiastically included his family in life’s escapades.

There was the Colby chapter. His work at the K-State agriculture station was mysterious to me. But his love of photography was not. On weekends and evenings, he transformed our home into a photographic portrait studio. I spent hours helping him develop black and white photos in our basement darkroom. He was my first photography teacher and I became enthralled.

Then there was the Hays chapter, when he worked as an instructor of agriculture at Fort Hays State University. Though my interest in photography remained strong, Daddy switched gears and threw himself into management of his family’s farm, including the purchase and operation of a sawmill to mill lumber from our river bank acreage in eastern Kansas. His weekends, vacations, and summer breaks were devoted to milling and farming activities a couple hundred miles from our home. The sawmill chapter drew to a close after retirement. He and Mother moved back to Lyon County, into a house he designed and built.

Sharpening the sawmill teeth
Sharpening the sawmill teeth

His focus shifted to an interest in small gas engines. He and Mother traveled the entire country to attend engine shows. He acquired hundreds of models and devoted hours to their repair, delighted to see them run again. During this time, he began writing a journal to record memories from every season of his life. He enthusiastically endorsed the electronic age with purchase of a couple home computers. With his typical enthusiasm, he immersed himself into learning how to use and master the intricacies of the emerging technology. With many years of his journal recorded electronically, it is almost as if he is still here, trapped in the virtual medium.

Daddy’s final chapter began with our mother’s death and ended with his own, seven years later. His passing ushered in a new chapter in my own life.

Change defines life. How we deal with change defines us. We can weep and long for the good-old days. Or we can embrace the changes and celebrate a new adventure. It seems that everything I knew as a teen or young adult is different now. The skills I mastered have become archaic, their tools now museum relics. I feel like a dinosaur.

Photography has certainly changed. Gone are the days of tonging prints from tray to tray in safelight darkness. Images are now instantly viewable on new, ever-improving digital cameras.

Writing has changed. What’s a typewriter anyway? So has publishing and marketing your work. Email, e-books, and e-readers e-ventually e-liminate the piles of paper trash in my bin.

Pianos have changed. Today’s children are seduced by a hundred different activities so that few enter the discipline of learning to play piano. Electric keyboards are chosen by more families, schools and churches. Piano owners who want to convert to electronic instruments often can’t even give their pianos away.

And then we have climate change. We don’t know what to expect from any given year other than seasons and weather which are bound to be highly unusual.

Things change. So must I. After I spoke at Daddy’s memorial service, several in the crowd asked to know more about one particular memory. As a result I knew it was time to write again. Writers today usually offer a blog. A blog? What’s a blog? Simply put, it’s a way to put the thoughts of your heart before virtual readers, anytime, any day. This seems a bit risky. It’s also confusing. There are so many choices–how do I pick what will work best for me? Where to begin? It’s easy to feel paralyzed by indecision. But the best way to start is to metaphorically turn the page and write the first word of a new chapter.

This chapter in my adventure is exciting, suspenseful, discouraging at times, but also full of wonder and new friends. I can feel Daddy’s approval. He surely is smiling and nodding from somewhere. Life means growing and changing, so let the adventure continue!

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4 thoughts on “To Live is to Change: A Tribute to My Father

  1. Sheryl

    I envy you having had such a warm and loving relationship with your father. What an amazing person he must have been.

  2. nancyhsturm

    I’m sure Daddy is “smiling and nodding” at the many creative ways his “little girl” is carrying on the adventure. In the photo, which one are you? I’m guessing the one on the left, next to your dad. Another great post!

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