Each Monday for the next several weeks, I will be publishing one section of the biography on my father I created in collaboration with over 30 contributing writers. Each story brings a unique perspective about my father. Last week I shared the introduction to the writing project, as well as the official introduction to the biography. Below is the first part of the actual biography, which focuses on my father’s life growing up on a dairy farm in Northern Ohio, featuring stories from his siblings and childhood friends. Enjoy!
A LIFE IN STORIES
Part 1: Ohio (September 12, 1953 – September 1971) (below)
Part 2: Goshen College (September 1971 – June 1973)
Part 3: Bolivia (September 1973 – September 1976)
Part 4: Ohio State University (September 1976 – December 1979)
Part 5: Bolivia (January 1980 – July 1992)
Part 6: Pennsylvania (July 1992 – December 1997)
Part 7: Georgia (December 1997 – July 2004)
Part 8: Italy (July 2004 – December 2015)
Part 9: Virginia (December 2015 – Present)
Part 1: Ohio
(September 12, 1953 – September 1971)
The Early Years of a Boy Named Calvin
By Leanne Smith (Sister)
Calvin is a name that calls to mind Calvin Coolidge, the 30th U.S. President, or John Calvin, the renowned 16th century theologian. It is the name of someone who made his mark on the world, just as my brother has done and is doing to this day.
I remember the day that this brother was not born. It was a day in early September of1953. Mom was having labor pains (perhaps because it was nearly Labor Day!) and so Dad took her to the hospital in Wauseon, Ohio. I (age 11), along with Rollin (age 13), Susan (age 6), and David, (age almost 3), waited at home with anticipation for news of the new brother or sister’s arrival. Many hours later, much to our disappointment, both Dad and Mom returned with no new sibling. It seemed the baby had changed his mind about being born that day!
A few days later, on September 12th, Mom and Dad made the trip to the hospital once again, and this time only Dad returned home, with news that we had a new baby brother. I had been hoping for another sister, but was still happy to have a new baby brother who could become a playmate for my “little” brother Dave. Fifteen months later, another brother named Robert (Bob) was born, and, to me, the trio of Dave, Calvin and Bob were always considered my “little brothers” long after they outgrew this designation.
As the oldest girl in the family, I was assigned a number of child-care duties for baby Calvin, such as babysitting or changing dirty diapers (yuck!), which wasn’t a favorite task! I would keep an eye on him as Mom worked in the house and garden, or ran errands. Sometimes I would entertain him by teaching him the names of animals and the sounds they made, many of which he could identify and repeat by the time he was not much over a year old.
Calvin was a month short of his second birthday when his Dad was killed in a farming accident. One thing that I clearly remember at the time of Dad’s death was carrying Calvin around and around in the driveway at home, trying to comfort him. The driveway was full of cars and the house full of mourners who had come for Dad’s viewing and visitation. Little Calvin was crying and crying, upset by all of the visitors, and by the fact that his Momma was occupied with greeting them. His Daddy was also not there to comfort him, but was “sleeping” in a big fancy box in the living room. He was too young to understand that his life had been dramatically altered by what had happened two days earlier. He would never see his Daddy alive again, and never have the opportunity to really know what it would have been like to have a father in his life.
At the time his Dad died, Calvin’s younger brother, Robert (now called Bob), was only 8 months old, so Mom had her hands full with two little ones. We attended the small Salem Mennonite church at that time, and I would often have Calvin sitting with me and my older friends (no nursery care in those days), while Mom held baby Bob. As I recall, Calvin was nice and quiet in church so he was not hard to “watch.” However, I recall being rather shocked when someone asked me if he was my little boy! Yes, I liked him a lot, but I didn’t want to be mistaken for his Mom!
Calvin was a very cute little blond haired boy. His beautiful blue eyes, together with long eyelashes, drew compliments from many people. I remember hearing someone say that it was too bad he wasn’t a girl with those lashes. I doubt he would have appreciated that “compliment”! As Calvin and Bob grew into boyhood, Bob soon became the taller of the two, and Calvin was not pleased when people assumed that Bob was older. However, they were close buddies and usually enjoyed each other’s company, and also enjoyed playing with their brother Dave, three years older that Calvin, and trying to do whatever he did. They spent a lot of time playing outdoors on the swings and teeter-totter and riding their tricycles, as well as playing with their toy tractors and trucks in the house. They also began helping their “big” brother Rollin with the barn chores at early ages.
Calvin was a very cheerful and agreeable little boy, as I recall. He was not a “troublemaker” and I can’t remember any major “scrapes” that he got into, although there may surely have been some! It seems he saved most of his adventures for the years beyond his life on the farm! Calvin started kindergarten about two weeks before his fifth birthday, so was always one of the youngest members of his class, as well as one of the shortest, but that didn’t prevent him from keeping up with his classmates. I went away to college in 1960 as he was entering second grade, so I didn’t have the privilege of following his day-to-day activities closely beyond his first seven years.
Grade 3 Snow Day
By George Strayer (Childhood Friend/Neighbor)
On a regular cold winter school day in Northern Ohio, with the snow coming down some and the wind blowing a lot, Chuck Climo, our bus driver, picked Calvin and I up at our regular time. As we went south on the county line road next to the Miller farm, our bus hit a drift in a low spot in the road and became stuck. Seeing as how both Calvin and I had winter boots on, the old 5 buckle type, we hiked back to Calvin’s house to have his older brother Rollin and my Dad get tractors and chains to try and pull the bus out while and Calvin had his mother Viola call the school. Rollin and my dad did manage to pull the bus out, but school was then cancelled for the day and Calvin and I got to play. What fun!
Growing Up With Calvin
By Robert “Bob” Miller (Brother)
Calvin and I are 15 months apart in age, so we were able to enjoy some wonderful times growing up. Since we shared the same bed, we kept each other warm when the fire in the wood furnace would go out at night, and we often had many great discussions. We shared clothes including hand-me-downs from our slightly older brother Dave, although Calvin was a little smaller than me. Calvin has always had a sense of humor, and when he was about 5 and had a butch haircut, he would make funny faces, which we called “monkey shines.”
We grew up working together on many things around the farm, and one event occurred when we were doing our weekly corn shelling for calf feed. I tried to pull some cobs out the back of the corn sheller and my finger got pulled into the sheller, which led to 32 stitches and a permanently shorter finger.
Calvin usually displayed good humor, except when we occasionally disagreed about things and could have the brotherly “Mennonite fights”, such as when Calvin drove too fast turning around when we were baling straw and the bales came falling down (or maybe it was me driving). We had a sandbox with fields and a barn from Uncle Cletus and a field tile for a silo. The silo wasn’t a good thing when Calvin split open his head on it when he slipped as he disembarked from a tree.
We didn’t typically get a lot of Christmas gifts, so we often shared larger gifts such as a B-B gun, a mini-car racetrack and games. I remember one Christmas in the early 60’s, I was asked to pick if I liked red or green and after I choose green, I got a John Deere toy tractor and Calvin got an International toy tractor. We were both happy with that outcome.
We loved playing sports growing up, and we played a lot of basketball and Ping-Pong games against each other. We also enjoyed playing softball in the yard across the road and often hit the ball into a poison ivy patch in the ditch. Or we played on the hay fields after hay was cut. We often biked, and played with many of Calvin’s friends since there were more kids his age in the neighborhood. We also had a fun time in Torchbearers (5th to 8th grade boys church youth group) together and thought it was cool riding with Doc. Nyce when he took us to Torchbearers, along with his son Dick, because he had a lead foot. Torchbearer campouts were always fun as were MYF events and biennial national conventions.
A special trip occurred in 1966, when Calvin and I joined our Mom and older sisters Susan and Leanne in Leanne’s ‘63 Fairlane to drive cross-country for a massive family trip. We attended our family friend’s wedding in St. Louis, visited aunts and uncles in Colorado and Phoenix, went to Disneyland in Los Angeles, and even visited our Mom’s pen pal, who had also lost her husband due to accidental electrocution, in Iowa. The trip was memorable for many reasons, especially swimming, hiking and playing games we hadn’t played much before (like Frisbee and shuffleboard). We both loved the mountains out West, but felt overheated in Death Valley. It was a great trip.
Over the years, Calvin and I have created many fond memories during other trips. He has always been a great friend and I am proud to call him my brother!
The Bible Passage
By Norma Wyse (Childhood Friend)
I grew up in the same church youth group with Calvin. I remember him as a very reserved, quiet person with a very wry, deadpan sense of humor. He seemed very shy, and not very eager to speak in front of even a small group of people. There was one time, however, when our teenager youth group was given the responsibility to plan the congregational worship service and Calvin was supposed to read a Bible passage and lead the congregation in prayer.
There were maybe 150 people gathered that evening, so being a shy person myself, I imagine he had to scrounge up all his courage to get up there at the lectern and perform these duties in front of all these people. Just as he started reading the first verse, three other boys in the youth group (Randy, Ronny, and Neal) who were standing off to the side, out of the line of sight of most of the congregation in the pastor’s study, waiting for their turn to come up to the platform to sing, started to make funny faces at Calvin. They just wanted tease him, daring him to crack up laughing at such a solemn moment.
Calvin tried valiantly to maintain his composure, but had to crack a huge smile after the first verse. He bravely kept on reading, but must have noticed their antics again, and had to suppress a giggle. Finally, he finished reading, but just after he solemnly said, “Let us all pray,” Calvin burst out laughing. Us teenagers were all in stitches and the adult sponsors, sitting way on the opposite side of the church, could do nothing to get those three boys to stop making faces at him. Kind of a mean trick to play on a shy person, but Calvin was undeterred, and has delivered lectures to audiences much larger and more distinguished than most of the rest of us in that church youth group have ever encountered.