He has been gone for more than 37 years, but he will not be forgotten by those who knew him. He was a poster child for the Greatest Generation. He never finished high school, but he was an accomplished man. The things he could do greatly outnumber anything on my résumé.
He could go fishing (cane-pole or surf-casting), clean the fish and cook them up for breakfast the next day. He and his beagles loved hunting. He could shoot a rabbit or squirrel, skin it and cook that, too. He could wade hip-deep in a swamp and come back with a bucket full of huckleberries. He played the guitar on the porch at night. He was partial to “Will There Be Any Stars?” “Ain’t We Crazy?” and “Jambalaya.” He tended a two-acre “garden.” He plowed those acres with a mule. He grew corn, tomatoes, squash, okra, bell peppers, peas, butterbeans, watermelons, cantaloupes, peanuts, cabbage, collards and other things I have forgotten. Some of it was eaten, some of it was canned and a lot of it was given away to friends and family.
He did this in his “spare” time, by the way, before and after working 40 hours a week as a bookkeeper.
Whatever broke at our home, he usually could fix, from the roof to the hot-water heater to the lawn mower. He cooked our breakfast every weekday morning (bacon, scrambled eggs and cinnamon toast, with pancakes on Saturdays). He also made a mean liver and onions. He served his community. He was a deacon and then an elder at Sunnyside Presbyterian Church. He sang in the choir. He pitched for the church softball team until he was in his early 40s. He was the church treasurer and also the treasurer for the local volunteer fire department.
Despite a devastating injury that more or less ended his high school days and left him with a permanent limp when he ran, he served his country. In the war, he was with the first U.S. troops to reach the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald. I have the photos he brought back. When he returned, he never wanted to travel again. The Depression and World War II consumed much of his life through 1945. He knew hunger on a first-name basis. He said the Army was the first place where he was assured of three meals every day.
He was a man’s man, but a kind and gentle one. He did not administer corporal punishment. He loved a good joke and little kids. I would give anything to hear him laugh again. He would have been happy if his children had stayed in Vander for the rest of our lives, but he was happy to see us happy. He was always there for my mother, my sister and me, for his seven brothers and sisters, for his parents, my mother’s parents next door and anyone else who needed his help.
E.F. Owen never made much money, but he gave me more than I could ever repay. Today, and every day, I remember and try to honor him.