#326 Slanted Toward Optimism

Hello again Maple People,

Recently I wrote a column about my dad's and my failed attempt at putting a Plymouth slant six engine into our old Allis Chalmers tractor. This particular project was doomed from the start, and, in a way, was really not so much about extending the useful lives of old tractors, but about my father's optimism. I got a lot of feedback about that story but none was funnier than a message from my brother-in-law, Chuck Parker. Chuck worked here on our farm back when he was a teenager. He was intimate with some of our "farmer-toggling" ways, not to mention an early education in "psychology". You see my father and I, except for our common goal of keeping our family farm alive, stood at odds in our outlook on life…he had "bumper crops" of optimism and I wore my pessimism like a badge of honor.

Chuck, also a "glass-half-full" sort of guy, wrote:

"Really loved this story that I remember quite well. It reminds me of how much your father's eternal optimism was not to be persuaded by reality. I have these experiences on a regular basis. Harry and I always believed there was a pony in this pile of horsesh– somewhere. God bless Harry Morse, he was an inspiration to many of us."

Chuck reminded me of another of Harry's capers involving a Plymouth slant six:

Back in the early seventies, Dad had taken on a job driving school bus to supplement our farm income. One mud season, I got a message to call him at a home somewhere on his route.

"I'm stuck with the bus ovah by Hawkins…bring th'Duster and a rugged chain" he said.

"Oh c'mon Dad, don't be ridiculous!" I replied, hitting the roof…"you need to call a wrecker, a big wrecker".

"No, no" he said. "That'd cost money." He went on to say that he'd just dropped off the last kid and the bus was "light's-a-feather". He repeated, "come ovah with the Duster!".

Knowing it was senseless arguing with him, I threw a chain in the trunk and headed out. When I got there, the massive yellow school bus stood grounded in middle of the road. I turned the Duster around and backed up to the thing. Our salutation was short and simple, a huge grin from him…a defeated shrug from me. We hooked up the chain and took our positions. I inched the Duster forward until the chain was taut and then floored it. With perfect timing, Dad powered the bus and, just like that, we inched steadily forward to solid ground.

By a "wing and a prayer" and a Plymouth Duster, the bus got unstuck that day. My doomsday attitude was foiled by Harry's heavy dose of optimism but often it went the other way. I remember times when, because of Harry's "enthusiasm", we planted acres of a given crop when a single garden row would have been enough. And, yes, I was always quick with those biting words "I told you so"!


Now that Dad is gone and I'm the old man around here, I find myself reflecting on those days a lot. I'm still here doing my part and being chased by that pesky pal pessimism…guess that's my lot in life. I see merits in both ways but if I'd had a choice, I think I would have gone the "Harry Morse route". I didn't, however, get to chose which of his genes became my own.

Helen Keller once said, "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.". And yes, it bothers me that I will forever be denied those achievements. In the words of another great optimist, Popeye, "I yam what I yam"…guess I'll go to work now and see what needs fixing…if possible.

Thanks for listening,


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