"Grandpa Bob, what's progress?"
Meet Bob "Big Rock" Decker
Note: In Oscrow County, Oklahoma, 1842, there was an abundance of fire-ants, dusty roads, farms with those traditional red barns, and the legend of Bob "Big Rock" Decker, without doubt, the quietest, wisest, and most-powerful man in the country.
It was obvious, even to a simpleton, that something was eating little Tommy Decker the proud, and legal grandson, (and by legal, I mean, without controversy or mimicked-questions at the local church), of Bob "Big Rock" Decker, always judged by most local standards to be a complex-but-visible neighbor and formidable power in the farming scene of Oscrow County, Oklahoma.
Bob loved farming. Sometimes with his 20-hour workday, some whispered (behind his back) that he worshiped the science of farming. The proof was that he owned and cultivated over 2700 acres which was split into sections of wheat, corn, and cotton. No one knew or dared to ask why he chose to raise cotton as a supplemental crop. I suppose that Bob didn't gamble on the uncertainties of life and maybe he wanted to rest easy at night knowing that he had "covered all of his bases." One thing was certain. If you pushed Bob to answer the cotton question, he was liable to lose his temper and let his big right fist catch you square in the chin and you would be out for a long time. If it comes handy, just ask Willis Parker.
How the name "Big Rock" came to be
Does it bother you about how grandpa Bob gained his unusual nickname, "Big Rock?" It's not a story of deep, hidden meanings. Nor is his nick related in any way to a soft drink company. Some argue that when he was 20 he had a fiery passion for attending the yearly-meeting of the Oscrow County farmers to share planting strategies, equipment (mules), and other manly items while their wives acted selfless with their Wild Peaches and Blackberry Jam recipes and secretly-prayed to win the grand prize of $2.00 given by the local Grange, known for its fair play in such contests.
Grandpa Bob was almost obsessed with the "High Hammer" game which was tough for any grown man. But grandpa Bob was not your garden-variety grandpa. Or man. He stood six-foot seven and weighed a muscular and firm 205 and his body was carved from hard work from the time he was nine until now in his early 20's. Bob had won the "High Hammer" game eight years in a row and didn't plan on losing on the ninth year. But what made the ninth year so memorable was the girl of his eye: Sarah Anna Maddox, the youngest daughter of William Maddox, a fair hand at raising cattle, but cursed (according to (a) Rev. Newton, with a severe weakness for whiskey. Strange curse. No gambling. No chasing loose women. Just chasing his liquid god, whiskey. I guess the devil at this time was more-specialized in his curses than in latter years.
Bob, even at his seasoned-age of 29, had that swagger about him as he slowly approached the "High Hammer" game. And looked it up and down. The thing about this game that the Grange had, uhh, acquired from some traveling carnival for some back fees, was to take the huge sledge hammer and hit the rubber puck on the piece of lumber and see how high on the numbers you could make the puck travel with your blow of the sledge. Bob always got the puck to the very top and after each ring, he would turn, spit some tobacco juice on the ground and wink at Sarah who knew he was showing off for her.
Did you grow up on a farm and had to work the fields?
Dreams of the single woman
Many nights on an endless string that Sarah Anna would lay awake in her semi-lavish bedroom and manufacture dreams about Bob and how down-right exciting Bob looked with his shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal his biceps that looked like iron bands and his butt, how tight and manly it looked in new dungarees. Then Sarah would burst into silent weeping asking God to forgive such sinful and non-pristine illusions of the mind. Her dad, William Maddox, whom I have already told you about, tried his best to teach her the things that maturing young women should know, but with him being her only parent since his wife, Alexandria Wilcox Maddox had went insane one hot summer morning and was seen leaving town with a shady-looking ladies' undergarments salesman. Even Oscrow County was not immune to iniquity.
The winnah, Bob "Big Rock" Decker, for the ninth-year in a row--with an overall measurement of 13 feet and six inches. Bob's pores were literally spewing with pride. Sarah Anna blushed and hid her face halfway behind a church fan with an ad on the back from Wickertonn Funeral Parlor whose slogan was: "Dignity with peace" in bold type for everyone to see.
I don't believe in luck, fate, or four-leaf clovers, but it seemed to me and most of the literate folk of Oscrow County believed that Bob Decker and Miss Sarah Anna were set on a direct course to meet and be mated legally as man and wife on that certain blustery second Tuesday in March that everyone will remember not as much for any turmoil or tumultuous behavior by the wedding guests, but how focused Bob Decker was completely-focused on Sarah Anna and her alone.
Bob and Sarah Anna's wedding day
Truthful tales come rarely in a small county like Oscrow, but this tale is true. Call it what you may. My ancestors passed this tale down from the day of Bob and Sarah Anna's wedding. Everyone in the wedding party was in place, stationary as rocks and even the minister, Rev. Leonard Beeker, a man of the cloth for over 33 years, was following suit in standing still as a newly-made scarecrow.
As the bridal march music began thanks to Bob's oldest sister, Wilmuth Decker Fleiss, a school teacher who lived in Kansas and taught piano at her home. Bob had spent the better part of week trying to convince Wilmuth to play for his wedding, but she was a bull-headed as Bob, so the stand-off lasted until that Friday before Bob's wedding day on the second Tuesday in March that the state of Oklahoma should have placed a brass marker on Bob's ground where he became Sarah Anna's first and only husband, but whomever was responsible for such things in state government "dropped the slippery egg," and it was forgotten.
As Sarah Anna marched with her father, William, obviously a bit tipsy from the shots of redeye he had taken prior to the wedding, slowly approached Bob. Time stood still. Birds that were singing, ceased. The accustomed March breezes also ceased. Bob's face took on an angry frown. Sarah Anna looked frightened. So did Rev. Beeker, a mild man, but not cut-out for things that happen in the dark world of evil spirits.
A single raindrop had landed on Bob's forehead. And before he could react, another one landed on his right cheek. Then in full-view of the wedding guests, Bob slowly looked upward to the looming dark clouds overhead and mumbled a few words that were not understood by Sarah or even Rev. Beeker. And just as fast as the dark clouds formed and had teased the crowd with rain, disappeared instantly followed by the bright sun.
Bob and Sarah Anna's wedding: Black magic or nature?
Although still in awe, Rev. Beeker did an amazing job of conducting the ceremony. Bob and Sarah Anna were now officially man and wife. Bob, in his ususal strong-willed ways, kissed his bride before Rev. Beeker gave him permission. Oh, it was not your traditional 12-second smooch. Their kiss lasted a good two minutes. There were sighs from impressed men and women, a few whistles, but the wedding guests themselves were so enraptured by Bob and Sarah Anna's kissing that they did not dare applaud, whistle or throw rice until Bob turned around and nodded. Bob Decker was that powerful. Now he had a mate to help with his hidden-dominance of Oscrow County.
Many years and seasons, both calm and brutal passed. Bob and Sarah Anna prospered more than any farm couple should in Oscrow County. But Bob didn't let on about how many bushels of corn, wheat, and bales of cotton he harvested. Neither did Sarah Anna. She was too busy overlooking their home which from a distance didn't look plush, but the closer one got, the bigger the house become. Bob and Sarah Anna's home was more pleasing to the eye than any photograph found in any issue of the Progressive Farmer or magazine that was found in the late 1800's.
Flowers, both rare and common adorned the walkways to and from the front of the house. Sarah Anna knew her flowers for sure. And the neighborhood ladies hated her for her delightful gifts. Bob would many times stop while plowing one of his 2700 acres and just soak in the reality of his beautiful wife surrounded by her flowers and looking like a dream he was accustomed to having when he was 12.
Bob and Sarah Anna's marriage was not perfect. Nor did they make claim that it was. Bob's stubborn-will matched with Sarah Anna's determination made for several verbal spats over how much to spend on necessities for the home and other life areas. But during all of this mysterious prosperity, both Bob and Sarah Anna would always drop what they were doing to spend time with their only son, Jacob Thurmon Decker, a handsome tot and Bob knew from looking into his brown eyes, that one day, Jacob would be the heir-apparent for Bob's farming enterprises. But he never shared this with Sarah Anna for such things to Bob were considered manly things and not meant for female ears.Life, what a mistress to the gullible. "She" can wear any disguise that "she" chooses and in this time-frame of Jacob's seventeenth birthday, he passed away quietly in his sleep. Bob and Sarah Anna were both devastated. But Bob's pain was short-lived for he knew life and how "she" operated with hand-fan in her hand and veil of black lace to hide her real intentions. He just knew that Sarah Anna would be fine with a few days rest.
A few years from the pain of Jacob's demise, Bob and Sarah Anna were blessed with another child, a girl, whom they named Priscilla Katherine, a happy girl child with brunette hair and dancing brown eyes. Bob was so happy that he almost broke character and whistled when he held her. But Bob was always quick to regain is self-control and let Sarah Anna laugh and giggle with their daughter.
Years went by and so did time tagging the rear. Bob and Sarah Anna's silo's were full, Priscilla Katherine had grew up quickly and was so intelligent that she was allowed to skip two grades and graduate high school early as so she could enter Oklahoma State on a debating scholarship which she gave to a needy family's daughter because Bob, at that time, simply gave Priscilla a check for her entire college years and never missed it. That is rich, my friends.
But when Priscilla's graduation from Oklahoma State drew year, an odd thing happened. She up and disappeared one day and was never seen or heard from again--although Bob had called in every favor from every politician, both weak and powerful and even called in the F.B.I. and after a few months, the search was sadly canceled. This dark event did take its toll on Bob, but never left a mark on his mentality and shrewd way of living. Sarah Anna went about her daily life--loving Bob and managing the household without once complaining.
Life decided to wear one final disguise out of sympathy for Bob and Sarah Anna. "She" drew upon her wardrobe of truth and granted this sturdy couple another child, Grant Louis Decker, who grew up quick and as smart as his dad. Walked through his school years as if he were drinking a glass of water. Lettered in almost every sport. But Grant decided to attend The University of Oklahoma where he majored in Business Management and Commnications and graduated in the top of his class.
Life moves methodically for Bob and Sarah Anna
After the Pomp and Circumstance was nothing more than a memory in Grant's rear-view mirror, he met and married his love, Julie Newcomb, the daughter of an iron worker in a small foundry just outside of Norman, Oklahoma and they were the perfect couple--loving, caring, and selfless to a fault.
One day, Julie announced over a candlelight dinner that she was pregnant with their only child, Tommy, and they were on top of the world. Tommy was a Decker through and through. He was so smart that Grant and Julie would sit and cry by themselves at God being so good to them.
Tommy at age four, met his grandpa, Bob, and grandma, Sarah Anna, on a vacation visit from Grant and Julie. Bob instantly-suggested that Tommy stay the summer with he and Sarah Anna while his parents finished their vacation, and when school started, Bob and Sarah Anna would make the trip to Norman to bring Tommy back to his parents.
As always, Bob got his way and while Grant and Julie were very happy to accommodate Bob and Sarah Anna in keeping little Tommy, they couldn't have known that this first summer for Tommy to stay with Bob and Sarah Anna would be the first in a long string of summers when little Tommy would grow close to grandpa Bob and soak up his wisdom of life like a cat-head biscuit soaks in gravy.
Note: I mildly apologize for taking the long way around to get back to the main idea of this essay of what was eating little Tommy Decker in the beginning which I pray that you remember.
And now, back to the present time, or past in the middle of a huge cornfield where Bob "Big Rock" Decker and his grandson, Tommy, are working to free the corn of what few weeds the herbicide missed when Bob planted the corn. The truth is, Bob was not really working. He was just using the weed work as a good excuse to bond with his grandson.
You see, it is many years later and Bob employs over 1200 employees who work his now 12,000 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans, and yes, the old stand-by: cotton. Sarah Anna is still the humble homemaker and enjoys her poetry writing while Maria, their long-time housekeeper does what she can to keep Sarah Anna and Bob's big house clean.
Maria is the housekeeping manager and works not because she has to, but because she loves the Deckers so much for adopting her at age seven, sending her to school and Oklahoma State like their blood-daughter, Priscilla Katherine did, and she enjoys keeping busy.
The years and life has really been generous and kind to Bob, Sarah Ann and their son, Grant, wife, Julie, and grandson, Tommy. There is no argument about this truth.
Grandpa Bob, "What is progress?"
So now we join Bob and Tommy who says . . .
"I am not that old or nothing, but I keep hearing the word progress on television when my dad watches the news and I do not know what this word means. Can you tell me?"
Bob thinks for a moment and then sits down with Tommy in the middle of the rows of corn not worrying one moment about getting his clothes dirty. Tommy's question carried more weight than any new dungarees.
"So, Tommy. You want to know the meaning of progress, eh? Okay. Sit back and listen good, for this might take a spell," Bob said looking into the sky as if to gather wisdom from the universe.
"Progress is a bite with dull teeth, my hungry grandson. And it's a meal never enjoyed by some in this strange land we call America."
"Sweat, blood, tears, pain and death are the planks that hold the foundation of progress together. I am not trying to scare you, Tommy, but you need to growl now. Not when you get your walking papers from school. No, sir. You need to open your gills and keep your eyes sharp, for one can easily be fooled and beguiled by progress just as Eve was fooled by Satan himself in Eden."
"Progess is not easy to have nor and a bloody fight to keep. A man has to fight with all of his blood and muscle to gain a step closer to progress, not eat the meat that is given him for his work for he knows how cold the ice and snow that's lurking around the corner can be when he is swearing that it's the worst summer he has seen."
Bob then gets this frightened look on his face. Only Tommy saw it, but at this age never knew that this was the FIRST time ever that Bob "Big Rock" Decker, since birth until now, had ever shown fear for anything or anyone. Whatever was infecting his mind must have been terrible to transform Bob's face in this altered-fashion. Tommy was beginning to get scared.
Even the unassuming ants, grasshoppers, crickets and other creeping things came to a stand-still which caused Bob's eyes to suddenly focus on the green cornfield where he and Tommy were working not an hour ago and he began to bend over with his mouth agape. Tommy started crying, silently weeping, sobbing uncontrollably as Bob lay face-first on the dark rich soil.
An hour and a half passed. One insignificant breeze blew over Tommy's face. Three wandering crows flew away from the cornfield in a westward direction. Bob lay motionless. Tommy's weeping was now a loud bellow that sounded so eerie that a few cows in the distance in one of Bob's pastures begin to react in a fearful way.
Two hours had now elapsed.
Bob, without uttering a word, leaped to his feet as fast or faster than any Olympic gymnast of that time. Tommy was so shocked he laughed and cried simultaneously.
Bob continued his dissertation on progress.
"Little man, let me congratulate you on being the only one of your age to ever ask anything that intelligent of me. Yes, Tommy, progress can love you many days, but always be on-guard for if you do not stay harnessed like a prize working mule, "she" will flex her silken gown and slip right through your grasping, sweaty fingers." I know this, Tommy. Before your grandma, Sarah Anna and I had all of this land, beasts and crops, I didn't do so well on my first farm, son. I know that you will not tell anyone. One, they will not believe you. Two, my big right hand will bust your butt if you do."
"Herds of elephants and packs of snow wolves are tough enough, Tommy, but you just get up one rainy June morning and your bones and body are rebelling against you and the pain is so deep that you had rather hide in your storm cellar, well, that is progress . . . sort of."
Tommy's face told the entire story. Total confusion, awe, shock, and disillusionment.
"You see, Tommy. Progress has infected our blessed country so much that I do not even recognize the U.S.A. anymore. There's satanic machines doing work on farms that "we" once did by hand and loved it." "Wake up, Tommy. At your age you need to work to prepare yourself against this pale disguise that progress is using to eradicate people like me, Bob "Big Rock"
Decker and many like me. Well, our age. Not like me as a copy.Tommy looked at ease as Bob closed his stern lecture on progress."Fight, Tommy!" Bob yelled with his hands in the air. "Fight this greenback dog with all your might. Keep some greenback for you and the family if you have one, but listen. Don't give in to the extortion of progress or you will be paying for the rest of your life."
Suddenly, Bob stopped talking, grabbed Tommy and covered his mouth and began looking all around them for fear that "something" was coming toward them when in fact the cornfield had only the two souls: Tommy and Bob.
"Tommy, tell grandpa Bob the truth. Did you see anything in the cornfield as I was talking?" Bob asked.
"Uh, no, sir. Just the wind that blew for a second and made the corn stalks move a little. That's all," Tommy replied in a tone that was low even for a boy his age.
Bob and Tommy walked from the cornfield heading to Bob's Chevy truck. As they got into the truck, Bob placed his hands on the steering wheel, looked all around and then asked Tommy, "Did you learn anything in the past two hours, son?"
"Yes, sir. I did. I learned that progress can fool us, bite us, and make us sad," Tommy struggled to sound intelligent with his answer.
Bob grinned. Then asked, "Yes, Tommy. Good. And if grandma Sarah Anna or your dad and mom were to ask about the cornfield, it was just the wind . . .right?"
"Right, grandpa. Just the wind," Tommy agreed and looked out the window.
Just what is your definition of progress?
More money, power, real estate and influence?
I want to know. Feel free to leave your ideas
of progress in the comment boxes below."