Elmer Peako made his sad wretched entrance into our lives on a deathly cold winter day during February of 1938.
Right in the middle of one of the worst blizzards any of us had ever seen—one morning, we heard an unexpected light knocking at our door.
"My God, "my Dad said, "Who would be crazy enough to be out in this weather? It's not fit for man or beast out there!"
When my Dad tried to open the door, snow had drifted up against it so deep we had to kick the snow away before we could finally push it open.
Looking out from our cozy warm living room, we saw a half frozen man, dressed in worn out clothes, standing on our doorstep.
There he stood, shivering in a threadbare ragged old coat that on its best day never stood a chance of protecting him from the wintry winds and the heavy snow that was steadily falling.
"Come in! You must be half-frozen," my father said. "Come on over here near the stove where it's warmer."
"Thanks," the stranger said, taking in the rest of Dad's brood with his inquisitive eyes.
"Oh, this feels mighty nice," he laughed. "It's colder than a stepmother's kiss out there," he said, winking at us kids.
"By the way, my name is Elmer Peako."
"My name is Edmund and this is my wife, Bessie and these are our boys," my Dad said.
"Elmer, could I fix you something to eat. We don't have much, but you're welcome to what we have," my mother said.
"Yes, Ma'am," he replied gratefully, "I shore am hungry."
Moments later, he was wolfing down some of my Mom's left over cornbread and drinking my father's extra cup of coffee he had saved from breakfast to have later.
"I'd be willing to do any kind of work you might have to pay you for letting me stay a few days," I heard him telling my father a short time later as they sat talking by the old heat stove that was glowing red hot as it struggled to warm our drafty old house.
"Well, Mr. Peako, this time of the year we don't really have anything. But it's too cold for you to go on to wherever it is you were heading. Why don't you stay with us a couple of days, at least until this blizzard passes and it gets a little warmer?"
I guess it should be here noted; my father and mother had an innate special brand of kindness. I've spent a lifetime trying to learn to live up to their standards. I'm still trying...
"Well," my father said thoughtfully, "I guess you could—help me cut some firewood."
About now I'm liking the sound of that since as the oldest boy I was my dad's constant companion in the wood cutting department—whether I wanted to be or not.
Therefore, Elmer Peako came to stay with us for a few memorable months.
We kids really took to him from that first day. Elmer would sit around our old heat stove and tell us about all the places he'd been and the things he'd seen.
Since that was before the days of television, in fact, we didn't even own a radio until several years later Elmer Peako became our entertainment, telling us funny jokes. He was just fun to be around.
When my mother, Bessie apologized for burning the food on our rickety old wood stove with its non-existent temperature controls, it was Elmer who lightened the moment by remarking.
"Don't you worry, Aunt Bessie. I left my manners home and brought my appetite."
There was also that man-of-mystery element when he would talk about the far-away places he'd been before he came to stay with us.
According to him, he had rolled into town in an empty boxcar just a day before the blizzard had struck the region. He had ridden the rails from somewhere down South. He claimed he had come up to Indiana looking for work.
My dad later identified him as someone who just liked to ramble here and there. He was like a tumbleweed out of the old West. When you thought of Elmer Peako, the old saying, "footloose and fancy free," immediately came to mind.
However, his gratitude toward the kindness my parents had shown him was genuine. The day the blizzard finally blew on out, we could hear him up early that morning chopping firewood.
"He sure is a worker," my father admitted as we looked out the window watching him. "You're right, Edmund, He's certainly no moocher," my mother agreed.
Well, to make a long story short, Elmer Peako turned out to be like a fungus. He grew on all of us!
While I had never known my father to hire any help outside the family, he eventually told Elmer, that if he would like to stay on to help us with the Spring planting he would give him a few dollars when he was ready to move on.
Elmer seemed please with that arrangement. My brothers and I were pleased as well. We had all come to enjoy having Elmer around. In short, we didn't want him to leave.
One example of his ever-day kindness stands out. Each day, to get to the land we were farming that Spring we had to walk across several fields.
Each summer as the days grew warmer my brothers and I would discard our old worn out shoes and spend the summer going barefooted.
This day we were crossing a particular field that had a very large dense patch of thistles.
"Dad, I can't walk through here," I explained, "I don't have any shoes on."
"Well, just pick your way through, Son. Try not to step on any of them."
I quickly realized that was not going to be possible. No matter where I stepped, I felt the thorns from the thistles sticking my bare feet.
I watched as my Dad and Elmer kept getting further away. Now they were quite a distance in front of me.
Elmer Peako looked back. Without a word, he turned around and retraced his steps.
"Here, let me pick you up or give you a piggy-back ride," he said. With that, he picked me up and carried me until we were both clear of the patch of thistles.
True Story /