Full Measure

L-R Arthur Messer, Evelyn Messer, and my dad, Ronald Messer

None of my children ever met my Grandpa Messer. We lost him to a stroke at age 82, and the world is poorer for it. I got the call three weeks after giving birth to my first child, so I packed up my newborn daughter, Abby, and flew from Utah to North Carolina to be with my family. There are those who would criticize me for taking a newborn on a plane, but when you read this story, maybe you will understand why he meant so much to me.

I did not write today’s post. “Full Measure” was written by my father, Ron Messer, about his own father, Arthur Messer. There are no car chases or big explosions, but there are beans growing in the hot Carolina sun, and a judge with a sense of humor. This story needs to be told.


Full Measure

By Ronald Messer

My father was a very quiet man.  Born in Tennessee, he came with his mother and seven brothers and two sisters to South Carolina when he was nine years old.  It was during the depression.  Starving, they came to work in the cotton mills.  His father, a mountain man, remained behind in Tennessee and wandered the hills the rest of his life, in self-exile, living off the charity of others, lost, alone and homeless.  Life is filled with irony and paradox.  Having worked all my life in the west, I am now retired to a small cabin only a mile from my father’s Tennessee home in the Smoky Mountains. 

Having been abandoned by his father, my father spent all of his free time as an adult with his own family.  He loved fishing, camping, and gardening.  My father loved the land perhaps more than anyone else I have known.  His large garden was always a show piece. I would like to share one incident that marks his honest nature and one which, though I was an adult, reminded me of my childhood.  The incident is significant here because my father by example taught the principle of honesty to one of my daughters.  It is an example of how virtues (as well as vices) can travel through families for generations.

My daughter, Natalie, and I were tired, our backs aching after spending three hours sitting on wire baskets, bending over the heavy-laden rows, picking half runners by the handfuls.  It was a hot July day in Charlotte, North Carolina.  We headed for the shade, but my father, Arthur Messer, who just turned 77 (my age at this editing), continued puttering.  Natalie exclaimed, “Doesn’t grandpa ever run out of energy?”

My father has always enjoyed a garden.  Even as a child in South Carolina I admired the richness of his tomatoes, carrots, beans, onions, cucumbers, peanuts, and corn.  His corn stalks always seemed to grow higher, his plants greener than those in other gardens.  People came from all over to admire his garden.

His secret, he speaks to his plants!  If a plant appears wilted, he will “tickle” the stalk with his finger and, as if speaking to a child, say, “You can do it!  I know that you can do it!”  By his testimony the plant always responded, and the next day it was competing for space with the others.

Once, my father tried to help a frustrated neighbor. They planted on the same day.  It was the same soil, the same seed, the same rainfall, but the dissimilar results were disastrous.  My father’s garden grew rich and green as usual, the neighbor’s sparse, brown, and wilted.  The neighbor in frustration declared in despair that he would just quit gardening.

We picked about six bushels of beans in the hot July sun, dumped the beans, bucket after bucket, into a wheelbarrow.  When the wheelbarrow was full, we dumped the beans onto a white sheet spread out on the ground in the shade of a large pecan tree.  A bushel of beans becomes precious when picked in the Carolina heat, yet it only sold for $15 at the Farmer’s Market.  My thought was to dump the beans into bushel baskets, level off the top, and buyer beware.  After all, I had worked in the peach orchards as a kid.  My job was to dump the bushel baskets full of disoriented sorry looking bulk and then place the largest, juiciest peaches on top to deceive the buyer. 

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