Who is Your Biggest Inspiration?
In Memory of Charlie Morris Freeze (1917–2008)
When I think of my late grandfather — and I often do — I picture him wearing the weathered overalls, well-worn baseball cap and wrinkled smile of what I can only describe as a truly contented man. I see a strong-willed man well into his eighties still sitting behind the wheel of his big blue Chevy truck, never thinking for a second he couldn’t handle that beast come hell or high water. Somehow it all seemed to fit him so perfectly, so naturally.
For most of his 91 years, Charlie Freeze, who went by his middle name Morris, lived where home and business were one and the same — on an Iowa farm. It’s been said any good farmland raises more than just crops and cattle; it raises character. Well, in the case of my mother’s father that was never more self-evident. For me he was — and always will be — the face of the American Farmer.
His first farm was near the crossroads town of Coin in the southwest corner of Iowa. Later he and his wife Alice moved to a place outside of Shenandoah, also in Page County, and there they started planting crops of beans and feed corn. Once or twice a year when I was a kid, our family would pile in the car and make the trip across the state to Shenandoah to visit. While my friends from school were bragging about going to places like Six Flags or Disneyworld for their summer vacation, I was going to Iowa. And that was fine by me.
As far back as I can remember, the man left an indelible impression on me, from his huge, calloused hands to his scuffed up boots and leathery skin. In my eyes Grandpa Morris was a different breed of working man. As the years went by and I started understanding more what it was he actually did on the farm every single day, well, let’s just say I was even more impressed. Morris became for me the ultimate example of what hard work, devotion and self-sacrifice are really all about.
It may be obvious to some, but until you see it firsthand it’s tough to grasp the magnitude of the job — for a farmer the work never ends. From sunup to sundown, seven days a week every week, the crops need tending and the livestock need feeding; the machinery needs maintenance and the fields need cultivating. Through endless days of cold and heat I can only imagine, Morris did it all for the better part of fifty years, and did it without complaint. He never got rich or received special recognition, but he never had any regrets either. He was, quite simply, proud and grateful to be the man he was.
I remember how he always cared enough to do the little things right so they wouldn’t become bigger problems down the road. He cared for his wife, herself a woman of unfailing faith, in her later years as she suffered from acute arthritis that left her barely able to walk. Again, he did so without question or complaint.
I loved listening to him tell jokes and baseball stories from his younger days. He was definitely a say-what-you-mean, mean-what-you-say kind of guy, and though he was never loud, when he did talk, you listened. Other times it was just sitting with him on a perfect summer day, drinking iced tea and listening to nothing but the wind.
I think of all the fond memories I have of times spent with Morris, the most memorable one happened on a blazing August day in 2007 when I took him to see, of all things, an Iowa rodeo. I was visiting him for a few days that summer, during what was a challenging and doubting time in my young adult life. One morning on KMA, the all-news radio station he always had on in the kitchen, I heard about a travelling rodeo show that was going to be performing in the nearby town of Sidney. The idea hit me right away. Morris was frail and battling cancer by that time. His beloved wife had passed on, and it didn’t take a palm reader to figure his days on Earth were dwindling. All the more reason, I figured, for us to go to a rodeo, just him and I.
We sat there in the bleachers in the Iowa sun for only 45 minutes that day, but looking back on it now it seems like it was endless hours. There he was, this wonderful old man near the end of his days, this man who meant so much to me growing up, and he was so happy just to be there, to be treated not like some fragile relic but like the everyday man he always was. He tired quickly, though, so we didn’t stay long. We went back to the farm and just sat out on the porch. Looking at him sitting there, waiting for the sun to set, it all came together for me — the realization that my grandfather and his hardy example was part of my DNA, part of me. He would always be the best inspiration of my life, and with him by my side everything was going to turn out fine.
And wouldn’t you know it, everything did.
So, yes, I can close my eyes any time and still see and hear my grandfather Morris very clearly. And if in my lifetime I can help inspire others like he inspired me, I will be most pleased. And I know he would be too.
Do yourself a favor and take a minute out of your busy day to reflect on someone who influenced your life for the better. Take note of the lessons he or she taught you. Or better yet, reach out and let them know what they have meant to you. You’ll be glad you did.
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