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Second Place - "One Man's Life"

Anne Horton Writing Award

Second Place Expository/Research

"One Man's Life"


Michael Carew


It was early in November, the second to be exact, the year of our Lord 1913. A bright orange glow ushered in the sunrise across the fertile homestead of the Plumer family. The recently harvested fields offered no shield from the icy slice of the wind's sword. The farm, near Mt. Carroll, Illinois, had been the home of Wayne and Mary Plumer for the last five years. They had celebrated their nuptials on New Years Day, 1908. The ceremony had been performed at the farm home of Henry and Kathryn Miller, the bride's parents. It had been a gala affair, with the nine brothers and sisters of Mary, and the six brothers and sisters of Wayne, all in attendance. The Reverend John Divan had performed the ceremony, and the festivities concluded with an old fashioned "Charavari." On October twenty-sixth of the same year, their first child was born, a daughter named Elsie. Two years later, Wayne and Mary were blessed with a son. They named him Worthen. That leads us to this cool day in November, and the birth of their third child, Orville Wilson Plumer.


In 1916, when Orville was only three, the Plumer family followed the advice of Horace Greeley, and headed west. They put down their roots near the town of Bigstone City, South Dakota They settled on a farm about three miles east of town, near the Minnesota state line. "Through hard work and perseverance, they made the fertile soil pay. It was a time of prosperity for the little family, while the clouds of war loomed ominously in Europe. "[his was a precarious time in the Plumer household, due to the fact that both parents were from staunch, German heritage. It was especially difficult for Mary, the mother, as she was directly related to Kaiser Wilhelm, the Chancellor of Germany. When World War I broke out, any male hired help was hard to find. With a farm to work, Mary donned her overalls and pitched right in. When the two older children weren't in school, they did their share of chores. Orville was too young to work. but Mary took him along to the fields. She would settle him under a huge shade tree with his dog. Lady, and his toys. She kept an ever vigilant eye on him, as there were roaming bands of Gypsies in the area. The Gypsies were reputed to kidnap little children, and steal from farms while the occupants were not present.


From his earliest recollection, Orville was taught that hard work, faith in God, and family were the cornerstones to the foundation of an enriching life. He inherited the work ethic from both his parents. Seeing them toil tirelessly to support the family, put food on the table, and scratch out a meager living, helped to carve out Orville's character. As the farm grew the Plumers were lucky enough to be able to afford to hire some extra help. There always seemed to be one or two hired hands working on the farm, and living at the house. Mary also took in boarders for extra income. During the school term, the school teacher of the little rural school, was one of the boarders. Every morning and evening, despite the weather, a horse and buggy provided the means of transportation to and from school for the children and the teacher.


Secondly, that same horse and buggy trotted the Plumers' to the little Evangelical Church every Sunday. Faith in God was instilled into the children at an early age. Wayne, the father, taught a Sunday school class. Both parents held a weekly Bible study and prayer meeting in their home, on Wednesday evenings.


Finally, throughout the children's upbringing, the importance of family was upper most in their lives. The Plumer family household was the social gathering place of the community. Music and singing filled the air on a regular basis. Wayne was known to have purchased the first gramophone in those parts. It was a console Edison Victrola. It must have been extremely well made, because it had to withstand almost continuous usage. The Christmas and Fourth of July holidays were extremely special occasions. On those days, all unnecessary work ceased. Christmas was recalled by the smell of a huge turkey, the singing of Christmas Carols, and the impatient anticipation of what Santa would bring. Toys of the day were usually hand made, and any other present usually served a practical purpose. From early in the morning on July 4th, the air was filled with the sound of firecrackers. The children raced to be the first one out of bed so they could awaken the rest of the family to a thunderous crack. As "Old Glory" waved throughout the day, chickens were butchered and fried, corn was roasted, and endless freezers of hand-cranked ice cream were consumed. The children grew up quickly from the heavy responsibilities they had to shoulder, but there were many other good times too. Fishing in a nearby creek was a frequent summertime pastime. Hitching a twenty foot ladder to a gentle old horse, and being pulled through the snow banks, was great fun during the winter. A recollection of hard, rugged winters with heavy snows and extreme cold came to mind.


In 1918, when Orville was five, his sister Mildred was born. She was the start of the "second family," with three more children to follow. In the fall of 1919, the Plumer family was graced with an inheritance from a family member and moved back to Illinois. The trip back was one of Orville's earliest remembrances. His Dad made the trip by freight train, along with the livestock and farm equipment. Before doing so, he purchased the first Ford Model T ever seen in the area. Dudley, Wayne's brother, made the trek out from Illinois to drive the rest of the family back. It was a grueling three-day trip. Nights were spent sleeping in the car. or in the haystack of a friendly farmer. Many people offered them meals, and they were treated well on the cross country trip. They returned to the Chadwick area, and settled on the old Stevens farm on Telegraph Road. There was a small creek nearby that would soon bring tragedy to the family. Tragedy struck during the summer of 1921. The family was on a picnic and the children had gone in the creek swimming. During the swim, the eldest son Worthen stepped into a deep hole and drowned. The family was consumed with grief, and made a weekly pilgrimage to the cemetery for many months.


As Orville entered his teens, three more siblings were born. Doris in 1920, John in 1922, and Ruth in 1925. This completed the family. During this period, farm prices became more and more depressed. The family struggled to make ends meet. Orville's dad took a job with the State I Highway Department to subsidize their income. All efforts were futile and in 1928, in the midst of the Great Depression, the farm was lost. Shortly thereafter, things went from bad to worse. The administration changed from Republican to Democrat, and Wayne lost his Highway job. Flis mother did practical nursing to add to the family income, and Wayne eventually found work at the feed and grain company in Milledgeville. These were Orville's high school years. He was quite active in school as a member of the glee club, track team, and member of the band, in which he played the trumpet. Playing baseball was also a beloved pastime and would remain so throughout his life.


Orville and his brothers and sisters struggled through the Depression years and slowly drifted away into their own lives. Orville eventually settled in Dixon. He enrolled at Coppins School of Business, a highly regarded institution in those days. It was during this time that Orville got his first real job, or should I say, real jobs. I worked as a bell-hop in a hotel, which paid for his room. He also was employed as a waiter, which paid for food and everything else. That was his first real cash in hand. He was about twenty-years-old. After graduating from business school he worked for several different companies. It was also during this time that Orville acquired his first car, a 1933 or 1934 Chevrolet.


Shortly thereafter the Nazi menace began to rear its ugly head. Orville had strong feelings about this, and enlisted in the army. He was sent for basic training to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There he was trained in the use of field artillery. Orville was recognized, by his superiors, as a bright soldier. Eventually he was enrolled into the officers training program. He graduated as a second lieutenant, and was stationed in Alaska. He was part of a group that transferred troops to the Far East. Also during that time, there was a constant threat of invasion from the Japanese. The Japanese had made efforts to land on the nearby Aleutian Islands, so the area was on constant alert. There was not much time for relaxation. To break up the monotony and boredom, frequent U.S.O. shows were very popular. Eventually, Orville and the company chaplain were put in charge of coordinating these shows. It made things much more exciting. Not only did he meet many high ranking officers, but many movie stars as well. Bob Hope and Neal Hamilton came into his mind immediately. His fondest memory is that of a snowball fight with Ingrid Bergman, a beautiful actress of the day. Although Orville's army duty may seem glamorous, he recalls it as the worst job of his life. He served out his tour and after the war he was commissioned out as a captain. Also during the war. Orville met and married the love of his life Alvina.


After the war ended, Orville and Alvina took up residence in Indianapolis, Indiana. Orville's contact with famous people did not end during the war. In the house next door lived a young. struggling, actor-comedian named Dick Van Dyke. Orville took a position in the transportation industry. Little did he know this would end up being his major career choice. Throughout the rest of his life, he would fill various managerial positions in the industry. As Orville and Alvina's love grew, so did their family. They were blessed with the birth of two daughters, Mary and Marge. The family prospered in their Hoosier home until the girls were teenagers. An unexplained swipe of God's hand took a beloved wife and mother away much, much too soon.


Orville, now a single father, moved his family to Chicago. There he raised the girls, saw them marry and raise families of their own, and eventually both move to California. He remained in the Chicago area for a few more years and now also resides in California. He lives near both of his daughters and his grandchildren. He recalls his life as very fulfilling. A life-long Chicago White Sox fan and a new found love for the San Jose Sharks and Sacramento Kings are favorite topics of conversation. At ninety years young, he is still active in his garden, his church, and with his family. All three of those cornerstones his parents displayed to him so many years ago. He still enjoys reading Grisham novels, listening to music, going to movies, and especially working crossword puzzles.


This is just a glimpse into the life of a man who has really lived. The reason it is important to me is because he is my uncle. This story, his story, is a part of my family history. Throughout most of my life he has not lived close to me, but many of the things he has done have affected me. He took me to my first big league baseball game. He gave me my first tour of downtown Chicago. He took me to China Town, on 22nd Street in Chicago, for my first Chinese dinner. Outside of my own father, he has been very instrumental in my life, without even knowing it. This story is to show how grateful I am to him for what he has done for not just me, but for the Plumer family as a whole. His strong moral character has set the standard in my family for many years.