My father Merrill Pepperd was known as an unusual man, but not for the obvious reason that he was deaf. He was perceptive, charming, intelligent and adventurous. He was born in 1897, the second in a family of six. This picture was taken of him in 1922 in Klamouth Falls, Oregon. That is a long way form Comanche County, Kansas where he was born and grew up. I've often wondered what drew him to that place, but he became known to the family for his wanderlust. That wasn't always good with young mouths to feed.
Usually when Dad headed out, it was because he and Granddad had a falling out. It was a complex relationship. Granddad was a kind-hearted man and utterly devoted to family, but he was also gruff. He and Dad did not communicate well. I think that was partly because Granddad refused to learn the deaf language. That was puzzling because Granddad willingly moved his family to Olathe, Kansas every winter so that Dad could attend the school for the deaf. As a boy Dad got so homesick he quit eating, and the school officials sent word for the family to come and get him. Granddad found another solution, and Dad graduated from high school at Olathe. The school wanted him to stay and teach. He would have been so good at teaching others. Instead, he chose farm and family. What a pity.
Dad was a mechanical genius. He could figure out how anything worked and fix it if need be. Granddad was always buying new farm equipment so that came in handy, but I know Dad was also a dreamer. He was an avid reader, and treasured a huge book of art. Who knows what he wanted to be, and I know it pained him to be thought stupid because he could not hear. He read lips well long before the schools were teaching lip reading. Mostly though, my brothers and I were Dad's interpreter. He always carried a pad and pencil.
Sometimes when some man would refer to Dad as the "dummy," I would come to life like a fox terrier after a rat. I would proclaim how smart he was and how wrong the man was. Dad would look puzzled and make the sign to ask "what", meaning what was wrong. Often the fellow would look apologetic and say he just meant Dad was deaf. I think Dad knew without my explaining, and he would look at me with mild disapproval while signing that I was not being "nice." He was polite, and he wanted us to be polite.
It makes me sad that he had such potential but that he lived much of his life in abject poverty. He treasured education. When he learned I was attending college, he looked stricken that he could not help me and was proud that I worked my way through junior college and beyond. He didn't live to see me get an MBA from Illinois, but he would have marveled at it.
I remember his joy in living. He always had fun. He was crazy about children and brought us little animals from the fields for pets. We always had dogs and cats as well. The picture above is from Grandad's farm. My older brother was getting his first calf riding lesson, one filled with obvious joy. That was in 1931 in the middle of the Dust Bowl, but it did not keep us from having fun. We always laughed a lot. Thanks, Dad. Wherever you are, I hope your talent is recognized.