JOHN NORTON: Here’s to more good years ahead

HJohn-Nortone raised a family the old fashioned way — he worked his tail off.

A general laborer and jack-of-all-trades, he worked construction, and at General Motors and Chrysler before landing a job with the state as a construction foreman inside the prison system in Ionia. He was never rich, but the family never did without either. He made sure of that, even if it meant working two jobs, delivering furniture or hauling trash.

Blue collar. Fiercely loyal. Blunt. What you see is what you get.

He is my father-in-law Ed, and he accepted me into his family with grace and kindness, even though this young farm boy took his youngest daughter away at the tender age of 18. I still remember when I asked for his “blessing” on the proposal.

“So you’re going to go to college full time, plus work and start a marriage? Sounds like a tough row to hoe?” he said. Young and brash, I said yep… and he said then he’d support our decision, our wishes. It’s what parents do. 

Almost 81, he’s battling cancer again, damn it, after a wonderful 7-year hiatus. The prognosis is sketchy. We pray and hope for the best. While we fear the worst. As we all know, cancer is a bitch.

I love him, of course. But I respect him even more. 

I’ll share one story. 

His mother-in-law passed away of old age in her mid-90’s. She was the caretaker of his sister-in-law, who is moderately impaired both physically and mentally and in a wheelchair. When discussing housing options with her seven siblings, he spoke up – and invited her to live with him.

No need to put her in a home, he said. So home Mary Catherine came — to his home.

Compassion. Doing the right thing, despite personal inconvenience. That was pushing 15 years ago. And the commitment hasn’t wavered. Not once. Family matters to him. 

And he matters to the family, of course. To his wife, their six kids, and the bunches of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He and I watch Michigan football games together. And go to a handful of auctions each year. And play cards. And visit, while we watch the kids grow up around us.

He enjoys retelling some of the same stories of yesteryear. About growing up poor near Fowler. About farming with horses, which spawned a love of horses that lasted most of his life. He raised quarter horses. And stories about his own father, “a mean S.O.B.” who was not one to show affection.  

He rose above it. After high school he did a stint in the army during the Korean War. And fell in love and married a good German Catholic girl from Westphalia almost 60 years ago.

It’s been a good life. And it’s not over. Here’s to more good months ahead, more years, more living.

I have a good farm auction circled on my calendar, and as usual, he’s eying a tractor. 

I’ll bring a chair so he can sit when he gets tired, or for when the pain comes.

And I’ll buy the coffee. It’s the least I can do. He’s hoeing the tough row now.

Hang in there, pop.

Leave a Reply