Back left, Linda Swain Bethea, holding Connie Swain Miller’s hands, Middle Back Billy Swain, Back Right Phyllis Swain Barrington holding Marilyn Swain Grisham. Picture made about 1961
Bill Swain and Kathleen Holdaway Swain, June 29, 1945
When I reflect on my father’s life, it is odd to think I am several years older now than he was when he died at fifty-seven. He had retired, all five of his children were grown and on their own, and his life was no longer a struggle. He had realized his dream and had large herds of cattle on two farms. He had mellowed out and life was good. He died only three weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in December, 1981.
When puzzling out his behavior, I now realize Daddy’s moods were bipolar. He was extremely quick to anger, irritable, easily offended. The worst thing his children could do was to embarrass him. Quick to reach for a belt or switch like so many parents of his era, he considered himself strict, though he would be classed abusive now. Many times, we wore stripes for days after a whipping. His goal was to raise children who were law-abiding, respectful, and hard-working. Though his methods were beyond strict we might have rebelled had we not had our mother’s softening, comforting influence. She had as little control over her life as we did ours.
The whole family’s life got harder after we moved to the farm. Land had to be cleared, brush piled and burned, barns and fences built. It was more work than any one man could do in a lifetime. Daddy must have been overwhelmed by all the work to be done. We were all pressed into service. My brother and I worked right along with Daddy, along with occasional help Daddy could afford to hire. When the day’s work started, Daddy always said, “Time to the friendship to end and the work to begin.” He was difficult to work with, not taking time to explain how to do a job, lashing out when we didn’t read his mind. I learned to hate summer and school holidays, knowing farm work was waiting. My poor brother, being three years younger than I, caught the brunt of the work, laboring on that farm almost every day he wasn’t in school from the time he was eleven till he left home. Thankfully, I was fourteen when the heavy work started and only sentenced to four years hard labor. All that farm work certainly motivated me to get an education. I had no intention of ever being subservient to anyone again. From the time I was ten or eleven, I had a miserable relationship with Daddy and avoided him whenever possible, which wasn’t often, since I had to help so much. Though I was definitely not grateful at the time, I did learn valuable skills that have helped me throughout my life. I am very strong, have good problem solving skills, and am not intimidated by difficult tasks. There was also the added benefit of developing a thick skin. I yet had to work for anyone as critical as Daddy.
With the arrival of grandchildren, he demonstrated the kindness and caring we never enjoyed. He was everything a grandfather should be. I admired a lot of things about Daddy and think we would have grown close had he lived longer.