On July 12, 1997, my father, William Jennings Downs left this life at 76 years of age. He died peacefully in his sleep. My mother, Alma H. Downs, had passed away a mere 18 months earlier (February 3, 1996) due to complications from quadruple bypass surgery.
My father was a farmer, although he had many other jobs (flexible in their time demands so that he had the time to farm as well) to make ends meet. At one time or another, he was a newspaper delivery man and drove delivery trucks for industrial linen services and a bread distributor; he was an insurance agent; he worked for the USDA Extension Service; he was a tractor mechanic, a bookkeeper, a general store manager and a hardware store manager. I’m sure there are other jobs he had that I either have forgotten or he had before I was born. But he would have thought of himself as a farmer.
He once said to me that one of the things he loved best was to watch plants grow. Just before he died, he was working two large gardens from which he gave vegetables and fruits to his neighbors and friends. In my freezer was about a dozen pints of strawberries he planted and harvested earlier that year. He was one of the most generous and kind-hearted men I have ever known.
Unlike my father, my mother worked for the U.S. Post Office Department/U.S. Postal Service from 1958 to 1988, albeit in several different locations. She started out as postmaster of Onemo, Virginia which was, at one time, housed in the general store my father managed. In 1972, she became a postal clerk at Prince Frederick, Maryland, and after 1978, was acting postmaster of, in turn, Hartland, Va.; Ark,Va.; and Bavon,Va. She finally ended up where she had started, postmaster of Onemo, staying there until she retired in 1988. From necessity my mother worked at a time when many married women did not. I don’t know what kind of guilt she may have felt, but I have always been proud of her being a working mom.