Early in the morning on Sunday, March 21, 1920, a little baby boy entered this world, catapulting straight into the comfy confines of the family home in rural Jones County, Iowa. His family adored him from the very moment he took his first breath at 12:30 am, and that love from those around him continued non-stop throughout his journey of almost 73 years on this planet. That boy was Floyd Otis Siver, my grandpa.
Little Floyd’s baby book survives to this day, and it contains an abundance of tidbits. He was welcomed with gifts of a baby blanket from his Uncle Arthur Siver, a suitcase from Grandpa Allen Siver, and six dollars from Great-Grandma Alice Manly. His first word came at eight-and-a-half months: “papa,” followed a little later by “mama.” His first giggle came right away at one month old, and the accompanying smile became a Floyd trademark from that point forward.
He had every reason to be happy. He was born into a full assortment of loving family members that included parents Otis and Fern, older brother Glenn, all four grandparents, and even three great-grandparents.
Grandpa grew up out in the country with a built-in cast of characters, including older brother Glenn and numerous cousins. I remember the mischief my cousins and I caused when we were kids, so I can only imagine the hijinks Grandpa and his cousins got into. I remember Grandpa telling us how they’d grab two farm cats, tie their tails together, then throw them over a clothesline and watch them fight. He always treated cats right when he was a grandpa, so I often thought he was making up for his antics as a kid.
When Grandpa was a teenager, he went to tiny Morley High School, where he played on the basketball team and acted in plays such as “Up the Hill to Paradise” and “Opal’s Three Lovers.” I’d love to say he was a stud on the hardcourt, but he only scored nine points during his entire junior season, good for sixth-highest on a 10-man team.
Following graduation, Grandpa took up farming with his dad, Otis. He farmed much of his adult life, though by the time I knew him, he was semi-retired and working as a hail insurance adjuster for Farmers Mutual.
In 1941, he married his beautiful bride, rural school teacher Jacqueline Ida Kinler, in Olin. They farmed and started their family, which grew to include my mom and my two uncles.
When I came into this world in 1978, I adored him from the start; nothing could top a trip to Grandpa and Grandma’s house on Oak Street. Visits usually included chasing the cats in the garage, getting airborne on a tree swing in the backyard, helping Grandma collect eggs from the chicken coop while feathers flew everywhere, or playing a spirited game of checkers with Grandpa (naturally, he always let us win).
Grandpa was always our partner in crime. He never let any of us grandkids do anything too terrible, but he was willing to let us do things our parents wouldn’t have approved of. For a while, he had this gold Ford Ranchero and my brother and I would ride out with him to the farm. More than once, he let us drive. We’d sit on Grandpa’s lap and steer as we barreled down the gravel roads at five miles an hour. If one of us was driving, the other one of us would be hanging out the passenger window, chucking rocks at bridge signs. In one breath, Grandpa would caution, “Nah, nah, don’t be doing that,” then chuckle and say “nice shot” when we hit our target and heard that ever-satisfying ping.
Grandpa tended to a handful of animals on the farm, including a small herd of Shetland ponies (following in the footsteps of his father, who was known to haul Shetlands in his car). I still remember one summer day when I was helping Grandpa out in the field and a goat got feisty with me. I tried to climb out of the pasture, got my knee-high tube sock caught on the wire fence, and panicked as the goat head-butted the enclosure. With a huge grin on his face, Grandpa calmly walked over, shooed the goat away, picked me up, and set me down on the safe side of the fence. I hated that goat, but I loved my grandpa.
There’s so much about Grandpa that made him a unique character:
He wore long johns, even in the summer, because of poor circulation in his legs.
His list of allergies filled up a few pages. It included everything from simple ketchup to obscure prescription drugs with names you couldn’t pronounce. Anytime he went to the hospital and the nurse asked what he was allergic to, he just handed her the sheets. It was easier than saying them all.
He always carried butterscotch candy in the pockets of his suit coat. When you sat by Grandpa in church, you knew at some point he’d reach in and dig one out for you. However, you were out of luck if he fell asleep during the sermon, which happened often.
The best part of going to church on Sunday morning was going out to breakfast afterward. We had our usual haunts and the waitresses always grinned as soon as Grandpa walked in the door. He could joke around like no one else. Even if the waitress was having a bad day, he’d have her smiling by the time she came back around to refill his coffee mug.
Grandpa loved his pancakes, and he did something I’ve never seen anyone else do. He cut a square in the middle of the pancakes and then poured the syrup in the hole. He always told us he did that to keep the pancakes from getting soggy. To this day, I’ll do that sometimes with my pancakes for old times’ sake.
He loved going to auctions. More often that not, he’d come home with some trinkets or tools or junk, but he also went just for the chance to talk to people. We were at a farm auction one day; my brother and I saw two sets of binoculars in a pop flat of knickknacks, so naturally what we wanted more than anything in the world at that moment were those binoculars. Grandpa got outbid and some farmer ended up winning the lot. But I’ll be damned if Grandpa didn’t go over to the guy, sweet talk him a bit, and then come back with the the binoculars for my brother and me. If anyone throughout history was the ultimate “people person,” it was Grandpa.
One of his favorite places was the auction house in Springville. He was there almost every Wednesday night. The locals there nicknamed him “Pappy” and would yell it out when they saw him, much like the familiar “Norm!” yell on Cheers. This auction house was most likely the place where Grandpa first bought me some baseball cards. He also took me to my first baseball card show, creating a hobby that endures today. He would have bought me everything at the show that day. Luckily for him, a Cubs team set and some baseball coins were enough to give me a permanent smile the rest of the day.
Along with his ever-present grin, sense of humor, and endless compassion, the thing people remember most about Grandpa is his hammer collection. It all started one day when he was working on the farm and realized there was never a hammer nearby when he needed one. So to remedy that, he placed a hammer in every building on the farm. He’d buy a hammer at a farm auction here and there and soon it became a phenomenon. All the auctioneers knew him and would be quick to point out any hammers they had on sale day. Neighbors, friends, and relatives gave him hammers. He picked up odd and unique hammers all over the place.
At its peak, Grandpa’s collection included an estimated 3500 hammers. He had every type imaginable: claw hammers, ball-peen hammers, sledge hammers, gavels, circus mallets, paper hammers drawn in crayon by his grandkids. He had hammers from all over the world, including Germany, Italy, and Sweden. He had picks used by inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. He had a logging tool that an ancestor used to imprint his initials on logs. He had it all. This massive hammer assemblage covered the walls of Grandpa and Grandma’s basement, but despite the quantity, Grandpa always kept them organized and polished.
Grandpa always said that when he was gone, he wanted us grandkids to load up the hammers in a trailer and take them around to county fairs to display them. Even though I always knew he was joking, it was a lark to daydream about all of us going on a hammer tour someday.
In short, Grandpa Siver was the grandpa every kid wished they had. He loved us as much as one person could ever love someone. His generosity was inexhaustible and he spoiled us more than we ever deserved. It’s not an exaggeration to say that his grandchildren meant everything to him. He had a fun-filled life, and I think he wanted the same for us. He meant the world to us.
My world came crashing down in January of 1993. We joined Grandpa and Grandma at church on Sunday the 24th. I can about guarantee that I sat beside Grandpa in the pew and that at some point, he slipped me a piece of butterscotch candy. We turned down his offer of breakfast after worship because we were headed to a baseball card show in Cedar Rapids. We said goodbye, assuming we’d make it up to him by joining him for breakfast the next Sunday.
On that Monday night, Grandpa had a massive stroke at home and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Throughout the next week, I kept hoping he’d be okay. At 14 years old, I was oblivious to the fact that he’d never recover. The following Sunday, he passed away at the age of 72.
This was the first time I ever lost someone I was close to, and it hurt. I don’t think you ever get over losing someone you love; you just eventually figure out how to carry on and how to carry them with you. I consider myself to be the gatekeeper of my family’s history. If I have any stated purpose in life, it’s to protect and share the legacies of special people on my family tree like my Grandpa Siver.
Even if you never got the chance to meet Floyd Otis Siver, I want you to know who he was. I want you to know the man who loved life with every ounce of his being and gave the world a comforting grin when it was needed the most. I want you to know the warm-hearted man who shared so much love and happiness with everyone in his life: his parents, his brother, his wife, his kids, his grandkids, his nieces and nephews, his neighbors, fellow auction-goers, waitresses, complete strangers, Shetland ponies, and even an ornery goat.
If anything, I tell people about Grandpa to show that love and compassion are limitless; there’s enough for everyone, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of our euphoria for life and our eagerness to brighten someone else’s day. It’s a good lesson for today and always. My cousins, my brother, and I seem to do quite a few things that are reminiscent of Grandpa Siver; because of that, he’ll always be here with us.