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farm windmill

In the 1960’s our visits with our large extended family became rare. We lived at least fifty miles away from most of them, my parents were both working full-time, my brothers were away starting their careers, and I was busy with my school and extra-curricular activities. The three of us, my parents and I, did regularly go to see Grandma and Grandpa Warfel. That is when I learned how politically interested my grandparents were, Grandpa vocally, Grandma less so. I listened. They talked. Prohibition was Grandma’s prime concern in several conversations; Social Security was Grandpa’s. They teased about cancelling each other’s votes when they went to the polls. It was a common tease; they usually agreed about their votes.


Grandma had been a long-time member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She began to become senile in those years, before she was 70, much to everyone’s surprise, because she was a loving, intelligent woman who kept track of everyone and everything. Soon thereafter Grandpa’s bottle of wine began to appear on the kitchen counter.


Grandpa had to begin making Social Security payments in 1954, when the law was extended to farmers. He resented paying into a fund that he didn’t expect to collect, ever! His method of preparing for old age, since he didn’t believe in banks, was to stash money in hiding places. When he died of a stroke in 1971, at the age of 81, his family found tens of thousands of dollars hidden in various places in his house.


During our visits he railed against Roosevelt and Social Security. It would surely run out of money before most people got to collect anything, since the fund started from zero, people collecting from the first more than they ever paid into it, and it would run out before those who had paid their whole lives ever got to collect a penny. He was especially concerned for his children and grandchildren, since they were the ones who would be left out. That’s why he wouldn’t collect anything, on principle, since he had paid into it so few years, even though he didn’t want to be forced to pay anyway. The government should just stay out of people’s private business. My father encouraged him to go ahead and collect it, after he reached the age of 72, which was 1962, since everyone else of his age was doing so, and his refusal to collect wouldn’t do any good for his children and grandchildren anyway. Eventually Grandpa did collect, receiving from it as many years as he paid into it, and quite a bit more than he paid into it, as it turned out. When he died, and Grandma had to enter the nursing home for day and night care, due to her dementia, the Survivor’s Social Security check went far in helping to pay for her care for the remaining three years.


There were many other issues that bothered him. He did not believe in street demonstrations, but the mistreatment of Negro citizens was criminal in his opinion, and the laws were late in coming to their aid.  He hated the KKK, and proudly spoke of Grandma’s defense of their young family, with a shotgun even (!), when the KKK in Jasper County threatened her while he was away working for his brother in Champaign County. They were recruiting and threatening neighbors who didn’t volunteer to join. He and Grandma soon moved to Champaign County. As Grandma descended into senility, she again imagined people sneaking around her house and trying to break in.

He was a “Lincoln Republican,” he often said, and he understood that Republicans believed in civil rights in contrast to Democrats. Republicans had passed the key amendments to the constitution that guaranteed equality, that his father, John Dougherty Warfel, had fought to win in the Civil War. Grandpa brought out the gun that J.D. had used, to show me, and the photos of J.D. and his brothers Uriah and Philip Warfel in uniform. He was glad Eisenhower had backed the effort to desegregate the schools in the South. It was a suspicious alliance between Northern and Southern Democrats that prevailed in the 1960’s; he didn’t trust it to last or accomplish anything good for the people.