Dad aka John Edward Welch
By Lori Welch Brown
Dad aka John Edward Welch
Last year I had the privilege of profiling several great dads for the June issue. This year I hit the jackpot—I was able to interview my own father, John Welch. Up until April, he had been residing in Pensacola, FL. Unfortunately, he took a fall in February which resulted in a stint at a nursing rehab center during which time he decided to move back to Virginia. He is currently splitting his time between my brother’s house and mine so I only had to travel as far as my kitchen table for our chat.
Dad was born in Fauquier County just below Orlean, VA in 1929. He was number three in a lineup of nine kids born to Edward Lee and Belle Baker Welch. Sadly—only six children survived. His parents lost a set of boy/girl twins and one son from a set of boy twins. There were also four half-siblings from his father’s first marriage. It was definitely a different time as Dad spent most of his childhood working on the family farm. Like today, school started in September, and ended in June. “You can’t wait until plowing crops and harvesting is done to start school and expect to keep up with the rest of them,” said Dad so he didn’t go back after the eighth grade. During the summer, he worked for the highway department cutting bushes. When he was 15, he went to work at Stillhouse Hollow Farm as a tractor driver. About a year later, a friend suggested they go to Washington, DC and get jobs. They found a room to rent for $20 a week near N. Capitol Street. “Ernest got a job working at the Wilkins Coffee plant, and I was working for a wholesale distributor making $80 a week,” said Dad. Ernest decided he wanted to go back to Hume after a few months so Dad returned to Stillhouse. Some months later, the foreman told Dad to go out in the field and pick up rocks. He recalls it was November, very cold and he didn’t have gloves. He threw a couple of rocks in the cart and said, “Sir—for sure I can make a better living than picking up rocks.” He had a car by then and headed to Centreville where he landed a job hauling sod. “I got paid $7 a load and tried to make two loads a day,” Dad added. A friend gave him a tip about a job driving a dump truck—he had never driven one before, but he applied and was given the job. “I had no idea what I was doing, but I jumped behind the wheel and did what I was told.”
It was around that time that he met my Mom who happened to be visiting her aunt and cousins in Marshall, VA. Dad was home for the weekend and cruising around town with a friend when they spotted a couple of attractive girls sitting on the corner. They turned the car around and struck up a conversation. (This was definitely pre-Match.com). Dad was drafted into the Korean War shortly after and was sent to Ft. Knox for basic training. When training was completed, his commanding officer pointed to a sign with job assignments and told Dad to pick his top three. He picked motor pool and a couple of others he couldn’t recall. “Great—none of those are available, go stand in with the Medics.” Dad laughs when he tells that story because he had no medical background whatsoever, but, like driving the dump truck, he just did what he was told. After some additional training back in Virginia, he was sent to San Francisco where he boarded a ship for Japan. By the end of his two-year duty he was supervising a crew of 20 in an Army hospital. Had they given him a stripe, he would have re-enlisted, but alas—they were out of stripes so he came home. Thanks to some good old fashioned letter writing, Mom and Dad’s romance blossomed and he proposed upon returning stateside. They married in June of 1954, and their first son Phil was born in 1955, Chuck in 1956, Marty 1961, followed by me in 1966. “The day you were born was the happiest day of your mother’s life,” said Dad – I think it’s important we immortalize that in print.
Dad enjoyed a long career as a Steamfitter with Local Union 602 for 40+ years before a heart attack forced him into retirement in 1991. A couple years after Mom passed in 2006, he met a woman and they moved together to Pensacola—he was 82 at the time.
While I’m sad that an injury is what landed Dad at my kitchen table, I feel blessed to have this time with him. At 89, he is still sharp as a tack, quick with a smile, and has the same happy disposition that has been his trademark. He keeps his flip phone at the ready to catch up with family and friends. I’ve nicknamed him “Chatty Cathy.” When he plays tug-of-war with our dog Dozer, his face lights up and I can envision that boy on the farm. He works hard at everything he does—right now he is working hard at regaining his mobility.
So, Dad, what do you like most about being a father?
Taking care of my kids.
What’s the hardest thing about being a dad?
You’ve always got to help them—there’s no end—especially when they’re little. Starts getting easier after their teen years. Today, that’s the biggest thing—making sure they turn out to be good kids.
Did you know there was anything you wanted to do differently from your own father?
I did just about everything differently—didn’t hold anything back when it came to that. I had to stay out of school and work. I knew I didn’t want that for my kids—I wanted them to have at least a high school education, and I knew I didn’t want them to do farm work.
Do you have any advice for the new dads out there?
Hope you have a good job and you can afford to have them and provide for them.
Today it’s not unusual for both parents to work. As the primary breadwinner, did you have any other roles as parent?
I did it all—changed diapers—I fell into all the roles. It was hard work, but my main job was to put food on the table.
You and Mom were married for 52 years before she passed. Any marital advice?
You’ve got to get along. Everything is not going to be perfect. You’re gonna fight, but you have to learn how to control your temper. Your Mom was a nice lady. She loved you kids. She saw that you kids got up, got your doughnuts and got off to school.
Note: She didn’t just send us off with doughnuts—we had coffee to dunk them in.
Tell me about a happy memory you have with your dad.
My happiest memories are when we were riding horses. I was able to go when there was a spare horse to ride. My younger brother seemed to always have a horse, but sometimes I got stuck with a work horse. We would go fox hunting just below Hume.
What are you most proud of?
Happy Father’s Day!