Autobiography of Maron Kiehn
—by Nathan on May 13, 2011—
Last year, I was given a Greenhouse assignment where I had to interview a person about a certain period in the 1900s. I chose to interview my grandfather, Maron Kiehn. For about three hours, I sat on his couch and listened to him talk about his life. It was a wonderful experience, and I'm pretty sure I learned more about him that night than I did for the fifteen years I had known him. After the interview, I wrote a paper with the information I had gleaned from him and even gave a presentation on it. Recently, that interview has become more significant to me, what with his passing and his funeral. I was given the opportunity to read the paper I wrote at the funeral, and I did. The following is what I read. It's a little condensed and edited from the original version, but it still carries the life of an amazing man. I am very thankful for my grandpa agreeing to share what information he could with me. I believe my relationship with him was better because of it. The paper was written in first person, and it may be my words, but it's about Grandpa's life. And what a life he had!
"My name is Maron James Kiehn. I was born October 23rd, 1931 to a couple of Oklahoma farmers. My life could probably be cut into three sections: Wheat farmers' boy, Korean-bound medic, and city-slicking, hard-working man. It has been quite a life...close to 79 years of honest, God-fearing living. I've loved every second of it, or, at least, most of the seconds.
I was born and raised in the heart of Oklahoma. We farmers had quite the different life than those folks up in fancy cities like Chicago and New York did. While many of them went out to operas and plays in their suits and dresses, my mom worried herself crazy about debt and mortgage. 'Course, being a kid, I didn't care about any of that. To me, life was visiting friends down at the other farms, shooting fireworks out into the fields (and putting out fires with gunny sacks from time to time), and tricking people at Halloween. Yep. Tricking fellas was fun. We'd put shingles in front of folks' doors or let the air from their truck tires, all the while wearing these smirks that made us look like possums who'd eaten mustard out of a hairbrush.
During those days, many local businesses did well. Folks didn't have credit cards, everything was paid in cash. We couldn't splurge much and didn't go out to eat a lot either. Occasionally, we went out to Pop Hicks, but that was mostly it.
'Course, not having a lot of money didn't mean we couldn't have fun. Most of our friends lived only a few miles or so down the road from us. Any morning, they could pop in for breakfast. We'd go swimming in the river, visit other friends and neighbors, and play baseball. I'd sometimes join the family for picnics or fishing for catfish. Catfish are as slippery as a bar of soap! We never went to movies, 'cause of our Mennonite religion, but we did listen to the radio, lots and lots of radio. I'm surprised we didn't wear the dials out. We would all huddle around the old thing after dinner and listen to the comedies of George Burns and the adventures of the Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger. Life was peachy keen as a child. But, every child grows up.
The Korean War was going on. Fellas were needed over there. 'Cause of my religion, and my father's wishes, I signed up as a "conscientious objector." I could've gotten a farm deferment- that meant I had to stay home and watch the land- but I joined, so I could get away from the responsibilities of farming. I wanted to be a part of the signal core, I even aced the test; but, because I was a conscientious objector, I had to become a medic. I trained in Virginia, Texas, and Colorado before leaving for Korea. While I was training, the war ended. It was a hard thing, leaving for another country. I was excited, though. Funny thing happened while sailing to Korea. It was Christmas Eve, and I fell asleep. During the night, we crossed over the International Date Line. So, next thing I knew, I woke up to discover that it was December 26th! I had slept through Christmas! I've always thought that the best part of serving overseas was seeing all the sights in other countries. My job was in the dispensary, giving shots and taking blood. I was stationed in the town of Yong Dong Po, and then was moved to a place called Kimpo, near a landing strip.
I spent a year in Korea, came home in February, and stayed with relatives in Fresno, California, before heading back to Oklahoma. I helped on the farm until April, and then headed off for Chicago. I got paid through a G.I. bill that got me an education at DeVry, but I also needed a job. I worked at the First National Bank as a check sorter for a time, and even serviced TVs after that, but then I landed a job at NBC. I was vacation relief, which meant I took over for some fellas who had left for a time. I had jobs like running a camera on a bowling show and being a remote control on Zoo Parade. In July, the relief was over, and I was let go. I repaired TV tuners for a while before eventually getting the job I was to have for many years: working for ABC.
Travel was an amusing thing back then. Roads had only two lanes, not four. Back in Oklahoma, Route 66 was so busy that we needed a guide to help us get onto the road from the church lot. Hotels were privately owned, and there was no such thing as fast food. While in Oklahoma, I drove a Model A Ford to school when I was about 13. Later, I got a '51 Ford and then a '57. In those days, you never drove a Chevy. Never. People would think you were crazy.
Social times have changed a lot. Like church. In the '50s, we would have choir practice once a week, an evening service on Sunday, and Christian endeavor once a month. I probably go to church a third of the time now than when I used to.
Times are different now. Resources and technology have become more open to us over the years. I remember getting my first TV back in the '50s. Now, I can get HDTV and satellite and all that. Also, cars change. I would look crazy if I drove my '51 Ford on the road today, out among all those fuel-efficient Hyundai's and sleek Prius's. And iPods have replaced radio, and cities have grown... I can't name all the changes. But I have been excited to live through them. Though technology has grown, there were a lot of good things back in the old days. Honesty. Friendliness. Still, I can always remember."
Thanks for the memories, Grandpa. We miss and love you very much.