Harry J. Hagen, The Man

Thankfully my family doesn’t come from West Virginia or Pakistan.  The family tree has nice even splits on exponents of two going back several generations.  Dad was 31 when little Sidney first saw the light of day.  My late arrival ensured that I would never know any of my Great-grandparents generations.

Much of my childhood was lived in the shadow of a truly awesome individual.  How could I describe the influence of my paternal grandfather Harry Julius Hagen?  No mainstream theory of the origin of man holds that life originated in America.  Whether your ancestors were Asiatic people crossing on a land bridge through Alaska thousands of years ago or you came to this country on a 747 last week, we are all immigrants here.

Why come to America anyway?  Perhaps the quest is bound into the name of this place as the New World.  I can see Asiatic peoples constantly searching for new ground, new herds, a new life pushing deeper into drifts of snow as they moved East through Alaska to become American Indians.  Europeans hopped into ships to discover what was there when their map ran out.  The lust was the roaring in their soul for something new.

I know little of my paternal great grandfather.  In 1875 my great-grandfather came over from Norway.  After a while he had made enough money to send for his wife and two of his three children.  During the separation one of the children died.  Great-Grandpa Julius Hagen was a math teacher in Norway. He settled near Glendale Oregon and retired working for the post office.  The children were Christian, Christopher, Mabel, Arthur, and the runt of the litter, Harry.

Grandpa Hagen was a short, tough, scrappy man.  He would have been about 6’4” if his body had not been purchased rather awkwardly on a set of stubby little legs.  Grandpa finished High School and two years of college in Civil Engineering at Corvallis, Oregon.  Then a microscopic bacterium altered his life in a strange way.  His persistent hacking cough was diagnosed as Tuberculosis.  In the early 1920’s Tuberculosis was a probable death sentence.  My grandpa, with the determination never to accept his fate, left town for Arizona, and took a job surveying for this last contiguous state in the union.  He bet his life on the gamble that working in the heat of the desert would dry out his Tuberculosis.  His gamble paid off and his health recovered in this new adventure.

Looking either up or down on your family tree is a source for pride or fear.  At times you wish you were adopted.  At other times you want to tattoo your family crest to all your relatives.  I see much of my grandfather in my father, myself and my children.  Grandpa’s bout with Tuberculosis was an example of who he was.  Grandpa was good at finding a way through a tough problem.  If change was needed he could pick up and adapt to a whole new environment.  Grandpa worked 16 hours a day 7 days a week for much of his life.  If he were a poker player he would be all in on every hand.  Grandpa was stubborn to a fault, arrogant beyond belief and driven to the point of obsession.

As my sons reach adulthood, the conflicts of our stubborn wills we show remind me of the reality of inheriting the Harry J. Hagen gene pool.  Fortunately Hagen men for four generations on my side have married amazingly tolerant women who dilute the excesses of our gene pool.  My grandpa lived faithfully with the bride of his youth.  In his old age he lay mostly bedridden suffering from the effects of a debilitating stroke.  Grandpa had a picture of my Grandma as a young woman hung on the wall level with the height of his bed.  Grandpa had a quick wit that he never lost, as he struggled to speak through his partially paralyzed mouth.  He would look at her and say that this was his first wife, the wife I have now is cranky.  He went to his grave, with his heart still gazing at that beautiful first wife who loved him always as his cranky old woman.

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