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52 Stories #23—My Dad’s Early Days

What was my dad like in his younger days? Occasionally he told us stories from his childhood. We listened, wide-eyed. We could not imagine a life like his.

  1. Dad and his brothers had silly nicknames for each other. Owen was “Bill”, Harold was “Skeets”, and Dad was “Doodle-bug”. The three of them planned to move to Alaska to work when they were grown, excluding their brothers Robert and Donald. The three signed The Reed Agreement to this effect.
  2. Dad hardly remembered his father. Owen Herbert Reed died in a vehicle crash near Brighton, Colorado just before Independence Day, 1935 when Dad was seven years old. My grandfather was driving a truck, hauling a load of fruit from Denver back to Wyoming when he went off the road. The load shifted and killed him. Dad and his brothers were at the movie theater in Wheatland that afternoon, looking forward to their father’s expected return that evening. A neighbor went to the theater to fetch them when their mother received the grim news.
  3. After their father’s death and the loss of his income, the family lost its place to live. Dad’s uncle Morton Reed traded some farmland near Wheatland for a small house in Loveland, Colorado and moved the family there. They qualified for widow and orphan benefits in Colorado because the accident had occurred there. Shortly after their arrival, they had a family portrait made with Harold, Owen, Robert, and Earl (my dad) in the back row and their mom, Grace, and Donald in the front.
  4. Dad and his brothers used to say, “We hated Colorado when we had to move there in 1936, and we still hate it.” Still, Harold remained there for the rest of his life, and Robert returned to Colorado after his military service. Hazel also returned to Colorado when her daughter was grown. My dad relocated to Colorado several years ago to live closer to me.
  5. Dad and his brothers suffered some frightening injuries when they were young. They sneaked into a broom-making factory one day where they initially had fun poking stalks into the cutting machine. Then Dad pushed one too far and cut off the end of his middle finger. His older brother Owen scooped up the detached digit with his handkerchief, handed it to my dad, and told him to take it home to their mother. She immediately took Dad to the country doctor who sewed it back on. Dad carries a bad scar from this accident, but the finger regained full functionality.
  6. Harold suffered a more severe injury while tree climbing. He accidentally grabbed an electrical wire and suffered a severe shock. For a long time afterwards, he had difficulty opening his hands. The same country doctor who had treated Dad instructed Harold to exercise by squeezing a small rubber ball. Harold eventually recovered full use of his hands.
  7. Dad loved sports. At school he went out for football, basketball and track. He played wide receiver on the high school football team and went on to play college football at the school in Greeley, CO. He lost several teeth when he once went head-first into a goal post. Dad’s brother Robert was the high school basketball coach, and my tall father was the center on the team. During his high school years, Dad went to the stadium one spring day to watch track practice. The coach needed someone to pace the boy who ran the mile for the track team, and he called my dad out of the stands. He beat the other boy in their race, and from then on, my dad was the miler for Loveland High School. He set a school record.
  8. The Loveland economy relied on sugar beet farming. With no men around during WWII, local high school students filled in during the harvest. In 1943, the school closed for two weeks, and Dad helped to bring in the crop.
  9. During those years, Dad had a little white dog. Runt had belonged to neighbors who could not take him along when they moved. The Reeds took him in.
  10. Dad enjoyed reading from the time he was young. In Loveland, he began his lifelong patronage of the public library. He read mostly non-fiction like military history.
  11. Dad graduated from high school when he was seventeen years old. He promptly enlisted in the Navy and went to San Diego for boot camp in 1945. After transport through Pearl Harbor to Okinawa, he was assigned to the USS Seer, a mine sweeper in the South China Sea. He spent Christmas, 1945 in Shanghai, China. Upon demobilization, he hitchhiked back to Colorado. With him he brought some Chinese pottery, a kimono, a Japanese military rifle, and his pea coat embroidered with a Chinese dragon. He also had a few photos of his time in the service. Although he served in the Navy, he did not acquire any tattoos when so many of his shipmates did. “I wasn’t interested,” was all he would say about that.

Dad has now outlived all his siblings. He will be 90 years old this week. He no longer remembers much of his younger days. I wish he had told more stories about his youth. Living through the Depression and the early death of his father made life hard for a young boy. I can see why he did not speak about it much.

 

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