Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Boy From the Dust

Traveling to Survive

Despite decades working as a big city police officer he remained a country boy at heart. He saw things and people as good or bad. He could not be bothered to stew about shades of grey.

When he set out to do something, whether building a house, rebuilding an engine block, or refinishing furniture, he saw his jobs through.

He was totally loyal. He would think nothing of giving the shirt off his back to someone who needed it more. He found money on the ground everywhere we went.

I saw him cry only once.

Despite all the provocation I could muster, I do not recall him ever hitting me. I did, however, witness him lose his temper. Being Irish, it was truly frightening.

Soon after anyone asked where he was we'd smell Swisher Sweet's coming from the garage.

He had a head full of hair till he died. He got his height from his mom.

He was a lifelong Republican. As soon as I reached voting age I took great pride in consistently canceling out his vote.

Almost every female that knew him confided that, at one time or another, they had a crush on him.

His name was Meredith. But everyone (except grandma) called him Mac.

To me he was just dad.

Standing: Dad, John, Grandpa Bev, Vernon
Dale (in Front)

Born in 1923, he was the third son born to Bev Lewis and Alpha Iola in Mullinville Kansas. Mullinville, population 250, is located in Kiowa County about 30 miles east of Dodge City. Today Mullinville's claim to fame is limited to MT Liggett's fantastic folk art lining Route 400 just west of town. 

The family worked Grandpa's farm until the bank sent earth movers in to crush their farmhouse. After gathering whatever they could, the family walked beside their ancient (and overloaded) Ford from Kansas to Pritchett Colorado.

Our family knows what drives the banking industry. The only difference between their reckless behavior leading to the depression and today is their steady declines in integrity.

Upon arrival in Colorado his family of eight dug a hole in the ground, covered it with wood planks and rolled roofing and called it home.

His childhood stories never acknowledged poverty. They were just another dustbowl family working to survive. They ate a lot of beans and he remembered vividly the day a government truck dropped off fresh oranges from California. He said those oranges were the best thing he had ever tasted.

Dad described life in Pritchett as time spent working on Uncle Lester's wheat and broomcorn fields, playing high school basketball and dreaming of how to escape.

Working the Wheat Fields in Pritchett

Eventually his oldest brother (John) moved to California. He took a back breaking job busting scrap iron for transport to Japan. As soon as dad could go he also went to Long Beach to live with his Aunt Elizabeth taking a job at Consolidated Aircraft. He loved California and told me how excited he was to be able to go to the Long Beach waterfront to watch Howard Hughes fly his Spruce Goose. 

When Japan started firing all that scrap iron back at the US John immediately enlisted in the Army. Dad went Navy.

Standing: Waundia, John, Vernon, Da
Seated: Maxine, Grandma Alpha Iola, Grandpa Bev Lewis, Dale

Going to War

John was quickly sent to Europe serving under Patton. He survived the Battle of the Bulge. After the war he became withdrawn. He lived in the attic of his sister Waundia's log farmhouse and never talked about the war. After he died we found a cigar box full of medals.

In the Navy dad was a firefighter. He was assigned to San Diego and the Alameda Naval Air Station. In Oakland he met my mom at a dance at Sweet's Ballroom.

Mom At Yosemite 1945

Mom and dad courted in Oakland, in Golden Gate Park and at Yosemite (where she worked each summer.) He was totally smitten, sending mom postcards and saving his gas coupon's until he had enough to drive to Yosemite whenever he could.     

A Post Card From Agua Caliente 
On the back: "There is 3 Jackasses Here - the One With the Hat is the Biggest"

At Golden Gate Park

Dad After Proposing At Yosemite

He proposed to mom on one of his trips to Yosemite. They were married in a Lutheran Church in Reno.

The Wedding Photo's

With the war drawing to a close dad became a police officer. Being a police officer defined my dad from that time on. Dad loved helping people.

Dad Working Radio

While still in his twenties he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. One generation earlier this would have been a death sentence, but the development of injectible insulin allowed for him to live a full life. It probably is the reason I am here to write this blog post today.

In fact, after witnessing many of his fellow officers fall to alcoholism, depression and suicide, he concluded that diabetes saved his life by forcing him to grow up, eat right and pass on the booze.

After raising a family, my parents moved to the country. He could once again fish and hunt and heat his house with wood.

Dad passed in 1998.

I guess if five of life's character defining events are:

1. Facing hunger
2. Being homeless
3. Overcoming serious illness
4. Shouldering a weapon in wartime
5. Working in a profession where you put your life on the line everyday

I score zero.

Dad scores five for five

Whenever we made family road trips if we heard Bobby Darin croon: "Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth dear...." dad would smile broadly and sing along.

Nowadays I do the same thing.

Mack the Knife was dad's favorite song.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

1 comment:

The Anti-Mandy said...

You don't know me, I don't know you; I arrived via a picture of your lovely mother on Pinterest. This is a truly moving story, and reminds me of my Pop. Thank you.