When I think of Father's Day, I see returning WWII vets running down the gangplanks, hugging wives and children that they had not seen in years. Or the navy guys grabbing female strangers in Times Square, planting kisses on painted lips and celebrating till the wee hours of V.E. Day. I am a part of the baby-boomer generation. Though I didn't arrive on the earthly plain until 1957, I still identify with these men because I was raised by one of them. A man born before the great depression, wracked with polio shortly after birth, a man who lost his father at age 4 and had to somehow become a man himself at a young age, quitting school to work in the fields, the mills, and wherever else he might earn a nickel toward the support of his family.
Charles Hazel (Pete) Reid was this man. While my grandmother eventually remarried, my dad was still the man of the house, meting out the punishment to his younger step-siblings as his mom required. Even then, my aunts and uncle still refer to him as a loving and good man. I agree with them on this point.
He was a man who, although his disability wouldn't allow him an active wartime role in the military, hopped a train and 'hoboed' from Greenville, South Carolina to San Diego California, living on 'pecans and toothpaste' while helping to rebuild ships torn apart by those dreaded kamikaze attacks. He had to do his part for the war effort. My dad.
Growing up during this turbulent time in American history, as so many brave men did, his value system was worlds apart from the values we hold to today. Their main purpose was not only survival for their families, but survival for the very nation that provided them freedom and security. Many fought and died for these principals and we are still a nation today because of them.
Pete had many stories from those days, and for the days leading up to the births of moi and my brothers and sister. A favorite of mine was the time he drove a taxi in Greenville. Stopping at the train station on Washington Street, hoping to pick up a recent arrival as a fare, he parked in front and waited. Soon, another taxi pulled between him and the station and, lo and behold, the first person to exit the station went to the first waiting cab. My dad was livid! This upstart cabbie had stolen his fare! Later that afternoon, a cabbie was found murdered and robbed in another part of town. Yeah, it was the guy who stole dad's fare, saving dad's life.
Fate is a funny thing.
Another story involves my dad and a coworker at the shipyard in San Diego.
One of the jobs on board these ships was to clean and sand and weld inside the diesel tanks of these monsters. Sometimes fumes still permeated the air in these tanks. A black co-worker had been assigned duty with another man to do the initial cleaning on this particular tank. My dad, a smoker like most in those days, asked his black friend to join him for a smoke before they went back to work. While they were having a cigarette, the other man in the tank created a spark while sanding and caused an explosion, killing the man. Had dad not asked his coworker to join him for a smoke, the black coworker would have perished as well. This decision served my dad well. Later on, while out drinking with another coworker from the same yard, they ended up missing the bus back to the base and were forced to walk (stagger) back. They ended up in a large, predominantly black neighborhood where, especially in those segregated days, a white man shouldn't venture. His white coworker, emboldened perhaps by his inebriated state, or the fact that he was a white man, started mouthing off to a few of the neighborhood residents. Before long, a large crowd had encircled them and were about to tear them apart when a large black arm reached through the crowd, grabbed my dad by the shoulder and announced "I got this one". Dad was dragged to an apartment, where he half expected to see his last sunrise when he suddenly realized that this was the man whose life had been spared by an unexpected smoke break (odd, isn't it). "I don't know why you're in this neighborhood but you gotta get outta here now", said his black friend, who proceeded to smuggle him back to the base.
One good deed deserves another. Dad also mentioned that he never saw this particular white coworker again.
When I think of the circumstances that led up to my birth, I feel very, very fortunate to be here at all!
I identify with that generation, the one Tom Brokaw termed "The Greatest Generation", not because I was an immediate post war baby; after all, I didn't come along until the late fifties; but because I choose to. These men, the men I grew up with, and was influenced by, were my compass point. They projected onto me and my peers an attitude of toughness, of unmistakable grit and determination that I carry with me to this day.
Dad also taught us that a man was a man; not black or white, not christian or muslim, but a man. That he was worthy of respect until proven otherwise. Or in the words of Pete: "Not black or white, but is he an asshole or not an asshole-they come in all colors, ya know".
My friend's fathers were cut from the same cloth; textile workers mostly, they knew even then that it takes a mill village to properly raise a 'youngun'. We dared not get caught doing anything that we weren't supposed to be doing by any of the neighborhood dads, as we knew that their belts stung just as much as our own dads'. And, unlike today, our dad would always thank the other dad for 'taking care of this' and then proceed to beat your ass when you got home.
When I say 'beat your ass', I don't mean in an abusive fashion. It was purely a 'spare the rod spoil the child' mentality, where most whippings were followed by a frank and heartfelt talk. They, in their own way, reminded us that punishment was doled out with love and was always in our best interest. I believe that to this day.
I remember hearing war stories from Doug Norwood's dad about fighting the Japanese. I remember Larry Durham's dad's stories of old baseball games and various sports legends. Or the time David Baker's dad had my ass for throwing rocks at cars near his house (David's dad could just give you a look and a mild scolding, but you felt as though he had your ass).
So, on this Father's Day 2011, a day in which my sister reminded me that this will be our thirtieth Father's Day without him, I raise a glass (or a cup of coffee) to my father, Charles "Pete" Reid, and all the dads of that generation for being who they were: always brave, sometimes lucky, ever present dads waiting with a belt or an encouraging word, depending on the circumstance.
Jun 12, 2011
Like most great road trips, this one began as an afterthought.
Late May in South Carolina and the heat had already settled in, spring having pretty much run it's course. Memorial Day week was upon us and Laura had planned on camping with Mom and Jim in North Carolina for the week. I had plans to visit the family in Greenville for a couple of days and then back home for the duration of the holiday. This was not to be.
BFF Pamela, of Greenfield, Mass., is a motorcycle rider, a trait that comes a naturally to her as her culinary skills. Straddling a 600cc bike, Adams leans into curves like she designed each one, making slight adjustments as she anticipates the next. Of course, she knows these roads pretty freakin' well having lived in western Massachusettes for ten years. She began riding as a kid in Haiti. She was a dirt biker, navigating the sandy trails of the southern part of Haiti, jumping the dunes and more or less being the tomboy that she is. Now she rides the roads of western Mass. through hail and snow.
So, I'm on the phone with Pamela and she tells me how her partner Liz had just bought a Honda 650 and it needed breaking in. "It's spring here Reid", she says with that hint of a smile in her voice. Hmmm....spring, riding the Berkshires, historical sites, me and Adams together again looking for trouble. How could I resist?
So with a quick right turn I pointed the Jetta northwards for the 15 hour drive.
I made pretty good time, hitting Greenfield early the next morning. Adams had made arrangements for me to grab some shuteye while she worked and I took great advantage of it. Good thing. When I was awakened at 1pm by Adams, she was ready to get my visit officially started. Oh, did I mention that when I walked into my room, a fine bottle of scotch awaited on my pillow? Oh yes! This visit will be a good one! We fired up the bikes and headed out across the farmlands and small mountains of Greenfield. Since I hadn't been on a bike since I sold my KZ1000 in the late 90's, I was concerned that I'd lost my skills, but it came back to me within a mile of departure.
Anyone who hasn't visited this part of the country is missing a real treat, especially if you're into the early history of America. Hardly a curve goes by until you come upon a farm that has been worked for centuries, sometimes by the same family. Or top a hill and there's another house built in the 18th century. Historical markers abound, some describing indian massacres, revolutionary-era skirmishes or the exploits of former colonists. Pay your respects to revolutionary war soldiers at almost any cemetery you come across while riding the valleys near the Mohawk Trail. Or see the headstones of entire families wiped out by cholera or smallpox.
If shopping is your thing, Yankee Candle has a large store just outside of Greenfield,
or stop at one of the centuries-old apple orchards that dot the valleys. I had a taste of an apple that was picked from one of the first apple orchards in the country (it was pretty bitter).
During our ride, Liz's bike developed a carburetor issue so we took it back home and called it a day. Next morning, I jumped in the Jetta and headed up to Vermont to catch some early morning pictures of the countryside. Back to the house by 11am, Adams arrived home from work and announced another trip: "we're heading over to New Hampshire". And away we went!
There's much more to this journey, like the sojourn up Mt. Sugarloaf,
or the fine dinner at "The Ho" with local beer to wash it down, or meeting a couple of new friends down near Holyoke, and the candlestick bowling fiasco (she wiped the floor with me) but I'll leave these tales to memory.