i warn you. this post is just a wee bit longer. but it had to be.
because it’s a big story.
i guess it’s really more for me than it is for anybody else.
but if you do decide to take the time to read it, i think you might
think that it was worth it. and you’ll be glad you did.
he was my dad.
here i am, 67 years old, still calling him and thinking of him as daddy.
but you see. . . he left so soon, my childhood name for him froze in the
memories of time.
he was one of tom brokaw’s “greatest generation.”
jim lost his own young father to a tragic accident when he was only 9
years old himself. it left his mother (my grandmother) mom reed, a
young widow with three little boys , ages 3, 6 and 9. my dad was the
he’d been born in a cabin on a prairie in texas. the nearest town miles
away, the nearest neighbor, two miles away by horse and wagon. when
my grandfather was killed, mom reed knew there was no future there.
some people wanted her to parcel out the boys to relatives.
she said “no. we stay together.” she moved her little family to
oklahoma city, oklahoma.
she got a job in a big hospital, working long hours.
daddy took care of himself and his two brothers, fixing meals, stopping
arguments, supervising play.
he had a job too. selling newspapers on a busy city street corner.
these were days before daycare and any kind of assistance.
and now it was the great depression.
once when mom reed came home from work, herself worn out and at
the end of her rope . . . she found that he had stood in a long soup line
to finally bring home a container of the warm goodness for dinner.
she spanked him for that, with the words “don’t you ever do that again.
we have enough. and what we get in this house, we work for.”
he graduated from selling papers to delivering prescriptions for old
doc cowdry’s drug store. by now he was 13 and had given up school to
work full time.
mom reed was studying at nights to get her practical nurse’s license.
he studied library books while she studied her nursing books.
(once when i was a teenager and had spouted off about school, he
snapped at me . . . “don’t you ever let me hear you say you hate school
when he was about 17 he rescued a family. he saved their lives.
like a scene from a movie . . . something had spooked the horses hitched
to the open flatbed wagon. the man had lost the reins. they were all just
hanging on as best they could.
jim reed raced beside that runaway wagon . . . managed to climb onto it
and onto the back of one of the horses and bring them to a stop.
my dad never spoke of these things.
i learned these stories from mom reed, when as an orphaned grownup,
i would spend the night with her and we would talk like two girls at a
she was a hard task master, was mom reed. she admitted it.
she told me she had to be. she had to get her boys’ respect early.
to her credit, every one of the three had careers in law enforcement.
jim reed loved horses. he became an excellent rider.
he simply had a natural grace about him in everything he did.
once when i was young, i remember him suddenly stopping the car.
a man was beating a tethered horse with a heavy chain. daddy raced
from the car. we saw them talk briefly. we couldn’t hear what was said.
he soon had the chains in his hands. when he got back to our car he
opened my door and dropped the heavy steel chains onto the floorboard
under my feet, which didn’t touch the floor. i can still hear those chains.
when asked about it by my mother, he simply replied ” i told him if i
ever saw him beat his horse again, i’d come back and beat himself with
these chains. i drive by here all the time and i’ll be watching him.”
jim reed didn’t play catch. he didn’t even smile all that much.
my brother and i were raised like new recruits. you said “yes sir” or
“no sir.” and you listened to what he had to say.
he had fought in the 3rd army, landed in north africa, then on the beach
head at anzio and fought in sicily and salerno and the famous battle
of casino. . . and then on and on and on against the nazis.
we learned as children to never walk up and touch him awake.
you risked a reflex blow. it would be so quick he never even knew he
had done it.
when he was first back home, even before i was born, a car backfired
once and he slapped my mother beside him to the pavement.
she was furious! he had ruined a perfectly good pair of silk stockings!
he went to work for the federal government eventually. the bureau of
prisons. every move meant a promotion. we moved a lot, as you already
my favorite place was in the blue ridge mountains of virginia. he was
a counselor there, with 20 boys in his group of responsibility.
overheard in the compound once was one boy telling another new one,
“that’s mr. reed. he won’t take no shit. but he won’t give you none,
he loved law and justice. real justice. he studied penology and
criminology classes offered by the government to those who wanted to
succeed and move forward. he did. he studied at night. the same boy
who once wore rabbit skins wrapped with strips of rawhide on his feet
to walk to school because there was no money for shoes.
he seldom watched football or other games on tv. he liked ‘gunsmoke.’
he was a rugged outdoorsman who loved nature. he didn’t like crowds.
i once asked him what he would have been if he’d lived in another time.
he never skipped a beat . . . “i’d have been a scout for a wagon train.”
a scout. a leader. the man who rode ahead. yes. he was a leader,
was jim reed.
that last year we lived in base housing. it was a nice house, the nicest
we’d ever had. this time the facility was maximum security . . .
the bad ones. murderers of every kind.
the shrill whistle blew in the middle of one terribly cold dark night.
he quickly dressed and left.
behind our house were deep dense woods and a river.
strong fast currents . . . icy water.
the nearby town and all outlying areas had to be searched. all the
officers were looking. each man on his own.
the escapee was a huge native man named yellow blanket. he was in
for murdering three people.
it was almost the light of dawn when jim reed came home.
he wanted “scrambled eggs and coffee” if it wasn’t too much trouble.
too much trouble???!!! he’s home again! alive and well! of course
it’s not too much trouble. my brother and i went back to bed.
later, mother told me . . .
daddy had looked for yellow blanket in the woods along the river.
in the dark, he’d heard yellow blanket and came up behind him.
yellow blanket whirled around, wielding a big hand-formed knife.
“you know i’m gonna have to kill ya.” said yellow blanket quietly.
“yellow blanket, you don’t want to do this.”
yellow blanket was huge. he towered over jim reed,
yet somehow realized he was talking to a taller man than himself.
“i wish it was anybody but you, mr. reed.”
finally, my daddy brought him peacefully in.
the paper work then had to be done. it was over.
one time when jim reed was 10 years old . . . my grandmother,
mom reed fell gravely ill. she took the boys with her to the hospital.
there she was told that she had to have emergency surgery.
she told me they were wheeling her down the hall to the operating room.
the hall was dimly lit and the walls were an icky green color.
racing down that hall was jim.
he ran beside her rolling bed trying to hang on.
they didn’t stop for him.
“don’t die mom! don’t die! i’ll take care of you! just don’t die.”
tears were streaming down his face.
they stopped him at the o.r. door of course.
the three little boys waited alone.
i guess kind nurses checked on them now and then.
she didn’t die. i can’t imagine the reunion.
my brother and i were at school that day, the last period.
jim reed left this world on april 5, 1963.
he was teaching some kind of class to a room full of murderers.
two of them worked and worked to try and save him. to no avail.
the doctor said he was dead when he hit the floor.
“a massive heart attack.”
i think his wonderful heart was just worn out. he was 45 years old.
the train car carrying his coffin was in front of our passenger car.
going back to oklahoma. he was leading us home.
in my lap was a small sack holding dozens of sympathy cards that
my mother, my brother and i had received.
i was reading them all for the first time.
i opened this one.
in a big childlike scrawl was written . . .
i am sorry for us.