(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
If he had lived, Roy W. Smith, my father, would have been 92 years old on the forth of this month. He died in 2005, so was “only” 86 years old at the time of his death. He was quite a guy, and a man of many talents. Parenthood was not at the top of his list, but he actually did pretty well, especially considering the example that HE had.
I am going to go into some things late in this post that some might find distasteful, but that is the reality. They do NOT involve anything like “family secrets”, so no lurid stories about child abuse of anything like that. Dad was a human being, with virtues and vices, just like the rest of us. But any kind of child abuse, verbally, physically, or sexually was never known by me. Let us put a close to anything like that.
Much of this piece I did not observe directly, since I was not born until 1957, so many of the early part of his life has to do with recollections from relatives, friends, and other folks who knew him. I have tried to filter out as much information as possible that I could not get at least two independent sources to provide, but there are likely to be some errors for the early days.
One thing that I do know as a fact was that he was raised dirt poor. Granddad never made much money, mining his own coal mine, raising a little beef, and other irregular jobs. Grandmother, on the other hand, was considered a saint by everyone who knew her. I shall go into some detail about them another time.
All of the stories agree that Dad was a great hunter, even when he was just little. Actually, that was sort of expected of him from Granddad, to put meat on the table. From the time that he was six or so he took a .22 calibre rifle and brought back for Grandmother to cook things like squirrel, rabbit, the occasional sitting bird, and other game. It formed a good part of their meagre diet at the time, in 1925 and later. Since my grandparents were not hardcore farmers who needed the farm hand, they sent him to school, and he did well. By the way, his parents were both from Birkenhead, England, having immigrated when they were both relatively young. How they ended up in Hackett, Arkansas is anyone’s guess.
In the first grade, I am told, Dad met a little girl named Geraldine Sandlin (she had no middle name). He fell in love with her almost immediately. They were pretty much inseparable for the rest of their lives. She became my mother, and the mother of my only brother, who is still with us, even though he is 14 years older than I am. They married in the late 1930s, as best as I can remember the stories. As a matter of fact, they were out hunting on December 7, 1941 and came back to the car, turned on the radio, and learnt that World War II had started.
Before they were married, my grandparents decided to move to Montana because the Depression made income almost impossible in Arkansas. Oddly, the copper mines in Montana were still hiring, so Granddad worked them. He told me that even the water in the mines were so rich in copper that they could put a steel railroad rail into into it and come back a year later to find that the iron had been almost completely replaced by copper. I was just little, and took him at his word. Now, as a Ph.D. chemist, I KNOW that this could happen.
Let us get back to Dad and his siblings for a minute. His eldest brother, Richard, was born in 1900, 19 years Dad’s senior. Aunt Hazel was born in 1915, and another brother just a few years later. I am darned if I can remember his name, but he died early of Type I diabetes. Insulin has only recently been isolated and proven to be the material needed to treat diabetics, but the science was so crude at the time that it often did more damage than help. Finally, there was Troy, the baby, who served in World War II and later died, fairly young, of a bone marrow cancer. So Dad was one of five siblings.
I remember Uncle Richard and Aunt Hazel extremely well, and they were always very kind to me. I also remember Granddad well. I am told that I was the only child that he ever liked, but by the time that I became cognizant, he was quite old. Anyway, this is supposed to be about Dad.
He was always one to do much with little. When he got a little older, in addition to his hunting, he added trapping. At the time, raccoon skins were in pretty high demand, so he caught a lot of them. He taught me how to dry and stretch skins. He never tanned them himself, but just sold them to buyers. After he and Mother were dating, he actually trapped a mink, and sold the skin for $5. That was BIG money then. He also caught a lot of skunks, and their skins were, at the time, valuable. Not many folks wanted to deal with him after a skunk catch, but he also taught me that tomato juice is a fair remedy for the scent. I have still not figured out the chemistry for that, but it does work, sort of kinda.
Anyway, he finished high school in Roundup, Montana. He pretty much had to work full time to have enough money for his family to allow him to do so. I have a couple of stories about that later. The really heartugging part is that he bought himself his Senior Gift. It was a square, 14K gold Bulova wristwatch. It still runs, and I have it in my vault. Some day it will go to one of my boys.
He was graduated in 1938 from Roundup High School. The family moved back to Arkansas just after that, since the economics were improving there, a LITTLE. Besides, the rich ore deposits were pretty much worked out by that time, and modern mining techniques had not yet been developed.
Dad liked Roundup, and I have been there, on a mammoth car trip in 1968 (I was only 11 years old) for his 30th high school reunion. Almost beyond belief, only three of his classmates had been lost in World War II. One man, who had always been considered dead from the war, actually attended the reunion! The really neat thing is that the principal, who was quite old in 1968, opened the ceremony. I was there. All she did was pick up a pencil, like a conductor would her or his wand, the crowd instantly became silent, just like it did when she was in charge. Those are good memories for me, but certainly better ones for Dad.
After they were married, my parents moved back to Roundup for a little while. Mother always HATED being cold, and gave him an ultimatum during a white out blizzard one January day: “Either we move back to Arkansas, or we are done!”
Dad was not stupid, and was very much in love with Mother. They moved back as soon an the weather broke, and never looked back. Well, except for the 1968 reunion. I met several of his high school chums, and the ones that I remember best were Mike Perilla and his principal. Mike, obviously, was Italian in heritage. Because of the time of the world, everyone called him “Mussolini”. He worked at a butcher shop, and at around 19 years of age got one of his hands caught in a motor driven meat grinder. By the time that others could come to help him, one of his arms (I can not remember which one) was gone halfway to the shoulder. All of the kids ribbed him about it, saying that he intended to do it so that he would not have to shoot Italians! He always laughed it off, and was an extremely good natured man. From the time that I met him, I liked him. Dad chose friends wisely.
David Dye was another of his friends, but did not attend the reunion. Like many people, he really did not want to revisit his early home, but Dad and he were always very close, if only via the telephone or letters. He finally was graduated from university, went to medical school, and became an excellent physician.
A year later, we took another very long car trip that went through the heartland, and finally to San Francisco and then to Tacoma, Washington, where Dr. Dye lived. He met the three of us with open arms, of course Mother and Dad first, and then shook my hand, with a very kind expression on his face. Then he turned to Dad.
“Well, you did well with my namesake!” I was too young to realize what he way saying at the time, but now realize that Dr. Dye believed that Mother and Dad thought enough of him to name me after him. Now, before you get any ideas, it is not possible that I am HIS child. They had not seen each other in decades, so I am Dad’s natural son.
I promised you some of the dark side of Dad as well. No, he never beat me or abused me verbally, emotionally, or sexually. He DID have a bit of difficulty understanding a relatively sensitive kid who was essentially born a scientist, but I never doubted that he loved me, and deeply. It is not about me at all.
Dad was a racist. I do not mean that he ever put on a white cap (he NEVER did), or one that would abuse folks to their face. He was much a better salesman than to do that. But he had a deep hatred of black people, and also, to a lesser extent, other ethnic groups and also towards homosexuals.
However, he would only express it to family and close friends. That sort of makes me wonder if he REALLY hated others, or just thought that he did. Interestingly, he always taught my brother and me to be nice to everyone, at least in public. But he would make the most horrible comments in private about black folks in particular, always using the so called “N” word, talking about how they smelt bad, and such other popular (at the time) racial bigotry terms. Those of you that have read my posts for many years know that I term myself as a recovering racist, and I believe that those very early messages were at least in part in influencing my thought processes.
This event is what makes me think that he actually might have been one. Since his birthday was 04 April, he took it as a gift from Providence (he was not a conventional Christian, by the way, actually quite agnostic but almost never dared to admit it because of my mother) the the assassination of Martin Luther King was a birthday gift for him. He bragged about it for some time to relatives and close friends. Perhaps he really WAS a racist, but at least, to his credit, he always taught us not to abuse anyone. Go figure!
Do any of you have a similar story about close relatives? I would be interested in learning how you have reconciled your love of them as a person with your abhorrence of their views. I KNOW that I am not unique here. Please comment liberally about your experiences and on how you think that I have dealt with it.
Wow, this is getting way too long. Perhaps I should stop now, and use some of the rest of the material for the celebration of my Mother’s birthday. Of course, you are welcome to ask more in the comments, always the best part of all of my posts.
Coming up by this author is the regular Popular Culture post, this time about people that I do like, unlike last week, the second album from The Who, tomorrow evening at 9:00 Eastern. Sunday will be another piece from Pique the Geek, now getting away from nuclear reactors. I have not decided yet, but it is likely to be an in depth study on the economics of why Glenn Beck is being eased out by the FOX “News Channel” or about the wonders of the carbon atom. Your comments here might influence the topic, so please comment.