A V-formation flock of geese seems to have one member of the group as the leader, but each member takes its turn at the point of the V, leading the way as the others in the formation honk in encouragement. The geese stay together, even when one becomes sick or injured; the group stays with it until it is well enough to continue the journey at its regular pace.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
REMEMBERING MY DAD
Since Sunday is Father's Day, I'm devoting my blog to my
father today. He was many things during his lifetime, but first of all he was
my father. One of his attributes that helped to shape my life was that he was a
story teller. The stories he told of homesteading, of his adventures in Canada,
a run in with a pack of wolves, his devastation at the loss of loved ones, and
his adventures and interactions with others fired my imagination.
My father, Jed Smith, was
born across the river from Shelley, Idaho in a tent with wooden sides and a
canvas top. That was his home for the first six years of his life. The year he started school his father took up dry farm
land on the edge of the lava rocks sixteen miles away. They built a small house
and pens for their stock, dug a well, put in a windmill, and his mother planted
a garden. Grandpa worked away from the homestead, leaving the running of the
farm to his wife and the three children, who were all under eight at this time.
He only made it home about once a month to bring groceries to his family.
One night Daddy heard an
awful racket near the shed where their sow had recently given birth to new
little pigs. He ran out to investigate and his mother ran after him with her
.38. They found a coyote trying to get the baby pigs. Grandma shot and killed
the coyote. The next morning Daddy and his younger brother had the task of
hauling the coyote carcass away and burying it. Rattlesnakes and coyotes were a
After three years the family
proved up on the homestead, but the crickets wiped out their crop that year, so
they moved back to Shelley, painted and fixed up a chicken coop and lived there
for almost four years. Though Daddy was only ten years old, he went to work for
his grandfather building roads across Idaho and Wyoming. The flu struck their
small community and my father and his mother, being the only ones that didn't
get the flu, became the caretakers for family and neighbors for miles around.
They bathed the sick and cleaned up after them, cooked huge kettles of soup to
feed as many people as possible, cared for their stock, and washed and dried
When Daddy was thirteen, the
family moved to Canada. He, his brother,
and a sister were baptized the night before they started to Canada. Grandpa
wanted to wait, but Grandma said she wouldn’t go to Canada unless her kids were
baptized before they left. They soon discovered the closest doctor was twenty
miles away and that he was an old drunk no one trusted. People began bringing
their medical problems to my grandmother and she became the local midwife. Daddy
was called out many times during the night to harness the horses and drive his
mother to a neighbor’s house where he would huddle in the barn while she
delivered a baby.
Daddy's years in Canada were
filled with hard work and little schooling, though he dated the schoolteacher.
As the oldest he was expected to help support the family which he did by
working on other farms and ranches, driving cattle, cooking for a timber
company, mining, refereeing boxing matches, riding broncos in rodeos, and
delivering supplies for the Hudson Bay Company by dog sled. In his early
twenties he was accepted into the Royal Mounted Police Academy. When he
graduated, he didn't become a Mountie because he wasn't a Canadian citizen and
his family was talking about returning to the States. Instead he went to work
for the RCMP doing many of the same things as the Mounties, but without the red
coat. He delivered supplies to far flung outposts, inoculated the Indian tribes
against a small pox outbreak, and assisted in a few arrests.
One Fall, Daddy was threshing
grain when a new worker arrived in the field. He showed the man what to do and
they worked together all morning. At Dinner and after the man had gone, he
found the man was Edward, the Duke of Windsor, who at that time was next in
line to be king of England.
When the depression brought
about the loss of the Canadian ranch, the family moved to Camrose for a year. They
rented a house and traded their crop for a Whippet car and $600. They then
drove back to Shelley, Idaho.
Daddy had a fine singing voice
and began singing with a dance band where he became acquainted with the band's
female singer. They were married shortly after. The two didn’t have many years
together. She died three days before Christmas in 1939, leaving Daddy alone
with three little boys, the oldest of which was not quite five years old. His
sisters helped him as much as they could with the boys, but many times he tied
long ropes to their overalls so they could go from the house to the barn and
back, but no farther, while he did chores.
One night he stopped at a
dance in Blackfoot to pick up his brother. He noticed a young woman who was
having difficulty discouraging a would-be suitor. He cut in while they were
dancing and wound up falling
in love with her. They were married after a short courtship and in the
following years added five more children to the family, including me.
My Dad was a farmer, but he
wasn't afraid to take on any job that enabled him to support our family. He ran
the farm for several years at the state mental hospital, spent most winters
sorting potatoes in potato cellars, and worked for the Forest Service in
Montana a few years. He was still growing a garden when he passed away a few
months before his one hundredth birthday.
There was a special closeness
between my father and me as I grew up. Daddy held me in front of him in the
saddle before I could walk. When I had rheumatic fever, he taught a private
Sunday School class for me every Sunday morning. He taught me to fish and to
shoot. He and I tramped deep into the Bitterroot wilderness area to fish
together and when my older brothers all left home, I became the one who ran the
dairy and irrigated when he'd be gone for weeks at a time on fires or look-out
duty for the forest service. We both had an insatiable desire to discover and
learn and we spent hours talking about religion, politics, medicine, the world,
nature, and anything else that stirred an interest in either of us. Whenever I
gave a talk, was in a play, or did anything he considered noteworthy, not only
was he there to cheer me on, but he made sure everyone else knew he considered
me special. As the years have gone by, I've become more and more keenly aware
of how fortunate I was to grow up with a father who loved me, who taught me,
and who gave me wings to fly. I love you, Daddy. Happy Fathers' Day!