I lost my brother last week. James Allen Reed was 58 years old and was moving back to Michigan upon retirement after nearly 40 years of living and working in California. He left a legacy that included Laura, his wife and love of nearly 30 years, 2 sons, Doug and Russell, and 5 grand daughters.
I have not distilled the loss yet, and have to think of all he meant to me before I can do his memory justice, but I know that he was so much like my father in figurative and literal ways, that I decided to post my eulogy to my father, as so much of the symbolism applies in kind to both of them.
With every person we meet in our lives, and each person we touch, we are merely borrowing moments from which life extends and lessons are learned. Richard Reed lent 90 years of experience and lessons to every person he touched, and valued every moment he borrowed from each of us. The lessons he left for us are many and will carry for generations to come.
Richard is a human anomaly. In his lifetime the world experienced the end of World War I, the Russian revolution, The Irish revolution, the new industrial revolution, the depression and the dust bowl, the New Deal, World War II, the baby boom (for which my brother and I are grateful) The Korean and Vietnam Conflicts, men on the moon, and the information age. He experienced all of these things; many of them first hand, took it all in stride and openly appreciated the opportunity to be a part of it all.
Dad loved to tell the stories of his life and share all of the experiences he had had. He never did so in a boastful way. Through all of the crisis he experienced growing up, he never lost his footing, never gave up, always dusted himself off and moved ahead just as amazed as anyone that he had survived. Richard left home to make his way in the world as a young teenager. One of his first jobs was in a grist mill in Alberta Canada working for 1 dollar a week plus a roof over his head. This is nearly impossible to imagine today, but when asked how he could work for a dollar a week, he responded “There was a depression going on, I was lucky because I had a job.”
Anyone who knows Richard knows how much he tested his body every step of his life, and how many…and there were many near death experiences he had. Some time ago, he summed up those experiences by saying “If cats have nine lives, I guess I’m two of the toughest cats you’ve ever known.”
In understanding Richard, I have to interject pieces of his father, my grandfather W.G. Reed. My father lived the lessons he learned from his father, and passed them onto his children. As a young man, I asked my grandfather the secrets of family and raising children to which he replied, “love your children with all your heart, teach them a good set of values…and insure everything heavily.” Fortunately, in raising 3 boys, Dad wisely took that advice.
Through most of the 1940s, Dad worked as a merchant seaman, first on the Great Lakes, and then ocean going where he was able to see much of the larger world. While at sea, he worked 12 hour shifts 7 days a week, and when he told us the stories of his travels, as an end cap he would tell us not how hard he had to work, but rather how lucky he was to get paid to travel around the world.
At the age of 33, Dad met and married the love of his life. He got his land legs back, planted root and settled in to raise a family. The time Mom and Dad spent together spans nearly 500,000 hours and I know that not one of those hours passed that they didn’t think about each other, happy for the love freely given and received from each other. Mom and Dad have always been a team, and very demonstrative with their love for each other. It always struck me that even if Dad was simply going to the corner store to get a quart of milk, the trip routinely started with a kiss and “I love you” for Mom, and off he’d go.
As a father, he worked hard to provide a good home and every opportunity to us that he possibly could. He wanted us to see the world as well, and as a family we traveled often and were able to experience so much of the world at a young age. Dad was very active in our lives with scouts, little league and school sports, and every other activity we were ever involved in. On one occasion, our Scout troop planned a winter camping trip and as it happened there was an ice storm just before the campout. Dad loaded up equipment and drove us out to the campsite, not intending to stay, but to help get things set up. The campsite was uphill from the parking lot, and the road was glare ice; no vehicle could get up the hill. At a time when his knees gave him constant pain, Dad carried equipment up the hill by hand, trip after trip until the last item was in place, and never once complained or slowed down.
Dad lived his values and was strict as a father. The rules of the house were few, simple, but never to be broken. Boys, being boys, we did on occasion “Test” the boundaries, and having been caught, Dad would often ask “What were you thinking?”…He expected an answer. He was strict as a disciplinarian, but passionate as a father and guardian.
Having spent much of his early life as a farmer, Dad loved his garden and for years grew vegetables that he shared happily with friends and family. One summer, Dad decided to get fertilizer from the stables at the race track. The results were an enormous harvest of mutant vegetables with tomatoes that weighed nearly 3 pounds. I stood with him looking in amazement at the collection of giant produce, and beaming with pride Dad smiled and winked saying, “Pretty scary, huh?”
I want to share a poem to tell you of Richard:
My father is kin to me
and yet a stranger in my heart
I have not seen with his eyes
or tasted the air that breathed him life,
fowled his senses, cooled his fever
or cast sand into his sight
I am not so different, but foreign none the less
I feel him near me
Whatever love offered was unspoken
but felt deep within our fiber
His struggles boiled him into a pink, tender man
and the look of wisdom is shadowed
with sadness from silence and clouded sight
My father's gaze is defiance
hammered into a shield, held at arms length
to fend away the demons that clawed
at his heart and soul
My father is a man of the earth
who ground dirt with his bare hands
that life might spring from it, sustained,
to sustain himself, to give meaning to his work
to define our lives for us
My father is as the sailor
chasing himself around the world,
to breath the winds of a thousand shores,
a soul unsettled
making peace with apparitions cast from memories,
memories designed to stay the storm
the storm that bends, weakens and softens
And in the wake,
In the image of this man,
we are our father's children
He was an absolutely unassuming, unpretentious person who lived life simply and completely, believing that honesty, faith, hard work and sharing were their own rewards. He taught these lessons by example daily and all of his life. Never envious of others, Dad believed if you held these values close, you could get wherever and whatever you wanted from life. He was able to enjoy 34 years of retirement in service to family, his church and the community at large. At some point he became so active in retirement with community service, helping friends and family, and travel, that he commented once. “It’s a good thing I’m retired…having to go to a job everyday would really cramp my schedule.” He worked just as hard in retirement as before, but always saw it as a labor of love and always appreciated the time and ability to give back.
On occasion, Dad and I would go out to breakfast for male bonding on Saturday mornings. After recovering from emergency open heart surgery, we went to breakfast one morning and I confided in Dad how much it had scared me when he was rushed into surgery. Dad looked at me saying, “I’ve had a good long life and I feel lucky. Most of it has been very good; some of it has been pretty tough. I don’t know how long I’m going to live, and I don’t know when I’ll die; I just know that whenever it happens, it’s going to tick me off!”
My father and brother are heroes to me, and we are all better for knowing them.