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 constant threat.
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 bedding.
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!