Monday, February 14, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 8: How Daddy became two fingered Joe and I find out the good die young

I was concerned when Daddy started to work so hard on the Salt Gulch ranch now that it was going to be his, that his right hand would give him trouble. Daddy only had two fingers on that hand, his thumb and fore finger. The other three had been chopped off in a wreck that he caused.
I don't remember the actual wreck, but I heard about it many times. During the cheese factory days Daddy was going to Salt Lake now and then to take the cheese, and get freight in the truck. My aunt Vesta decided to come and visit her sister and Mom and Dad and asked Daddy if she could hitch a ride with him. 
Oh poor Aunt Vesta! If she had only known more about alcoholics she would not have risked her life or her sanity on a trip clear from Salt Lake to Boulder with Daddy! In those days the trip was much longer than it is now because the road around the east end was so slow, narrow, and twisting, and very slick if there had been a storm on it.
They were driving down the road when Daddy became quite tired or drunk is more like it.  Some versions have a young hitchhiker he had picked up riding with them who disappeared after the wreck, but Daddy decided to trust Aunt Vesta to drive his truck rather than the young stranger. He asked her to take a turn at the wheel for a while as he was probably about to pass out.  She protested saying she had never driven a truck before, but Daddy's drunken behavior was making her so nervous she agreed to change places with him.  She soon got the hang of driving a truck and approached a car going so slowly that she decided to pass it.  
As she was just passing the other car Daddy raised up and saw that she was on the wrong side of the road, so he grabbed the wheel and turned it so sharply, the truck tipped over.  His window was partially down and when he grabbed it to brace himself three of his fingers on his right hand were chopped off when the truck hit the ground.  
Daddy did not even seem aware of how serious the injury was, but he was soon taken off to the hospital to have the dangling fingers cut entirely off and the wound sewed up.  Aunt Vesta was severely bruised all over, but none of her bones were broken.   

Daddy had the nerve to be quite mad at Aunt Vesta because he lost his fingers. This made Mother so angry she tried to beat him up. I am sure Aunt Vesta vowed never to ride anywhere again with my dad, but it was a little too late to prevent the damage done to both her and Daddy.
Daddy was worried he would not be able to do farm work, but he was soon managing everything well enough. His drinking buddies all started calling him “Two -fingered Joe.” That nickname would stick to him for the duration of his years of heavy drinking.
What I didn't like was that I was even destined to be called “Two-fingered Joe” by the mean school boys. 
Little children would ask him what happened to his fingers. My Uncle Vance's little girl was one of them. My mean dad told her that the birds had picked off his fingers, and when she got home she started screaming and crying when some birds swooped down in the yard. She explained she was afraid they might pick off her fingers and that is how they found out what my dad told her, so none of Mother's people were too happy with my dad for years.

What I loved the most about all Mother's brothers was that none of them drank. Her brothers were all good looking guys who loved to dance and party just like Mother did, but they could all get together and joke and laugh without drinking a drop of alcohol! Mother said her brother Guy had once tampered with alcohol but her dad would always go to all the dances, too, usually to play an instrument in the band, and when he saw any of his boys going outside to drink he took them right home.
I know Grandma King could never get Grandpa King out to socialize with the Mormons to a dance. I wonder if it would have made a difference if Grandpa King had acted like Grandpa Wilson did when his sons acted up. Mother and Aunt Vesta were always the life of the party they were such good dancers, but like most Mormon girls they did not even like liquor.

My Uncle Crae came down to visit his Mom and Dad and he came over to the Salt Gulch ranch and worked with Daddy for a while. There was even talk that he might go in with Daddy on the ranch after his mission. 
Grandma and Grandpa Wilson no more than got one son off a mission until they sent another. Guy and his girlfriend had gotten married in high school because there was a baby, my cousin Claudia, on the way, so he and little Uncle Bill were the only ones of Mother's five younger brothers who did not go on a Mormon mission. Crae was glad to go on his mission, which shows how different Mother's brothers were from Daddy and his brothers. 
He even met his wife on his mission.  She was a rare Mormon girl who was so devout she was determined to serve a mission to spread the gospel.  Crae married her before he went into the service. She revealed to the family she was pregnant when he became a crew member of a B29, flying bombing missions over Japan.
Uncle Reed was the only King son who ever went on a mission even though he broke the rules someway and got sent home early. Some Mormon ways stuck, but some of the things he observed people doing caused Reed to imagine a whole bunch of religious people were hypocrites. When he could not take any more deaths, he would say the religious people poisoned these people. I think what he meant was that religion could poison the minds of the people, but his logic was not too clear, so his message whatever it was was pretty much lost on people.

I paid very close attention to Reed however, because I thought he was kind of an oracle. I paid a lot less attention to my Wilson uncles who went on missions, even though you could not get my Uncle Crae angry. He was like my Grandma Wilson. He was not going to quarrel, and he never did that I know of. 
Mother did not take after her mother and brother Crae, but her dad, so she was a fright when it came to getting mad just like he was, but she loved her brothers. She could never be mean to any of them, at least when she was an adult. I would like to bet she gave them enough smacks when they were young they learned to respect her temper just like they did their dad's.
I could not count on any of them cussing her for whipping her kids, but she did not whip us when they were around. 
I did not know that Crae was the Wilson family angel and would not be with us long. He was my only relative on both sides of the family who would die in the war and there were a lot of King cousins who ended up in the service before they were through as well as three of Mother's brothers. Crae never saw his little girl, Trudy, born after his plane was reported missing coming home from a bombing mission.
 It was said of Crae when he was reported missing that he did not have anything left to do to be a real good guy. Margie and I enjoyed having him in Salt Gulch a couple of months before I turned six. He was a good influence on our dad, and we hated to see him go on his mission and right after it to war.
Thanks to him I did not refuse to be baptized. Because he was coming to baptize me before he left on his mission, I swallowed my doubts. When he dipped me in a Boulder creek pond and prayed, I actually felt a connection to God Almighty. That is how powerful my Uncle Crae was.


  1. Marion abruptly called yesterday and read me what mother had written in her book about Reed picking up Max's death with such accuracy. (p.200) She had also called Nell Baker and got from her information on Rodney's death which was different from Mother's writing.(she poisoned whiskey..Nell spinal meningitis) We pondered and Marion said that either there was no information or it was wrong. She thought Reed's pickup on Max very right. I told her she just has to do the research and just write about her dad...everything she can remember so her kids know. She took a deep think?...yes. She said she never wanted people to read what she knows, but I told her to just write it for family. For herself. So I don't know what she will do...but this entry of those you loved touched my heart.