Sunday, March 13, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 13: Uncle Reed too unstable to live in our world anymore

Uncle Reed started having a pretty bad time around the time Darrow got killed falling off the School House ledge. He had just gotten home from the mental hospital and as we were driving through town one day, the whole family having just come from Salt Gulch, Reed ran down the road, yelling at us to stop. We pulled along side of him by the school house. He practically screamed at us, “One of the Moosman twins has fallen off School House ledge!”

Daddy and Mother tried to calm Reed down until finally were able to find out that the twin who fell was Darrow. I didn't know him very well even though he was in my room at school, but he was two grades ahead of me which would have made him around 9 years old. The other boys said they all climbed up on the ledge after Sunday school to roll rocks off and Darrow got too close to the edge and started slipping.  He grabbed hold of a little tree, but it broke, and to their horror, he  slipped and slid over the edge of a long drop.
His older brother Dee ran down to try to find him and sent Darwin, the other twin, for help. But he was dead when Dee got to him, his blood spattering the pale sand rock ledge in big spots. Darrow was such a daredevil, the other boys always said, taking chances rolling rocks off the ledges.
We school children marched into his house the day of his funeral and saw Darrow in his casket, his mother sitting beside him. She was another everyone was worried might go mad over his death, as she had been a patient at the state mental, too. She just cried quietly beside the coffin, her hand over her eyes, and looked the picture of a sorrowing mother.

Then Lola Joe, Uncle Reed and Aunt Thirza's fourth daughter just sixteen months old, developed pneumonia. Aunt Thirza came through Salt Gulch and picked up her brother Morias to go with her to take the little girl to the doctor. My cousins always said their mother stopped on Hell's Back Bone bridge and it was then that she discovered Lola Joe was no longer breathing.

Aunt Thirza decided that it was no use expecting Reed to help make cheese, as he just would not finish any work task he was persuaded to start, so they decided to move from the school factory house into her old family home where her brother Merlin, a bachelor, still lived. He and Reed were the best of friends and she had talked to Merlin who said he would help her take care of Reed so he would not have to go back to the state hospital. Marion, my six year old cousin, said that her mother had been having her watch him when she had to do something. Uncle Reed had such a hard time sleeping at night he kept her awake and she was not getting her rest.

The family was relieved when they stopped trying to make cheese and moved as Merlin was a gentle man and they thought he would be a big help in looking after Reed. I am sure Grandma King was exhausted trying to help watch him, too. He liked to come down to the ranch house and move around in the trees preaching to the spirits.

Now comes a time when I had to wonder why some things happen on earth like they do. I even had to wonder why God would let such a thing happen, but I guess God had nothing to do with it.  It was just men drinking.  The next thing that befell Uncle Reed bad enough to send a normal person mad was this. Reed and Merlin went to Richfield through Escalante, so the upper road out of Boulder through Wayne Country must have been closed They stopped in Marysvale canyon on the way and got out of the car. They were standing beside the road. Mother was sure they had bought a bottle and were drinking, so they probably had to relieve themselves.  As they were standing by the road, a car came speeding around the bend. The driver must have been drinking, too, because he swerved the car and hit Merlin, tearing off his leg! The driver did not even stop but dragged part of his leg down the road as he sped away. Uncle Reed was left to try to comfort his dying brother-in-law and best friend. He was waiting by his body when somebody finally stopped to help.
When I heard this story I thought to myself, 'Uncle Reed is never going to get better now. A man with such a fragile mind can only take so much.'  He'd had more than his share of sorrow and pain with his beloved brother and best friend Max got killed when he was bucked off a horse in a rodeo a few years previous. Now his best friend and brother-in-law had been killed in about as horrifying a way as possible. 

Well, the very last time, practically, I ever saw Uncle Reed, we had come down the lane to Grandma's house, and Mother and Dad were down to the corrals talking to the men working there. Marion, Max, and Carol, Reed's daughter with the bad heart defect, were with us. We children got out of the car and ran up to the old ranch house to play. Margie and I had LaRae with us who was only three. She naturally wanted to play, too. 
 Nobody was living in the ranch house that winter. Grandma had gone to her home in Escalante and insisted Grandpa go with her. When we got close to the house I could hear Reed in there shouting as he often did when he was preaching a sermon to the spirits.
My cursed curiosity compelled me to open the door to try to hear more clearly what he was saying. I started moving inside, the other kids following me. It was only then that I noticed a pig carcass laying on the kitchen cutting table. A long sharp butcher knife was laying beside it. The hired men were still in the process of cutting up the meat.
I looked up and saw Reed coming fast out of the living room, rushing toward us. He looked furious maybe because we were interfering with his concentration. As though I was living in a slow motion nightmare, I watched him stop by the table and pick up the long sharp butcher knife. He turned and came toward us, shouting and waving the knife.
I figured he was the angriest at me because I was more a stranger to him and was the biggest child there, so should have known better than to try to eavesdrop on his sermons to the spirits.  I started running to get help as fast as I could. As I ran I prayed I would not hear a scream if he caught one of the children behind me with the butcher knife in his hand slashing at them.

I have never ran faster in my life, straight to Mother and Dad, stammering out what was happening with Uncle Reed. After they checked to see if all the children were safe, unbelievably they just turned away and started talking about something else. They did not bother even to go talk to Reed. I was deflated. I just did not think they understood how frightening Reed had been grabbing up a sharp butcher knife to chase us with.
If he had just hollered at us, told us to get out, we would have run away, but would not have thought anything of it. It was the fact that he picked up the butcher knife that scared me half out of my wits.
I thought well, I guess the grown-ups think since he didn't kill one of us so everything is okay.

I was all wrong about what the adults were thinking--

A week later the Sheriff and two other officers came to pick up Uncle Reed to take him to the State Hospital. Mother and Dad met them a little ways from where Uncle Reed was living with Aunt Thirza, still in the cheese factory house, so I was there. But I didn't know until I saw the Sheriff what they were even going to do.  Mother and Dad had not told me. 
I saw Reed start to cry as soon as he saw the officers. I will never forget him sobbing, “I will be good, I will be good. Please don't take me away.” They just told him to get ready, so he picked up his daughter Marion, calling her “Punkin” and kissed her good-bye.

Oh, I was so sad, so terribly sad, because basically Reed never came home again. I just did not know if the punishment fit the crime or if Reed was really too sick to handle the gift of freedom any more--- I thought about it for years. 

Uncle Reed became a legend in his own time in spite of his violence.  People remembered his witty sayings.  They remembered his love for his little daughters.  He had fought for his life through two terrible childhood illnesses, pneumonia and spinal meningitis.  Everybody tried to keep him from drinking.  They did not always succeed. When I was incarcerated in a mental ward years later, I thought now I am in Uncle Reed country.  

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