name was Speed. It was a nickname he acquired a long time ago.
When Speed was a boy he would rise before dawn and hitch the horse
to the wagon. He and his father would head for the icehouse, load
the clear frigid blocks they had cut the previous winter, then deliver
ice all around town. When the deliveries were complete, young Speed
would rush off to school. After school he went to the newsstand and
began rolling newspapers. He had the biggest route of all the paperboys
so it took him longer to roll them all. He was always the last boy
to leave on his route, always the first to return. The paperboys dubbed
him “Speed” and it stuck. There were men he worked with
for nearly forty years who never knew his real name.
Speed was a hard working man. He took pride in his work. He quit school
after eighth grade to help provide for the family. That’s the
way it was done then. He grew up in the Midwest where the Depression
hit the hardest. He rambled around from one odd job to another, wherever
he could pick up a buck. He repaired shoes for a while then hired
on repairing roller skates at a local roller rink. He even did a spell
digging graves out at the town cemetery. “Always pick the long
handled shovel,” he used to say.
As the Depression began winding down he secured a job at a foundry
that manufactured faucets and showerheads. He stayed with the foundry
until he retired forty years later.
When World War II came along, Speed was drafted, inducted into the
Army just shy of his thirty-sixth birthday. Like other men of that
generation he went and served proudly because it had to be done and
it was their job to do it. He served under George Patton in North
Africa and Italy. He served thirty months. “Twelve miles outside
of Paris they sent me home. Made me mad, I always wanted to see Paris,”
he said. His name is on a wall in Normandy, recognition of his service.
Returning from the war he went back to the foundry. He met a woman
who worked there during the war, got married and started a family.
He had the desire to settle down like other returning G.I.’s,
he even bought a small house.
Every spring he put in a garden, tomatoes and potatoes, onions, corn,
carrots and his favorites, radishes and scallions. He loved his garden,
maybe it was the peaceful solace he loved, the quiet time or maybe
it was the growth, nurturing abundant life from black dirt; contrast
to the great loss he witnessed. Whatever it was, he never verbalized
it. He would have thought it so much hooey. He never talked about
the war either. His generation didn’t. They didn’t do
what they did for bragging rights or for self-motivated insecure interests.
The horror was personal and theirs to live with. They were simply
ordinary men performing extraordinary deeds.
Speed divorced and remarried. He worked hard and lived a simple life.
He drank, too much, too often, and eventually gave it up. Still, he
always kept a can of beer around, just in case he wanted one, an odd
sense of freedom in his logic, but logic of free will nonetheless.
He started smoking when he was eleven. At eighty-one, in the hospital
for gall bladder surgery, he quit cold turkey and talked three other
male patients into quitting as well. Speed’s father had died
in his mid-fifties, so Speed figured he wouldn’t live long either.
He was wrong.
He drove an automobile until he was ninety-one. He took a complete
driving test at ninety and although he was nervous, he passed with
flying colors. Driving
symbolized freedom to Speed, he could go anywhere he wanted whenever
he wanted, and although he seldom did, the freedom to do so was vital.
He was careful not to drive when traffic was heavy. He knew his limits.
One morning each week at five-thirty he’d drive to a local supermarket.
The store didn’t open until six, but the morning staff knew
him and when he tapped on the front door, they’d unlock it and
let him in. He’d buy his groceries and at six o’clock
be on his way home, “before the crowds show up.”
A couple weeks ago at the age of ninety-six, Speed died peacefully,
his son at his side. The next day his son discovered, with renewed
pride, a tattered, nearly sixty year old document in his father’s
wallet. On his father’s military service record the son learned,
for the first time, that his father had been awarded three Bronze
Stars for action in the Tunisian, Sicilian and Italian campaigns during
World War II.
Thank you, Dad, for your selfless sacrifice. You were a good man.
We’ll talk next time From The Road.
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