13. Fishing with Daddy

13.  Fishing with Daddy

I felt Daddy’s hand shaking my shoulder, and opened one eye in the dark room.  “It’s 5:30” he whispered, “time to go.”  I snapped awake; we were going fishing; just Daddy and me!  We had acquired bamboo poles and worms at the sports shop the day before, and Daddy had his old tackle box full of hooks and lures.

We went to Woodard Lake, a small lake not far from where we live, where Daddy had arranged for a row boat.  We anchored not far from shore, and dropped our baited lines in the water.  Almost immediately, we started catching fish; small bluegills, all too small to keep. 

Across the lake, we could see another fisherman pulling them in and keeping them.  “He knows where the fish are, he lives here.”  After he left, we rowed to the spot where he had been.  Not one bite!  The fish had moved on.  Later when we were leaving, the man came around and told us he had caught more than the limit, would we like some?  Yes!  At least we had fish to take home and fresh fish for dinner.

Daddy and I went fishing one more time at Long Lake.  Long Lake was much bigger than Woodard, and had more and bigger fish.  Daddy rented a rowboat at the pavilion, and we rowed along the shore until we were away from waterfront cottages.  Then Daddy stood up in the tippy rowboat to cast for bass.  I sat in the rear of the boat frantically trying to balance the rolling boat so we wouldn’t tip over, or Daddy fall overboard.  Fishing was supposed to be fun, not frightening, so I never asked to go again.  We never caught any fish anyhow.

Fishing did not catch my interest, and Daddy didn’t seem enthused, so our fishing trips turned out to be a passing father-son time together.

12. The Chicken Tragedy

12.  The Chicken Tragedy 

In 1943 Daddy answered an ad to make money raising chickens for food for the army.  The company supplied baby chicks and brooder huts.  We were to feed and raise the chickens three months to edible size, and then the company would buy them back.  It was win-win, help the war effort, and make some money.

The truck arrived with three men to build the huts.  One of the men had one arm, and I was fascinated to watch him stick a nail in the Celotex, a fiber board, then whip up his hammer to drive it through with one blow.  The huts were small, and seemed to be placed haphazardly wherever the material came off the truck.  There were half a dozen huts back of the chicken coop and shop, and several randomly placed south of the driveway by the maple tree.  A small kerosene stove provided heat in each hut.

The chicks arrived, and we were in business.  I think there were 1000 chicks, 100 in each hut.  Daddy carried chick feed around, and my job was to keep water in the tray in each hut.

March, 1943, a late winter storm swept across Lake Michigan with strong winds blowing snow, and freezing temperatures.  A freak 100 year storm they said.  Daddy braved the blizzard several times during the night to check, but the wind blew the heaters out, and the cheap fiber board was not meant to keep out freezing temperatures.

Next morning, I will never forget the drained and forlorn look on Daddy’s face as he carried bushel baskets of dead chicks to dispose of them.  It was a total loss. The huts set empty for several years until Daddy dismantled them. 

Daddy grew up on a farm, and understood the vicious nature of the weather. But like the strong man written about in the Bible, 2 Corinthians, 4:9, “…cast down, but not destroyed,” he grieved in silence awhile, then moved on with his life.

11. Appleseed Corners Fireworks & Fox Hunt

11.  Appleseed Corners Fireworks & Fox Hunt

The Hicks family always bought fireworks for the Fourth of July holiday.  It was an exciting and fun time shooting roman candles, pop-bottle rockets and crackers of all sizes.  We were very disappointed when the State of Michigan outlawed fireworks, and considered getting some out of state, but breaking the law was not our kind of solution.

Then Daddy discovered that fireworks could be purchased for “community display,” and he officially organized the “Appleseed Corners Community” consisting of the Hicks, Yonans and Yeoman’s families — our neighbors. Walter Yeomans was a crop farmer, and the Yonans had a large commercial apple orchard. Their orchard and our small orchard across the road from them was the basis for the “Appleseed Corners” name. They joined us for a back porch barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers, and legal fireworks on the Fourth of July – what fun!

Walter Yeomans probably knew Daddy had been trapping muskrats in our pond, and selling the pelts.  He asked Daddy if he thought the traps might be big enough to catch a fox that was nosing around his chicken coop.  If so, could he borrow a couple? 

Sure.  Of course.  But, now that a fox was brought up, Daddy said he had seen a hole under a big tree at the back of our property across the road and adjacent to the Yeoman’s that very well could be the fox’s den.  Daddy exclaimed, “We can get him there!”  The Appleseed Corners fox hunt idea must have sprung into his mind – and planning began.  A date set, Daddy called and invited the Yonans to join us, I think Alan came too.  Mom and Daddy, Walter and Lucille, Nars and Olive, and me, Bobby, were the total company for the “hunt”. 

I may have been 9 or 10, because I faintly recall having my bugle and blowing “Attention” as we gathered in our driveway and piled into a pickup truck and one car.  Daddy had his 10 gauge shotgun, and instructed everyone to be very quiet. 

After driving down the lane to about thirty yards from the tree, we dismounted, and Daddy waved at Walter to follow him as he moved toward the big tree – the others followed at a distance.  As Daddy rounded the tree he fired his shotgun at the base, and yelled, “I got him!  Walter – grab him, he’s going down the hole!” Walter was quick to respond and leaped to the hole at the base of the tree – saw the fox tail protruding – and grabbed it – yanked it hard – and then stood there holding Mom’s fox fur neckpiece high in the air!

Daddy was laughing uproariously, and the others joined in as the reality of the joke hit Walter.  I think he finally broke down and started laughing too.  Daddy had gotten Mom’s fur piece, left over from the fashions of the ‘20s, from the trunk in the attic, and put it in the hole at the base of the tree the day before.

The “Great Appleseed Corners Fox Hunt” was over, and I presume considered a huge success by everyone… except maybe Walter.

Did Walter trap the fox?  I don’t know.  But for sure, the fox never returned to the big tree!

10. Pheasant Hunt

10.   Pheasant Hunt

After I was presented with my 4-10 shotgun, Daddy suggested we go pheasant hunting.  I was certainly excited to go hunting with Daddy!

We crossed the highway and walked slowly through the tall grass in the field on the east side of our property.  Daddy carried his 10 gauge shotgun over his shoulder.  As I had been taught, I kept my gun carefully pointed safely at the ground in front of my feet.

Suddenly, a pheasant burst from the thick grass a few feet in front of me.  Startled, I jerked back, firing the gun!  The bird dropped dead, a direct hit!  I had accidentally bagged a prime rooster pheasant.

That night, as we enjoyed dinner, we had to carefully spit out the bee-bee shot in the bird meat.  Daddy said to me, “Robbie, next time let the bird get further away before you shoot.”  I said “sure”, but I was too embarrassed to tell him my shot was not on purpose, but an accident of my being startled.

I just enjoyed the compliments for bagging a pheasant on my first hunting trip.

After seeing the beautiful dead bird, and thinking how easy it was to accidentally fire a gun, I decided hunting was not for me.  We never went hunting again.

9. Daddy the Medic

9.   Daddy the Medic

One hot summer day I asked Mom and Daddy to take me to Woodard Lake for a quick cool-off swim.  Woodard Lake was the closest place that had a swimming pavilion.

When we got there, I was dismayed that the place, bar and all, was closed and deserted.  The shallow water swimming area was fenced with chicken wire, but with Daddy’s approval, I climbed the fence and enjoyed showing off my swimming ability, and getting cool.

Then I put my foot down.  Ouch!  I stepped on a broken beer bottle and cut a big deep gash in my foot.  I clinched my teeth, and climbed back over the wire fence, bleeding profusely.

During the short ride home, I was in the back seat, with my leg up, and holding my foot as tight as I could.  Still bleeding profusely, I asked if we were going to the hospital.  Mom said, “no, Daddy was a medic in the army, he’ll fix it at home,”

At home, Daddy cut a “butterfly” fastener out of adhesive tape, and fastened the edges of my cut tightly together.  Then he wrapped my foot in gauze bandage which quickly turned red with the oozing blood.  Daddy said, “Don’t worry, it will stop soon.

I did worry, but the bleeding stopped, and the foot healed.  Daddy to the rescue!

8. Life-Saving Rescue

8.   Life-Saving Rescue

I did a lot of “pretend” games when I was seven or eight and playing alone on Grandpa’s farm. One day I was playing “Commando” climbing in the big maple tree across the driveway from the kitchen door of the house.

My Commando popgun rifle was strapped over my shoulder as I climbed down from the tree. I had to slide through a forked branch and then drop to the ground. When I slid by the branch, my hand slipped and the popgun caught in the fork, with the shoulder strap around my neck. I was trapped! I would be strangled if I let go of the branch! My mind raced as I tried to pull myself up enough to free my neck from the strap tight around my throat.

By God’s provision, Daddy was passing through the kitchen.  He looked out the screen door, and saw my plight.  He slammed through the door, leaped off the porch, and ran to wrap his arms around my legs and lift me up so I could get the gun strap off. Daddy lowered me to the ground, and said calmly, “No more tree climbing today.”

Daddy saved my life!

 (The tree in the picture is the tree where this experience occurred.)

7. Move to the Farm

7.  Move to the Farm

When I was seven, “Gag Ga” (Grandma) Howe passed away, and we moved up to the farm north of Ionia Michigan so it would not have to be sold.

It was 1942. Pearl Harbor was attacked the previous December, and the United States was at war. To a boy of seven, a move from “Big City Detroit” to my grandparent’s farm in the country in central Michigan, was like moving almost to heaven.

“One hundred sixty acres,” Mom said. The house, barn and buildings were on forty acres west of Michigan Highway 66 that ran north and south dividing the property. East of the highway was 120 acres of fields divided by a lane that stretched to distant trees.

For Daddy, moving back near Ionia was moving back to his “roots”. His parents, John and Gazella Hicks, lived on a farm south of Ionia, another quarter section of 160 acres on a dirt road past Tuttle cemetery. There was a stand of maple trees at the back.

Unlike our place which was no longer a working farm, Grampa John was still a subsistence farmer with cows and horses, geese and chickens roaming the yard, and huge hogs in a mud hole close to the house.

Our house was a big old, two-story farmhouse my grandfather Zala built at the turn of the twentieth century, finishing about 1903. Mom said that Grandpa had somehow used work horses to combine three houses to make the house. There were six bedrooms and a basement. Grampa and Grampa Hicks’ house was one bedroom upstairs, and a “great room”, parlor and bedroom downstairs. This is where Daddy grew up in his childhood.

Behind our house was a large shop building with a garage attached to one side. A tiny brick chicken coop housing a few chickens sat in the shade of a tall mulberry tree behind the garage. Daddy later built a big chicken coop connecting the back of the garage to the brick coop.

My other grandparents’ house was set way back from the road. There were several small sheds for storage and where the chickens retreated at night.  A small barn housed the cattle and horses. I do not know why I never went to Grandpa John’s barn.

Daddy drove 4 miles to Ionia for his job at AC Spark Plug. Gasoline was rationed, but spark plugs were a critical wartime product, so Daddy had lots of gas coupons.

We did do some farm crops; wheat, oats, and hay put in the barn. But, the crops did not make much money. Daddy bought a tractor with a plow and a mowing attachment to cut hay. I was proud that Daddy let me drive the tractor, and actually plow the field west of the barn for a crop one year.

6. My First Memories of Daddy

6.  My First Memories of Daddy

Leland Victor Hicks married Ferne L. Howe on June  2, l921 in Ionia, Michigan.

Leland was 27 years old, Ferne was 25.  Next to Ferne in the picture is Nellie Payne, Ferne’s best friend.  There is no mention of who the man on the right is in the picture.

Mom and Daddy moved to Detroit in 1926; perhaps in order to get a job.  Their daughter Jan was born in Detroit, August 20, 1927.  I, Robert Zala Hicks, was also born in Detroit, July 25, 1935.  I was named Robert, because they liked the name Bob which Daddy used.  Zala was Grandpa Howe’s first name. 

My memories of Daddy started when I was five years old.  Mom told me he took a correspondence course in Accounting and worked at Fisher Body.  They wanted him to keep two sets of books, one for the IRS and one for them with the real numbers, so he quit, and got a job keeping books at a local Buick dealer, Louis Rose Buick Inc.  Daddy told us that the Detroit gangsters came to his dealership to buy their Buicks.

Daddy and some friends formed a German band; Daddy with his big bass horn, Scotty played trumpet, Steve on the trombone, and Otto playing clarinet.  They wore red and white striped shirts and black Derbies.  It was fascinating to watch Steve put a big glass mug of beer on his trombone slide while they played a fast polka…and never spill a drop.  They played almost every weekend at picnics, parties and anniversaries.

When WW11 started, they changed the name to a Polish Band, and played more polkas.  Daddy volunteered for the army, but was rejected because he was too old.

I remember air raid drills.  We closed all the window curtains, and turned out all the lights as part of a “blackout”.  When I peeked out, I could hear sirens wailing, and see searchlights waving through the sky, occasionally highlighting small dirigibles that were supposed to “catch” airplanes. 

Daddy bought me a Mickey Mouse wristwatch which a big kid at school broke, so I was glad when my folks said we were leaving Detroit.

5. Memories of Daddy – Souvenirs

5.  Memories of Daddy – Souvenirs

 Daddy brought an amazing number of souvenirs from Germany, along with the vase from France I mentioned last time. I wanted to share with you the interesting stories behind some of them.

The “churchwarden” or in German, the ”Lesepfeife” or “reading pipe,” was a tobacco pipe with a long stem. Obviously, the longer distance the smoke had to travel made for a cooler smoke, and kept the smoker or reader away from the smoke and heat from the combustion.

 The metal in the middle with the stripes at the top may have had something to do with Daddy’s rank of Corporal, and his grade of “Musician”.

The medal on the leather strap was the Michigan National Guard. The medal with the bars attached had a name of a battle on each bar, such as “Meuse – Argonne” the major decisive battle I mentioned in Blog # 3. 

The Purple Heart is recognized by most people, and was awarded because Daddy was wounded by the arial bomb. 

When I found these German marks showing 100,000, I thought maybe we were rich. Wow!

Checking, I found out they were of no value, because wartime currency was out of date.

4. Memories of Daddy – Home from the War

 4.  Memories of Daddy — Home from the War

WW1 ended in November of 1918, and Daddy was shipped home the following February.  He mentioned “liking” the Germans, so must have been in Germany after the Armistice was signed.  

Daddy was discharged from the army May 23, 1919, at Camp Custer, near Battle Creek Michigan.

Pictures of Daddy’s unit and the army band were on the wall of the large bedroom downstairs.  When and where the pictures were taken is not known.

Daddy came home with an amazing number of souvenirs, so I’m guessing he had many in his tuba case. 

In our possession is a small very colorful Millefiori vase.  Millefiori means “Thousands of Flowers.”  The vase contained a small rolled up paper with the words, “Melli Feri France” written on it.  The paper and the vase are now 100 years old!  An amazing keepsake that Daddy brought home for Mom.

Whenever we had salmon, Daddy refused to eat it.  Mom told us that Daddy’s platoon was caught behind enemy lines, and found an abandoned German boxcar on an isolated side track. It was loaded with cans of salmon.  While they waited a week for American troops to break through, all they ate was salmon.  Daddy declared he would never eat salmon again.

When they returned home, Daddy and his buddies formed a “Last Man’s Club,” and agreed to meet once a year as long as they lasted. They met at the luxurious Pantlind Hotel (now the Amway Grand Plaza) in Grand Rapids, Michigan; brought in a keg of beer, and played poker until the beer was gone.  One of them came from Arizona.  Daddy always came home with $30 to $50 that he won at poker.  Daddy was the last man, surviving after the friend in Arizona could no longer make the trip, and there was no one left to play poker.