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.

3. Memories of Daddy – Off to War: WW1

 3.   Memories of Daddy –  Off to War:  WW1

Leland/Bob/Daddy enlisted in the Army National Guard in Ionia, Michigan, February 7, 1916.  More than 9,000,000 men turned out to register for the draft and join the military, and often were met with bands and cheering crowds.  Going to war was “glamorous.”  Mom told me that if a young man did not volunteer, he might get yellow paint splashed on his front door and porch.

The picture at right is Daddy with Ferne Howe before he left for the Mexican border.  They were married in 1921, two years after his return from the war.  It must have been hard on Mom for him to be gone for three years, and she not knowing if he would return.

England and France had been at war with Germany since 1914 without America being involved.  Anticipating America’s entry in the war the National Guard was sent to the Mexican border on the pretense of catching Pancho Villa, a notorious Mexican bandit.

Daddy said it was to get them ready for combat.  Villa killed more than 30 Americans in a pair of attacks in 1916.  That drew the deployment of a US military expedition into Mexico, but Villa eluded capture during the 11-month manhunt.

Daddy’s only story from that time was when they put a giant Bull Snake in a guy’s sleeping bag because the guy was afraid of snakes.

Daddy was shipped to Brest, France, and was assigned to the 126th Infantry, Headquarters Co. as a medic, and playing tuba in the band.  

He first was in combat at Alsace France, and was in the final and biggest battle of the war at Meuse-Argonne. (Meuse is a river, Argonne a forest)   At Argonne, the allied forces attacked through rough, hilly, heavily forested terrain with 260,000 men on a 30 mile line.  They were opposed by 40 German divisions, estimated to be a total of 600,00 men.  In six weeks, the American forces lost 26,277 men killed, and 95,786 wounded

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

Even after age 90, Daddy could rattle off the names of places in Germany where they went.  He told the story of a German biplane flying over with the man in the back throwing grenades down.  Shrapnel hit Daddy’s leg; he would show us the big scar.  He was awarded the Purple Heart.

 

2. Memories of Daddy – the Early Days

 2.   Memories of Daddy – The Early Days

Mom told me Daddy was an all-around athlete in high school, and was captain of the football, basketball, and track teams.  He broke the school record for pole vault at a track meet.  Opposing football teams and fans learned “Leland” and “Ernest,” and began heckling them. Daddy and Ernest took the nicknames of Bob and Steve to confuse them. The names caught on, and they kept using them.

In the basketball team picture, Daddy is center left in the grey shirt. In the football team picture, he is lower left.  I am guessing that he was wearing a different shirt than the others because he was the captain.

 

After high school Daddy and Steve played baseball for the Ionia team, with Steve as pitcher, and Daddy as catcher.  Because Mom was so laudatory of Daddy’s playing baseball, I thought he played for the Detroit Tigers. 

Daddy and I played “catch” in the driveway.  I had an old glove so thin that it hurt my hand when I caught the ball, so Daddy let my use his old catcher’s mitt, which was probably two inches thick, and as big around as Mom’s apple pie.  But, to catch the ball, it had to hit the center hole in the middle of the glove.  Most of the time, the ball hit the glove outside the hole, and bounced away, so I had to go get it.

Leland’s (Bob) first job was Janitor at the Ionia State Savings Bank, where Steve was a bookkeeper. Then Steve went to school, and Bob moved up to bookkeeper.

1914-15, Daddy’s father John worked for the International Harvester Company, repairing farm equipment. The records show that John Hicks, acquired a farm south of Ionia in 1900, with 160 acres, and had 3 children, 6 horses, 20 cattle, and a Ford.  Nothing was ever said about Daddy and Steve having a sibling, so she/he must have died young.

Because Daddy had been so involved with sports in high school, I wanted to please him by playing sports.  I went out for everything.  In baseball, I didn’t know I needed glasses, so I couldn’t see the ball coming in time to hit it.  In football, I was too small, and I didn’t like getting hurt.  I was on the third team in basketball, but my arms didn’t seem strong enough to get the ball to the basket.  At last, I played all season on the tennis team, but we never won, so I didn’t get a letter.

My career in sports was embarrassing, but Daddy seemed proud that I did well in music, working my way to First Chair trumpet in the marching band.  After I was paralyzed, the band director put me in a tuba on a stand, so I could play in the concert band.  Daddy bought a stand, so I could practice at home with his big tuba.

1. Memories of Daddy

Memories of Daddy

 

 

 

Leland Victor “Bob” Hicks         

1894 – 1986

 

 

Today I am beginning a new series of memories from my childhood, and the man who helped shape who I am — my father.  He was an amazing role model.  He saved my life.  He was a wounded war hero from World War I.  My sister Jan wanted me to write a biography of Daddy for family members, so he would not be forgotten.

For it is written in Psalm 103:  As for man, his days are as grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

**************************

The last time I saw Daddy was 1984 when he was 90 years old.

We were sitting on the porch after dinner, watching the sun slowly go down behind the chicken coop, with the golden rays shimmering through the leaves of the willow tree.  It was completely quiet, not a breath of wind, and a peaceful time we both cherished.

Suddenly Daddy said, “Well, Robbie, I guess we’ve had our day,” then fell silent again.  I was stunned, Daddy rarely said anything personal, and I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t think of anything to say.  The moment passed, and the mosquitos got our attention, and we went back inside.

Recalling Daddy’s declaration, I wish I had replied, “Yes, and what a day it has been!”

    ***

DADDY’S EARLY DAYS

Daddy’s “day” began July 8, 1894, with the announcement:  Leland Victor Hicks was born to John and Gazella Hicks of 558 Union Street, Ionia, Michigan.  Leland has an older brother, Ernest Lee, age two. 

For perspective, in 1903, when Leland Hicks was nine years old, he may have heard the men laughing about those crazy Wright brothers flying a machine at Kitty Hawk, and hearing that the Ford motor company had rolled out the first production automobile.