Wallace A. Reed
May 19, 1916 – March 7, 2014
I answered the call from my youngest sister Friday morning, “Dad is gone. He died at 7:00 this morning.” The news was not unexpected, but I still had to sit down to process it.
Two days earlier the hospice nurse told my younger brother and sister that Dad would probably not open his eyes again, but that he could still hear. My brother gave me a call. “Pat, you can talk to Dad. He’ll be able to hear you if I put the phone to his ear.” I thanked Elliott and told my Dad who I was and how much I appreciated him being my father. I also told him some stories he had told us about himself when he was a young man. When I was done, my sister told me he had raised an eyebrow one time when I was talking to him. I was hoping it was because of one of my stories…
The only time I remember Dad drinking was on New Year’s Eve. He would unlock the liquor cabinet, dust off a bottle, and we would share a drink, cigar, and some stories about life.
“With whiskey on beer you have nothing to fear, but beer on whiskey is kind of risky.”
That little ditty came at a price for Dad. He didn’t have much drinking experience when he entered the army, so when his buddies took him drinking, he learned the hard way. As the story goes, he had a few too many of these ‘boilermakers’ at the urging of his drinking friends. When he got back to the barracks, Dad knocked over every single ash tray on both sides of the walkway in getting to his bunk.
Dad was a very competitive sort. He loved to play ping pong. He had that ‘ready for anything stance.’ I can picture him staring down his unlucky opponent. I played him whenever we visited. He would let me get a little ahead and then bring out his “A game.” With his fierce stance and stare down, my game just went to hell. The single time I did beat him was a hollow victory. He was over 90 years old and we only played half a game…(he didn’t have time to bring out his A game.)
Dad playing ping pong when he’s 96 years old. He was still good.
Dad was a man of great generosity. There was a story behind that as well…When he was a young man, maybe about 2nd year of college, his Mom asked him to help her drive cross country to Vermont to visit her family for the summer. While there Dad took a job waiting tables. He said he waited on certain group of four women all summer, and they never tipped him up until the very last weekend and then they gave him a tip of only 10 cents. He was appalled! That must have made a big impression because he always tipped generously.
Before Mom died, one of her caregivers, who was from Haiti, had a son who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was arrested for robbery. Dad found out about it and went to the hearing. I had to admire Dad for going to bat for this kid. Without Dad’s help, that young man could have gotten tangled up in the county legal system for a long long time.
I have to admire Dad for other reasons too. While he was a busy busy man, he always took time to take his kids on a summer vacation. We lived in a landlocked state, but every summer we’d drive the 8 to 10 hours to the California beach to visit Grandma. Back then car radiators boiled over frequently so we’d rise at about 2 am, get into the previously loaded car and drive until daybreak. Mom had this big picnic basket stocked full of food for a breakfast at sunrise in the desert. After we crossed the Colorado River, we’d stop for lunch in Blythe at the restaurant with cockroaches running at the entrance (forever dubbed “The Cockroach Restaurant.”) Those long trips and the week vacations on the beach were so much fun. This was before television, so in the evenings we’d often play cards…canasta was big in those days. One year he treated us to a vacation at a dude ranch in Colorado. We took a train pulled by an old steam engine along a creek deep into mountain country. This place featured horseback riding and hiking trails up in the mountains. My favorite memory is of the rope swing that hung from a tall tree over a drop off. You’d swing waaay out over a cliff. I still get chills just thinking about it.
Dad knew Mom wanted to visit her family in Germany. They planned a trip to drive cross country from Phoenix, Arizona to New York, board an ocean liner, and sail to Europe…with all six kids. When we arrived we stayed in youth hostels along the Rhine River, got a ‘private audience’ with Pope John the 23rd in Rome, and visited many museums and historical monuments across Europe.
After the tragedies of September 11, Dad thought it would be a good idea to talk to his kids at least once a week. He called each of six kids on a different day of the week and talked with his brother on Sunday. Through those weekly conversations, Dad kept up with his far-away children and grandchildren. He knew the birthdays of all his grandchildren. The birthday cards were on time and always included a little something extra.
Living with a father who is always right can be difficult, but I remember one time that I was right. It was on one of those long trips through the desert that we had a tire blow out. That was in the Oldsmobile. Dad really liked that car. It had spunk, a lot of ‘get up and go.’ Dad liked that. Well here we are stranded by the side of the road in the middle of the desert with very little traffic. Dad finds the bumper jack, sets the brake, and jacks up the car. He pulls on the lug wrench til he’s red in the face, but none of those lug nuts came loose. He is so frustrated. I pipe up with what seems to be a good idea. “Dad, why don’t you turn them the other way?” Dad responds angrily, “The threads don’t go that way, I’d be tightening them up.” (I was maybe about 7 or 8 and didn’t know about the ‘righty-tighty, lefty-loosey’ rule. I just figured if it doesn’t work one way, go the other way) He struggles some more…no luck. I say again, “try it the other way.” “Pat, that won’t work, I’ll show you.” Well, for some reason on that particular model Oldsmobile in that particular year, Olds had done the unthinkable and reversed the threads on the lug nuts. The tire was changed and we were back on our way. That day back in the 50’s, that day by the side of the road in the lonely desert, that day I WAS RIGHT, and Dad had to admit it.
My older sister Barbara’s memories about vacations…”He did love that Olds. I think it was ’51, and if I recall correctly it was a coupe. Wasn’t that the car we drove up to Durango with?
I remember that tire swing at Ah! Wilderness. That was the best swing! I also remember riding that narrow gauge railway to get there, and our tiny little cabin.
My favorite vacations were at Balboa though, because of all the relatives and how beautiful it was/is. We also left early because there was no a/c in the car. Also my guess is that we were too sleepy to do much fighting. I remember the excitement of getting closer and closer, and then trying to be the first one to see the ocean. And how welcome the sea breeze was after our long drive. Grandma always had lots of food that tasted wonderful, and we would play Canasta or some other card game after dinner and laugh and laugh.” (Footnote: Barbara was ALWAYS the first one to shout, “I see the ocean.” The cool breezes of which were always a welcome change to the 110˙F heat of Phoenix.)
Kathy added this…I am remembering the frequent recitation of the attached, most vividly as the car was being started in the old carport.” Love is
My youngest sister painted a mandala in memory of Dad.
The strong confidence and fierce competitiveness served Dad well. He was an established anesthesiologist in a growing city, but he felt bad about the high cost of health care. He and his partner set out to change that. He figured that if patients did NOT stay overnight for procedures that didn’t require it, they could be charged less…much less. He and his partner, John L. Ford built the first Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASC). And when he built it, he built it ACROSS THE STREET from a giant hospital.
When you read the obituary, Dad’s Obituary it’ll list all kinds of accomplishments. It makes Dad seem larger than life. In a way he is.
Now Dad, when you are playing ping pong with the Man upstairs, don’t bring out your A game. I’m just saying…