I'm back to posting on this blog after time off to sing with Occupella, a group of song leaders that started at Occupy Oakland and Occupy Berkeley in the fall of 2011, and to blog and pull together a book about it. Now I'm back to working on the biography of my mother, and I've been working from transcriptions of a series of interviews of my father, William Reynolds, known to the family as “Bud,” that was done in 1969 and 1970. Bud was born on February 5, 1897, in Bay City, Michigan. Here he is talking about his father and his big brother Harry when the family lived on a farm outside Bay City.
“Harry was driving into town. He was about thirteen years old. There were some rich farmers along the way. We didn’t know them, but we knew who they were. They were the Biddells and they were very rich. One of the Biddells was taking a business course in the business college in Bay City and he was late. So he asked us for a ride and of course everybody gave everybody a ride at that time and he took the reins away from my brother and whipped the horse into a real lather. My brother objected, but he was thirteen years old and the other guy was a grown man. So when we got home, my Dad asked my brother why he drove the horses so hard. He explained the whole thing. And my father gave him a horse whipping. My father was terribly ill tempered, vicious and unreasonable. The next day my brother said, ‘Don’t ever try that again because it’ll be a fight, not a whipping.’
“When Harry grew up, he was the strongest man in the Ford Company. They were lifting beams and he’d get one of these beams and get in the center of it where it would balance, and lift the damn thing when no other man could lift it. He got married, he was gone from the house. I had gone on a hobo trip when I was nineteen without my father’s permission but I was back living at home. I was twenty-three. Now I said to my brother a dozen times, ‘If you just take my father by the arm and just shut down as hard as you can and say, “This has got to stop,” that’s all you have to do.’ And he never would do that. It was cowardice on his part. He wouldn’t face the realities.
“So finally--my father was much bigger than me and still in his fifties and had worked all his life so he was hard as a rock, but his breath was likely to have been shorter. Anyway he was threatening the family with a butcher knife. We were in the kitchen. And I jumped on his back and put a hammer lock on his neck and he fell down on the floor. And I think I was under him, but I grabbed his neck and held till he went limp. And when he got up he said, ‘You might have killed me.’ And I said, ‘You’re goddamn right I might have.’ He never raised a finger again.”
The lessons my father learned from these interactions with his father were two. He learned to stand up for himself, and he learned how not to be a father. For that I am grateful this Father’s Day and every day.