strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee . . . (‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ (1) by Robert Service)
That’s a poem Dad
used to love to recite to us in days long past – one of his very favorites . .
. If only Dad’s funeral could have been like that one . . .
Dad was born on
February 9th, 1930 – just a few months after ‘Black Thursday’
and the start of the Great
talk of those times and how blessed they were that his father (Grandpa –
Parley R. Neeley) had a good job working for the Bureau of Reclamation.
They always had enough money to make ends meet.
Others were less fortunate. On
top of the Great Depression came the Dust Bowl.
“Driven by the Great Depression, drought, and dust storms, thousands of
farmers packed up their families and made the difficult journey to California
where they hoped to find work (3).”
Dad often told me of how as a little boy in Blythe California, the train
would come through and soon there would be a knock at the back door and a sad,
forlorn man standing there asking for food.
He’d just come from hopping the train, you see, and could Grandma spare
him a bite to eat. She could. And
as the man sat on the back steps and ate a sandwich, Dad would sit down beside
him and the man would almost always say ‘I’ve got a boy just the same age as
you’ back in Oklahoma, or Arkansas, or wherever he might hail from.
Later, as Dad had a family of his own, he realized how terrible and
lonely it must have been for those poor men looking for work far from family and
Although they were a happy and blessed family
in a time of great hardship, there was a price to pay with Grandpa’s Bureau
job too – you had to move where the work was, and when it was finished,
you’d move to the next job site. To
prove my point, here’s a chronology of the early years:
Between 1930 and 1933 they lived in: Yuma,
Arizona, and then in Blythe, Welton, and Needles California.
In 1933 alone, the lived in
Big Piney, Lyman, Daniel, Green River and Pinedale, Wyoming.
Then in 1934 they moved to
Ogden, Utah . . .
In places like Ogden,
Glendive, Montana, Williston, North Dakota, and Price, Utah, they’d have an
easier time with a stay of about 3 years each, but even that would be pretty
hard. Dad talked of the terrifying
ordeal of meeting a new school class and teacher mid-way through a school year.
When they moved to Glendive the Principal took Dad to meet his new
teacher who was none to happy to see him. “I
don’t know where in the world I’m going to put you,” she said with a
frown, “I’ve got too many students as it is”.
“There’s no desk for you, but for today you can sit at Tony’s desk
because he is out sick . . . “, and for the rest of the school year Dad had to
sit at the desk of whoever happened to be absent that particular day.
Dad would sometimes, when in a nostalgic
mood, tell me of his dog Budgy who they had to leave with neighbors when they
made one of those moves. “Even
now I can still see him from the back window of our car, sitting on the
neighbors steps as we pull away . . . “ he would say.
To counter this, I would tease him and say ‘Now what was the name of
that dog … Rosebud (4)?’ He would
laugh . . . sometimes.
(Barbara, Dad (Pat), David, and little Doug)
He even had to move from Price, Utah to
Spanish Fork his senior year in High School (and it was good he did too, because
that is how he met Mom). Dad
remembered this ‘price to be paid’ later.
He took up studies at BYU with the idea of becoming a Geologist but
switched schools and major two years later to attend the University of Utah in
Civil Engineering. “I could see
that becoming a Geologist would mean lots of moving for my family, and I was
just not willing to do that to you, “ He said.
That was just one of many sacrifices he made for our family.
Dad liked trains. “When I was two and a half,” he wrote, “we lived in
Green River, Wyoming for a few months. I
was crazy about trains; I sat at the window by the hour watching the trains as
they were switched around, made up, and sent on their way again.
The yards were near our home and I loved the excitement of the puffing
engines and the shrill whistle. A
year later when mother and I came to Utah ahead of dad my dreams came true when
we rode the train. Mother tells of
my delight at finding a lavatory with a toilet and a bright metal ‘wash
hands’ right on the train. Needless
to say, my hands needed washing often on that trip.”
He loved airplanes.
Maybe it’s because of the Ford Tri-motor (5)
he fell in love at the airport
in Ogden with when he was 5 or 6. He
wanted so badly to take a ride in it but Grandpa couldn’t afford it.
Then again, maybe it was the Zeppelin he saw when
he was 3 years old as it came over their house on its way to Los Angeles.
Or then again, maybe it was, during the war when he was 12 or 13, in
Williston, North Dakota, as an assistant air raid warden, and the Lockheed
‘Hudson Bombers’ from their base in Canada would swoop
down on the town twice a week, often at night, at an altitude of 200 feet,
to ‘bomb’ the town. In
any case Airplanes were a big part of his life.
As a designer at Lockheed, just out of college, Dad worked on the design
of the Lockheed Shooting Star jet fighter.
As a private pilot, Dad loved taking us on short flights around the
valley and longer trips with Mom. I
can still remember those happy days we spent at the airport with him as kids and
the grape and orange Nehi’s from the old pop machine there in the office.
(The 'Big 5' Plus. Back row, left to right: Hal Mitchell, Clark Mitchell, Jimmy Lindsley, Billy Gardner, Grandpa Mitchell, Pat Neeley. Front row, left to right: Peggy Mitchell, Doug Neeley, Dave Neeley)
My attempt at documenting Dad’s early years
could not be complete without mentioning the ‘Big Five’.
During those years living, as Grandma used to say, “In every hamlet
south of the Canadian border to Mexico”, the family would make trips back home
to Utah – often without their father. The
‘Big Five’ was the term applied to the 5 boy cousins all within a year and
half of one another in age. They
were Billy Gardner, Jimmy Lindsley, Hal Mitchell, Dad, and Clark Mitchell.
They were all good sized for their age and got along well together hiking
the hills, riding the horses, and helping Grandpa Mitchell with his chores.
Here’s one little story from Dad:
“We always had such good times at Grandpa
Mitchell’s in Parowan (6). Grandpa
would let us ride the horses, and go with him in the wagon to the farm where
we’d pick all the corn that we could eat.
We’d ride to the canyon to find the horses or cows, eat at the sheep
camp – good sourdough bread and fried mutton.
Gramps would give us doggy-lambs, but when it was time to go home we’d
have to leave the pet lambs. Once
all the cousins were at grandpa’s when he had to load some pigs in the wagon
to take to the ranch for the summer. Jimmy,
Billy, Rosemary, and I were old enough to give real help and we’d managed to
get all the pigs but one old boar loaded. Finally we had him going up the double plank ramp with
Grandpa carefully guiding him when all of a sudden, Rosemary threw her hands in
the air and yelled – scaring the boar. He
reversed directions and somehow grandpa landed astride his back and down they
went. Grandpa was ‘proper
blazing’ after all that difficulty we’d had to get that pig loaded.
He sent Rosemary to the house and wouldn’t let her go with us.”
But then those days were gone long ago . . .
Dad died late on a
Tuesday night – April 1st 2003 – surrounded by family, and “thus,
clinging fast to that slight spar within his arms, he drifted out upon the dark
and unknown sea that rolls round all the world. (7)”
And we, left behind, we’ll treasure and
cherish our memories of him, while missing him greatly, until some bright,
future morn’ when we can once again greet him and fill our embrace with him.
P. S. Neeley 4/4/03
* From a paper found among Dad's things: "'Going Like Sixty' seems like a strange title to a comment on a person's life. However, let me explain. When I was four or so, the thing to do was to play with cars in someone's sand pile. This was about 1934 when automobiles were still in their infant days and sixty miles an hour was quite a breakneck speed. So when we were speeding around the sand pile, and wanted to be going at the very top speed, we would say that we were 'Going Like Sixty!'. Well at age 54, I feel that life has sped by at a breakneck speed and thus the title."
**Note: If you'd like to download a PDF file (952Kb in size) containing more stories, please click here.
***Note: The image of the Mickey Mouse toy car, rearing up in 'peel out' mode, with the front tire blown, was the image Dad chose for the original 'Going Like 60' document. The document was Dad's attempt at a 'My Life's Story' and was laid out just like at the top of this page with title, sub-title, and toy car image. Unfortunately, that's about as far as he got :-)
Also, there is Dad's tribute to his mother here.