Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Father--Floyd Nathan Herd

 Family Secrets

Floyd Nathan Herd was born in 1913 in Lafayette, IN and why he was born there is still a mystery to me. His parents (Lucian and Cordie Mullins) met and married each other in southern Kentucky. There homes were separated by a mountain ridge but how they managed to meet has been taken to their graves. My father’s grandfather was Andrew Jackson Herd who was a prominent political figure in the area after fighting as an officer in the Civil War on the Union side. My father’s uncles were successful professional people who scattered out of Kentucky as did my grandfather.

However, my grandfather, Lucian who was called L.G., worked as a cement worker, when he could find work, and was an alcoholic resulting in the family being dirt poor. I can remember visiting their very, very modest home which I in truth looked like it was imported from Appalachia. The family lived in poverty. And there always has been a rumor that he left Kentucky because he was caught stealing. I must have heard that somehow either because my mother told me this or I overheard something said between adults that my child ears stored away.

My father’s older sister, by 3 years, went to work for Bell Telephone in Omaha while still in high school to help support the family. Artie Mae always made sure, her younger brother had a clean shirt to wear to school each day, and my mother told me so I know it must be true. Mother and Artie Mae were friends and when I was a pre-schooler she doted on me whenever she got the chance.

My father also had 2 younger brothers and a sister so it must have been crowded home. This probably accounts for my father often displaying his affection towards his siblings recounting stories about them. Looking back now, I realize that he never regaled me with any stories about his parents. I have been told that alcohol was also a problem with both my dad’s younger brother and sister. Perhaps that is why they both died before age 60.

On the few times, I went to my grandparents home, my grandmother Cordie’s round face seemed to always have a warm smile for me, but LG never ever paid much attention to me, even to acknowledge my existence. He always seems intent on all the machinations involved on keeping his pipe lit. His one claim to fame was that he fought in the Spanish-American War. Every Fourth of July parade held in our town, he marched alone as the only survivor of that war, that lived in the area.

Arte Mae was born near Oklahoma City, my dad in Indiana, and Charles, Clifford, and Margaret were born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, as was I. So the family was on the move before they moved to Council Bluffs, but that is all I know. And why did they alight in Council Bluffs? There are secrets in most families and there may be one associated here.

More than twice, I asked my father, what nationality did we come from and his answer was always the same, “we are Americans”. He never said anything about his grandfather Andrew Jackson Herd who fought on the Union side of the Civil War. But the thing that is really odd to me was that I found out his brother, Joseph was in the Confederate Army. I would think this fact would be part of the family lore and talked about on occasion. So I remain convinced that the history of this family was never talked about due to the secrets that needed to remain hidden.

Another thing never explained is why my father dropped out of high school for two years and served in the National Guard, then came back to high school and graduated at the same time my mother did.

In spite of all the environmental disadvantages I have described, and I know there must have been many more that were hidden from me, my father turned out to be a decent man. To be sure, his volatile temper at times, revealed some of what he must have experienced growing up. He was slow to get agitated, but once he did, his patience was extremely thin, and once he started to act out his anger, it was best to run for cover.

My parents divorced when I was 13 which further kept me away from understanding my father. He remarried and helped raise another family. His other son, Clifford Lucian, and I share a common interest in genealogy concerning our family name. I am guessing we both have the same curiosity due to information we never received.

Footnote: Since I wrote this I have found out though genealogy research that my great grandmother Nancy Poteet remarried Nathan McWhorter who moved his family to Lafayette County, Indiana. This explains why my father was born there and the origin of his middle name. The Herds (Heards) can be traced back to North Ireland where an unknown Heard was born in 1665. Conventional wisdom had it that Cordie must be of Irish descent because of her maiden name of Mullins. However, her lineage can be traced back to 1593 and the Ile de France, Paris where the name was Des Moulins.

My Hero

My father was a super athlete. He loved being active and enjoyed being part of a team or a foursome. His high school scrapbook is filled with newspapers clippings where mentioning that Floyd Herd led his team to victory was a frequent phrase although couched in more modest terminology. He lettered in football, basketball, and track and played baseball during the summer. One of his ex-teammates at his funeral told me he was good enough to be a professional football player and mentioned Roger Craig, all round running back for the San Francisco 49ers as a comparison.

I got to see him play fast pitch softball which was the only type of softball there was then. He was manager and second baseman for the Grace Presbyterian church team. The team was part of a church league consisting of other church teams. Anyone that played on a team was required to attend church at least once a month. The requirement seemed to be on an honor system so I doubt that it was rigorously enforced although it did bring some of the team’s members to the pews on Sunday morning.

Dad recruited some non-church goers to play on the team and one of the key players was our pitcher, Hobson or “Hobbie”, to use his on the field name. He was a tall, gangly man with angular features who could do exceptional things with a softball. But he drank and sometimes his performance suffered and we would get wild and start to hit batters and walk them, making the game far more exciting when it happened. Dad played second base and he would go to the mound to settle Hobbie down, and boast him up, which usually worked. Our Grace Presbyterians were always competing against the Reformed Later Day Saints for the league championship and during those games I saw something in my father that helped me become a man and is still part of my character.

The man displayed an intense confident focus during critical moments in the game. He believed in himself and I never saw him display any signs of doubt as he approached the plate. He was a big hitter and once hit 3 home runs in one game. There wasn’t fence in the outfield. People would park their cars behind the light poles to encircle the field and a home run was produced when you hit the ball beyond the light poles and either hit a car or the ball sailed beyond them. By the time the outfielder retrieved the ball, anyone who could run with moderate speed could reach home before the ball got there. My dad was extremely fast though, so there was never any danger of the ball arriving home before he did.

The team camaraderie was always good even in defeat and he his co-manager Winn Phillips were always, always positive with a “we will get them next time” attitude. Given the team really did get them next time meant it was not just an idle platitude and the team was always looking avenge any defeat.

When I was about 12, and the team was way, way ahead, my dad would let me pinch hit once in a while. I got a few walks, but once hit the ball up the middle for a single and got to second base before the inning was over. My dad could not help showing his pride in me.

I also caddied for my dad when he played golf and he always had fun playing especially with his buddies. He always enjoyed the social aspect of the game.

To this day I am always competitive and try to come on top. To me, being competitive is all about focusing mentally, being intelligent, being confident, and trying really hard to win. Accepting defeat or winning graciously builds character. There is no room for sore losers. There may be reason beyond your control why the results were disappointing, but that is part of any sport.

I have always been drawn toward sports and find it difficult to live without being active in something. I owe this to my father. His love of sports certainly did imprint a positive characteristic within me.

The Social Animal

When I lived with my father, there was no TV. And during the evenings reading the newspaper or an occasional “Life” or “Time” magazine, doing a crossword puzzle, or listening to the radio, were the diversions du jour. Book reading was not something my father spent a lot of time doing. He was too restless.

He was far more extroverted than introverted and made friends everywhere. We rode street cars until buses replaced them in the late forties and Floyd seemed to know every street car operator in town. He would grab a seat next to the operator and he engaged them in conversation. He worked as a short order cook and manager for a chain of eateries in Omaha called Harkert Houses which were strategically placed throughout the business districts in the city. Mr. Harkert hired my dad during the depression and I am sure he never regretted it. Dad was smart, hardworking and honest.

Anyway, his job required that he open his restaurant early. We lived in Council Bluffs, which required that dad catch the first street car that ran in the morning, pass the street we lived on, that took him downtown where he transferred to another street car that went over the Aksarben Bridge to Omaha.

His street car operator pals would clank the bell when it went up the street pass our house to wake dad up should he sleep through the alarm clock. About 10 minutes later the car, having turned around and now traveling down the street, would stop opposite our house, although the actual cars stop was about 30 yards away, and wait for him to come out.

I was actual witness to this because I delivered papers in the morning I frequently saw the street car waiting for him. The street car to Omaha was larger. The driver was in front of the car, and in the back was the fare collector who would collect your transfers or receive your money. My father never sat in a seat. He would always stand and talk to the man in the back. Other men would do the same and every day a social club was formed.

At times, I would have reason to be in Omaha during noon and stop in my dad’s place to eat, where I got to watch him cook. Orders would be shouted to him which he repeated out loud and he would throw a hamburger, an egg, or some hash browns on the grill. When the order was cooked, he would set it up on the counter above him and announce the short was ready. He was the personification of action and focus. Kinda like watching him in the batter’s box.

Later he would take a job as a salesman, which utilized his skills of conversation and networking.

To further illustrate how he craved action, he became a referee for high school football and basketball. In fact he refereed two of the football games I played in, discretely offering me encouragement as I broke out of the huddle to trot to my position as end.

He would take me to basketball games and I would go with him the tiny room that was set aside for the officials. Sometimes, he would be booed for one of his calls against the home team, but I always knew he probably made the right call. Ignoring unjustified criticism is another valuable thing I learned from him.

Dad taught me to box, something that came in very handy during my childhood. The competitive nature of sports often brings about altercations and as one that never backed down from trying to win, some hot tempered lads would take exception to some of my actions and throw a punch at me which would start a fight. Truly, I never ever started a fist fight, but could defend myself pretty well and never got really beaten up.

I missed my father terribly after he and my mother were divorced. Perhaps it was the best for everyone, but I will never know what might have been. Life throws things at you and you are forced to make adjustments. I am thankful that I can look back and see the positive things I took from my father. He overcame a pretty tough childhood, found refuge in sports, and became a decent man and father.

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