Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Dad Jiggs

Me and my dad, 1971

"How did you learn to play the piano," I asked. "Did you take lessons?"
"Are you kidding?" he answered. "We didn't have any money.

"It was actually a blessing," Dad went on. "I learned to work. We were always in deep money trouble when I was a kid, and all of us did any old thing to help make ends meet."

Gerald Hawley Bagley was born January 18, 1922 in Montpelier, Idaho, the second of five kids. He was nick-named Jiggs, after a comic strip. His parents, Adelila and Hawley, moved to Salt Lake City when he was three, into a home full of love, laughter, music, and furniture bought on credit.

"One day some men drove up in a big truck and started hauling out our beds, dressers, chairs and tables," Dad said. "It was great! We kids put on socks and ice-skated around the big, empty rooms on the hard-wood floors, wondering why Mom was sitting on the porch, crying. They had repossessed all her furniture." There was a moral to the story. "Never buy everything from the same store."

Every penny counted in the Bagley household. As a little boy Dad picked strawberries and cherries for 25¢ a case. "The summer I was nine I picked worms. Somebody had a huge dew-berry patch, and the owners came through the neighborhood in a truck to pick us kids up. I took a bucket, a pair of gloves and a hat. For two dollars a day, I filled my bucket with great big green worms, two or three inches long, then dumped them all on a fire of burning oil. It was a long, hot summer."

Jiggs 1932

"When I was about ten, I had a make-shift incubator. I raised 200 baby chicks until they were five weeks old, and then nailed a sign on a telephone pole and sold them five-for-a-dollar. Saturday mornings I went with my mother to a poultry farm where she plucked chickens—my job was to wring their necks. We got paid with a chicken for Sunday dinner.

"A neighbor had 30 cows that I herded when I was 15. I just walked along the road slowly all day long, stopped to eat, and then at 4 o'clock I'd start them back. It was extremely boring.

"After I turned twelve I'd try to get a 'loop' at the golf course on Saturdays and holidays. All the rich guys played at the country club, and they hired kids to carry their clubs. It took an hour to walk there, and caddying a round took four hours. It was a big deal to get a 10¢ tip. With that dime I could buy a hamburger and a coke, and still have a buck to take home after a six-hour day."

There were perks to being a young working man. "I had a huge paper route and my dad had to drive me around at 4:30 every morning. When I was 13 he told me I could drive myself. I had a lot of fun growing up, but I worked for everything—I bought my first over-coat when I graduated from high school. Just having a coat gave me a huge burst of confidence."

This under-privileged childhood produced a man who spent three years as a soldier, then put himself through college (straight A's) and became an optometrist. Later he got into real estate, developed a few subdivisions and an industrial park, bought a tennis club, built Jeremy Ranch golf course, and owned the Utah Jazz long enough to make sure the team stayed in Utah. He wrote a book, worked in the state legislature, coached championship baseball and basketball teams, employed dozens of people and supported his parents. He sang in barbershop quartets, choirs and backyards, remembered stats from every World Series game, could tabulate the grocery bill in his head and played a mean piano.

I wonder if he'd have done better if his summers had been filled with lessons?


Diane said...

What a great man. What a wonderful legacy for you.

Grandma Cebe said...

The youth of our parents generation knew how to work and not take anything for granted. I don't think that my own father would have said he was raised in poverty. But I know he had to work to help support the family, put himself through college and when his father died at age 58, he supported his mother and two sisters still at home. This kind of work ethic is something that I see missing in many of the youth today...even in some of my own grandchildren.

Amanda said...

This is so fascinating! And I love that you know all of this. I think nowadays, most of us don't know enough about our family and the history. These are important stories to be told!

Heidi said...

Happy Birthday Grampa! I was just giving my kids a character sketch of him and missing him once again. Mostly, sitting by him and stroking each other's hands. I don't think I'll forget that feeling ever.

~Kristina said...

What a legacy and what an eloquent way to have written it.

mama jo said...

happy birthday your stories of him...

Tiffany said...

A strong work ethic is a wonderful quality! What a great example for his posterity. My grandfather was born in Bennington, Id just a bit outside of Montpelier in 1918. He also learned the value of work and became a great man. He earned a masters in Social Work from the University of Chicago on the GI Bill and later became Director of Corrections for the State of Utah, a position he held for approximately 20 years.

I bet your grandmother and my great-grandmother knew each other!

Christie said...

Such great stories. I can almost picture him saying all of that (and probably heard it from him a time or two, as well). Happy birthday, Jiggs. Miss him lots.