03 January 2007

 

Del Reeves, R.I.P.

Second-tier country music artist Del Reeves passed away yesterday at his home in (my hometown) Centerville, Tennessee. L. A. Times obituary (reg. req.) here. There's more to this than his being the other country music star besides Minnie Pearl to have residential credit in C'ville.

My dad was a self-made man. Born in 1907, went to work with an 8th-grade education to support his mom and siblings and so his older brother could play basketball and finish high school. There's much of his history I don't know: details about his first couple of marriages, about my half-sister (I presume she is still alive, but, honestly, I have never met her), the time he got arrested for driving on the sidewalk (in a Model A? -- I wish I had details), etc.

By the time of the second World War, however, he was successful as a government inspector in the garment industry. Later, he leveraged his knowledge in that area to become a plant manager for Breezy Wynn, an East Tennessean who owned sewing factories all over the southeast USA. When the feds forced Breezy to sell off some of his plants to avoid antitrust action (not sure if this is gospel -- it's based on fuzzy memories and hearsay), my dad bought the plant in Centerville, renaming Southern Sportswear to Kenneth M. Wilson Co., Inc. (I was a shareholder: he set it up as a subchapter S corporation. I was freaked when I was about 10 or 11 and I learned I had been paying substantial income taxes my entire life.)

My dad did well, especially by small town Tennessee, rural county Tennessee standards. He made lots of money on government contracts: raincoats and ponchos for the US Army during the Vietnam conflict. He tried, I think very genuinely, to take care of all those working for him at "the factory," as we called it.

When US involvement in the Vietnam conflict was drawn down, the US government started rejecting shipments for orders they had previously contracted for. My dad lost an incredible amount of money at that time. The local banker who had financed his purchase of the plant said that my dad "made more money and lost more money" than anyone else in Hickman County. (I am skeptical that my dad ever made as much money as J. B. Walker, the banker quoted, but that is beside the point!)

Toward the end of his successful days, my dad had built a great big house on a huge tract of land on Highway 100, the main drag from Centerville to Nashville, outside of Centerville. 30-something acres initially, about 20 cleared. He later bought an adjoining tract to bring the whole shebang to about 65 acres. Big ranch house overlooking the highway. Five bedrooms, one for my folks and each of my two brothers and me, plus a guest room, etc. I was always oppressed by it, to some degree, but it was the house that he and my mom, my mom especially, wanted to celebrate his success, their ability to escape their meager roots. (Her family was a farm -- cotton -- family with 10 kids from Sand Mountain in north Alabama.)

So when the war shut down, in order to meet obligations and in order to cover loans and in order to keep his business going, my dad and mom had to sell this ginormous house they had built. And the buyer they found was Del Reeves. I was with my dad when he went to the closing, and I don't think I'd ever seen him more subdued in my entire life.

In my opinion, our lives got better: My brothers had both married and moved out by then, and I had never liked living out on the highway anyway. We had moved out there just when I had reached that get-around-town-on-your-bike stage, but we lived too far out of town for me to continue that. By then my dad had bribed me with a motorbike (a Honda 100 -- nothing serious) to go back to prep school, anyway, so I had wheels. We moved even further out of town, out across the Grinders railroad crossing (the source of Minnie Pearl's "Grinders Switch" name for Centerville) into a 3 BR 2 BA home with a great deck on a bluff on the Duck River. The other side was all river bottom. The rear of the house had a great western exposure, and the summertime sunsets were fantanstic.

So Del Reeves bought "the house on the highway," renamed it "Gloryland," and moved himself, his wife, and his three daughters in. I think they enjoyed it. I only visited one of the daughters there once. She was a nice lady, a friend of the girl I dated at the time.

Time passed. My dad passed away. My mom sold "the house on the bluff" to my brother, who sold it back to her, and then she sold it to some third party who sold it to... Del and Ellen Reeves. ("The house on the highway" was bought by the Gillam of Gillam Construction Company, who had bought "the house down the hill from the factory" that I had live in when I was little. It was a kind of indirect musical homes among the Wilsons and Reeveses and Gillams.

The Reeves were sweet. Mrs. Reeves kept in touch with my mom after they moved into "the house on the bluff." Del was a nice guy, from what I have heard and what little I recall.

Of course I'm just using his passing to talk about my own bizarro upbringing, but regardless, may Del Reeves rest in peace. My condolences to his family.

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