98 years, one month, two days.
A life well lived.
He was almost a Canadian, but Rachel’s letter home with the good news of her pregnancy prompted a trip for her daddy, Joseph Brigham Meeks, to bring her back to the United States.
On 2, February 1919 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania; Phil, the groundhog, stuck his head out of his hole and found his shadow predicting another six weeks of winter. 1,889.8 miles West, in Salt Lake City, Utah a red-headed baby boy also greeted the world, William Edgar Grundy. He would be the only child of Rachel Meeks and her husband, Clayborn Alphonzo Grundy.
He would only be Billy Grundy for nine years though.
On January 10, 1930. Billy’s beautiful mom Rachel died from cancer. Six days later his aunt Vi passed away.
His daddy, Clayborne Alphonso Grundy, came down from Canada after he heard of Rachel’s death.
Here’s where life got a little wild.
Billy Grundy had an aunt, Melva Fail (Aunt Mel), who lost a son, Ross, to a horse-riding accident around this time. Ross and Billy were approximately the same age. In her grieving, Aunt Mel took in Billy.
Wild West custody battles were very different from the lawyers and judges of today’s custody wars. Billy’s Aunt Mel and his Granddaddy waged a custody battle with his dad that went on for years. Aunt Mel would send young Billy off on the train to a new town, where he’d make up a new name and sell newspapers on the corners for a nickel. He was a fugitive from the law, he dropped the surname Grundy and took on his maternal grandfather’s name, Meeks.
From here on out, the world would know him as William Edgar Meeks.
Speaking of fugitives, Billy came from a long line of tough frontier folk, not all of them on the correct side of the law.
Take Billy’s Uncle, Henry Wilbur Meeks, “Bub,” was one of the lesser known members of the Wild Bunch gang, a gang of outlaws led by Butch Cassidy. Their friendship began in Circleville, Utah when Butch “borrowed” a horse from Bub.
The Robin Hood spirit of the gang wouldn’t let him keep the horse, so he sent it back, with a note that said the horse was the best he had ever ridden. Be it horses or cattle, bank robbery or holding up a train, Bub was an active member of the Wild Bunch Gang until his arrest in 1900.
With relatives like Bub, is it any surprise that Bill had his share of adventures?
Fourth of July is big in little towns, Huntington was no different. Joseph Brigham Meeks, Billy’s Grandfather, and one-time Emery County Commissioner told Billy and his friend from the service to wake everyone up. As they both had experience with dynamite… Billy and his friend placed dynamite around the town’s square and lit it at dawn. It woke up the town and blew out the schoolhouse windows.
Bill Meeks was a Gleek. He had an amazing voice!
After Pearl Harbor, Billy joined the Army and went to Europe aboard the Queen Mary.
He marched across Europe during World War II.
For a short time, he was under General MacArthur.
Billy Meeks was our grandfather. A giant of a man in stature and character.
We saw him cry three times.
The first, we were in college. Coming home after a history class, announcing to Grandpa we had watched a movie about World War II and when the camera turned, there he was, our Grandpa, with an emaciated human being in his arms. He was there helping liberate Bergen-Belsen.
On October 7, 2007, thanks to an oversight on the military’s part, we were fortunate enough to attend my grandfather’s award ceremony. It was casual.
When the awards were pinned, I asked my grandpa, “Were you drafted?”
In his firm voice, he said,
“Drafted? Hell NO! I VOLUNTEERED. We all did.”
It must have triggered some memories buried deep inside because he then shared that he remembered marching across France.
One morning, on the border of France and Germany, as they packed their packs in exhaustion, preparing to invade Germany, the General said, “It’s over. We’re going home.”
It was those five words that brought my grandfather to tears. I’m sure they had the same impact on him in that camp the first time he heard them. Through his tears, Grandpa repeated,
“It was over.“
“Put that gun away before I take it away from you.”
“Hell no. I don’t believe in that Fairy Tale bullshit.”