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It's A Great Life: 37 - "Jack - He's Gone''

Jack Merewood recalls one of the saddest days of his life.

Many of the people who worked at Hutchinson's worked for themselves and were under contract, and I got on extremely well with most of them. I was very interested in the construction of the houses and regularly went round with different foremen, asking questions to improve my knowledge. But at times I'd get annoyed with someone who was holding up my work, and especially the man who was in charge of the painting department. He was a big blond-haired, red-faced Texan by the name of Wesley Watkins and we regularly had arguments. We never came to blows (he was much bigger than I was), but at times he could be awkward.

One of his painters called Coleman worked for me, a nice enough man but terribly slow, and I regularly lost my patience with him. Two very friendly young men, carpenters, were the Roberts brothers. They had a boat, and took Sheila and me out in it on a nearby lake. They also tried to teach me to water ski. I would stand on the skis on the sloping bank of the lake, they took off in the boat, and every time I ended up being dragged furiously through the water flat on my face. I never did get to stand straight up, and finally had to admit that I would never make a water skier.

In spite of my odd argument with Wesley and a few other minor irritations, I really loved my job. I was left entirely on my own and was my own boss. My work covered every aspect of building, so I could be anywhere at any time on the project. When an inspector finalled a house he signed a sheet to say everything was in order, gave me a copy, and these I handed in at the office.

Three men headed the company, Mr Hutchinson, his son-in-law, George Mullins, and Ed Northway. Mr Hutchinson was crippled with arthritis so we hardly ever saw him, but I got on well with the other two. Ed Northway was a rough and ready character but he took to me and was delighted with the number of finals I consistently made. But then I enjoyed organising things the way I wanted them, and always felt a great satisfaction when every week I finalled houses. Though things never ran smoothly - well, they never do - and problems inevitably arose, in general things went well.

I took my father out to the houses and he was delighted that we were doing so well, and amazed at the number of houses being built and the production line. Everything was so different for him and hard to conceive. When we went into Golden people would often call out 'Hi Jack', which impressed my father no end. One day he said 'You're as well known around here as the town crier.' But after three months he was getting a little tired and said to me one day 'It will be good to get home and just have a slice of ordinary bread and butter.'

It was getting on in September and my mother and father were due to leave in a week's time. Jessie and Dean took them into Denver to check on their tickets and other things for their homeward journey.

Sheila and I had by now become very active in the Thespians and were voted onto the committee. Sometimes we'd hold committee meetings in each other's homes, and one was scheduled this particular evening for our house. People were arriving when the phone rang. It was Dean: 'Jack, your dad has had a heart attack and he's not so good.' A few minutes later Dean rang again: 'Jack - he's gone.'

We were shattered. We couldn't believe it. Our friends who had arrived were shocked and took their leave. Dean rang: 'We're at the Silver Wing cafe, but they've taken your dad away.' Within seconds we were in the car and on our way to the Silver Wing. My mother, Jessie, Dean and Cheryl were there in a very distressed state. They had been into Denver, got everything taken care of and decided to call at the restaurant on the way home. They had been sitting at the table when suddenly, without a word my dad slumped onto the floor. An ambulance was sent for but by the time it arrived he had died.

He had been a man who had never seemed to be ill. I don't remember him ever having been to a doctor, and this happening was so sudden and unexpected that it was hard to grasp. None of our friends and relatives had telephones so I had to write to one of my father's sisters, Annie, to give her the news, ask her to let everyone know, and put my father's death in the local newspaper.

Our friends were full of sympathy and so were the people we worked with. Bob Wood, who was in the Thespians, owned the mortuary in Golden and he took care of the funeral arrangements. Hutchinson Homes sent a beautiful flower arrangement, some of the men with whom we worked came to the funeral, and many from Hutchinson's came to Golden and signed the 'Book of Condolences' which was at the mortuary.

My father was buried in Golden cemetery on 27 September 1956 - our fourth wedding anniversary. To lose a parent is always heartbreaking, but to have lost my father in these circumstances was particularly saddening. Sheila and I took care of his grave for as long as we lived there, and now, whenever we go to Colorado, to the cemetery is where we always go first. It is a beautiful cemetery. Jessie and Dean take care of the grave and always put flowers there on Memorial Days. Now my mother was on her own, and was in no fit state to travel back to England, so she applied for, and was granted, a six-month extension to her visa. It was a very upsetting time for all of us.

We were still very busy at work. The man who was in charge of the whole project was called Frank Griswold and just before Christmas he sent for me to go up to the office. This was actually one of the show houses which would be eventually sold. I couldn't imagine why I had been sent for. On my arrival he was waiting for me outside the office. He said: 'At Christmas all the foremen are given a bonus, you haven't had the job long enough to qualify for this, so we are going to give you a rise.' At that time I was earning $100 a week and I couldn't believe my ears when he said 'The rise will be $25 dollars a week.' I was astounded and could hardly find words to thank him, then he said: 'Anyone who would walk to work as you did through the snow, with the temperature below freezing, deserves some reward.'

I couldn't have thought of a nicer Christmas present...


To read Jack's vivid account of his wartime experiences To War With The Bays please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/to_war_with_the_bays/


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