He was the second oldest of five children. Though he had a very rough childhood, living with what we would call today a dysfunctional father, he never considered himself a "victim." Rising up from utter poverty and suffering physical and emotional abuse from an alcoholic father and rage-a-holic stepmother he became a successful businessman, a respected leader of his community and a devoted family man.
Seward, called Eddie and then Ed as an adult, was named for his grandfather, a well to do attorney and land speculator born in Turin Village, New York. The elder Seward's family migrated to Iowa in the 1850s. Though he studied law and was a licensed attorney, Seward never actually practiced and instead bought and sold thousands of acres of prime Iowa farmland.
One of these properties was the stately Cedar Falls manse where my great-great grandfather lived his life as a bachelor. In 1887,at the age of 29, he fathered an out of wedlock child - Nathan Codner - with the teenage daughter of his gatekeeper. Nathan, not liking that his wealthy father had shunned him, legally changed his name to Edward Higby at the age of 21 and began a many years effort to shake his father down for some of his largess.
Not having the father of the year himself as a dad Nathan cum Edward didn't make much of himself either in the parent category. When his wife and Grandpa Ed's mother, Elsie Pritchard, died on Christmas Eve 1925, Nate was out drinking and carousing and had to be marshaled by a neighbor to retrieve his five young children who Elsie had sent to buy themselves Christmas candy just before she passed. I have been told that my Grandfather always held his father responsible for his mother's death; had Nate been at home and not drinking up the family's limited funds Elsie may have got the medical care she needed.
A few years later my Grandfather was now living in Oklahoma with his father and Nate's new bride Daisy Compton. Grandpa Ed's oldest sister, Sarah, and next youngest brother Pritchard were back in Cedar Falls with their grandfather while the two youngest children, James and Claire, lived with the Higbys in Oklahoma.
As the oldest child in the Oklahoma home, Grandpa was forced to sleep in a small shack outside the main house. One day he came home from school and helped himself to a small amount of food from the kitchen. For whatever reason this enraged Daisy and when Grandpa left to go somewhere, Daisy took a large ax and destroyed Grandpa Ed's shack. Upon returning and discovery this, the 14 year old Ed, tired of years of abuse, lost his cool and assaulted Daisy. Neighbors quickly summoned Nate who then had his son jailed.
After a few days in the lockup the Sheriff informed my Grandfather he had served his time and and could go home. My Grandfather informed the Sheriff there was no way in hell he was going back to live with that "Son of a bitch" and promptly headed off on the nearly 700 mile trek back to the family homestead in Iowa - walking most of the way. On his trip my grandfather found that the Salvation Army was the only charity that would provide him assistance and why to this day it is a favorite family charity.
One afternoon Grandpa Ed's sister Sarah saw what she thought was a hobo walking up the road. She quickly realized that it was her brother looking for shelter. Knowing that her Grandfather Seward wasn't happen he was not only raising his grandchildren but the children of his late brother, the 16 year old Sarah wasn't sure that Seward would allow one more child. So she hid Grandpa Ed in a servants quarter, dressed him in her Grandfather's old clothes, fed him leftovers from the family meals and enrolled him in high school. After of six months of this, one evening at the dinner table Seward said to her "Sarah bring Ed in the house and knock off this foolishness." Grandpa Ed lived with his Grandfather until he graduated high school and enrolled in Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa).
Grandpa Ed worked in a number of jobs such as running a boathouse on the Blackhawk River and then became trained as a machinist. It was while living in Cedar Falls, working and attending college that someone suggested if he wanted to meet a nice girl, he go to church. That he did and he met Winnifred Lynch, the stunning youngest daughter of a 10 child Irish farming family.
One Friday in 1935 the 21 year old Ed was to take out the 18 year old Winnifred - called Ticky by her family and friends - on a night on the town. But there was one hitch - the boss he was working for said payday wasn't to come until Monday and he'd have to get by until then.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt called the country to war, my Grandfather did his patriotic duty and went to enlist in the armed forces. Yet there was a problem. The recruiter discovered Ed was a journeyman tool and die maker, a skill far too valuable and necessary for the war effort to send him into combat. So Ed was hired by the United States Department of War to apply his skills to manufacturing precision parts for planes, tanks and other necessary items to defend the homeland. Forced to leave his young family behind, Ed traveled to places such as Washington state and Minnesota (where his second son David was born in 1942) until eventually he could be reunited with his family.
After the war Grandpa Ed became aware of an opportunity to open a hardware store about 60 miles north in tiny Rudd, IA. For the first few years in Rudd, Ed, Ticky, Jim and Dave lived in a small apartment over the hardware store until the store became successful enough that he could build a modest home a few blocks away from the store.
In Rudd Grandpa Ed became a pillar of the community, was unanimously elected Mayor (he got all eight votes) and became involved in organizations such as the Masonic Lodge, the Congregational Church and beginning what became an annual tradition - organizing massive pancake breakfasts that the whole community showed up to (even when Ed and Ticky relocated to North Hollywood in the late 60s - having few relatives and not yet many friends in their new home - their first backyard pancake breakfast turned out nearly 200 attendees). It was in Rudd as well that Ed nurtured and developed a passion of his - building and flying small airplanes. Indeed many times the plane came in handy when locating a much needed item that a hardware store customer desperately needed.
After several years in Rudd Ed and Ticky thought it was time for a change. Though they had considered a move to Studio City where Ticky's older sister Flo and her family lived, instead Ed followed up on an opportunity to open another hardware store in Camanche, Iowa, some 200 miles away in the eastern part of the state. So the Higbys once again hit the road.
While in the Camanche area, my dad now in his early 20s met my mother. In 1962 they were married and decided to follow up on that deferred dream of moving to California. When I was born in 1964, Ed and Ticky decided that the Camanche hardware market wasn't as prosperous as expected, and tired of the cold Iowa winters, hence they joined us here in North Hollywood.
Quickly adapting to their new environment Ed and Ticky became involved in a new church, were active in airplane owner organizations and made many friends. They were solid citizens who had tremendous respect from all whom knew them. They had a close loving family. That's why it was a significant shock on November 5, 1972 when we received the call that their small two seater plane had crashed slightly after takeoff from Lancaster Airport and they were both killed instantly.
As I stated before, my grandfather never considered himself a victim. He rose from adversity to become an established businessman, a respected community leader and a devoted family man. Though I would hasten to call him a liberal in the sense we use that word today, Ed Higby was a lifelong Democrat who believed in hard work, patriotism and fair play for all. We saw this when his bigoted brother-in-law refused to walk Ed's niece down the aisle when she married a Jew and Ed stepped in to give her away. Ed also encouraged his son Dave's retarded brother-in-law Duane to visit him in his garage and learn some mechanical skills even though Duane's own parents thought it was a waste; "Duane is too stupid to learn anything" his mother told my Grandpa. Ed believed that everyone deserved a chance if they wanted it. He was a good man who made a mark on many.
Ed was 58 when he passed away and I was only 8. I have cried many times lamenting the fact that I did not have his presence in my life growing up. However I am grateful beyond words for the time I did have with him and proud of the remarkable impact he had on so many people.
Happy Birthday Grandpa Ed. I miss you.
Labels: seward edward higby