In the upcoming week I will be talking about Ben Gibbs as part of the “Grandparents Series” in At Home with Cheri. Today is Part I: Childhood.
He grew up with little money, digging ditches and working in his father’s local grocery store. A good student, he went to UC Berkeley. He wanted to be a Forest Ranger, but on the advice of a stranger he decided to major in Pre-Med instead. Eventually he became a vascular surgeon who helped streamline surgical techniques developed in the 1950’s. Cardio-vascular patients now have quicker recovery times and fewer complications, partly because of his and others’ contributions in those early years of vascular surgery. Today this 74 year-old has six children, and twelve grandchildren, two of whom are with him here:
Ben lives on a vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington, makes Cabernet Franc wine, invests in stocks, and enjoys spending time with his wife and 13 year-old daughter.
This is the story of Benjamin Franklin Gibbs, Jr.
Benjamin Franklin Gibbs Jr. was born on Friday the 13th, 1936. Bad luck? Not to his parents. They nick named their firstborn son Lucky. All of Lucky’s extended family was in San Diego. His father’s side came from Massachusetts, where they lived for hundreds of years. They were among the first settlers of the United States, and immigrated to the Boston area from England in the 1600s for religious freedom. His mother Bee came from a long line of Swedes. Some of Lucky’s ancestors were of royal blood, but Lucky’s immediate family was not wealthy. His grandfather was a grocer, and later his dad was one too.
Lucky’s dad, Ben Sr., believed that if you worked hard you could get ahead. Bee was into art and music. Lucky takes after his parents, and became a hard worker who is also artistically inclined. He also has a sense of humor. His first childhood memory involves his sister and mom. He says, glibly, “I remember my mother nursing my sister, and my getting into bed with them and wanting to take part in that.”
Another early memory involves World War II. Lucky was five. “It was the day of the Japanese Invasion of Pearl Harbor. My mother was vacuuming and Franklin Roosevelt was talking about Pearl Harbor on the radio and she stopped vacuuming to listen. Her jaw dropped, and she said “Oh No!” Later in the war they had to ration everything. “You could only buy so much meat, food, gas, and soap. You couldn’t buy more than you needed, because everything was directed to the war effort to support the troops. After the war there was a cold war, and everyone was talking about shelters. People worried about getting bombed by Russia, and we had to get under our desks in bomb drills. There was also a tremendous prejudice against communists. They were called Reds.”
But despite the war, Ben (Lucky) had a normal childhood. His childhood heroes were Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. His favorite songs and music were by “Sons of the Pioneers.” He sang a lot, and enjoyed songs like The Sons of the Pioneer’s “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” He played games like cops and robbers, hide and seek, and tag. His favorite toy was a cowboy gun and he went fishing in the river with his grandfather. He looked forward to Christmas. “Santa Claus came. I remember getting an architectural drafting set with a T-square and triangles. It was my favorite gift. “
The family had lots of dogs. They had an English setter named “Lady” and a bunch of Dalmatians. “The female Dalmatian,
Chi Chi, had litters of twelve, two or three different times.” There were also a lot of animals around the yard—chickens, rabbits, horses, turkeys, geese. They were for utilitarian purposes. Lucky’s mom cooked macaroni and cheese and spaghetti, and they had family dinners. Meat came from the yard animals or they ate the older, unsalable meat from his dad’s store.
Lucky helped at the store. About 4:30 or 5:00 on some mornings he and his dad would get in the Model B pickup truck and go downtown to stock up on produce. He helped stock the shelves. The oldest food would go forward and the freshest food went behind. He sorted pop bottles for redemption. During profitable times he got paid. “I got up to 25 cents an hour for working in the store, but only if I didn’t slough off. My dad taught that you did an hour’s work for an hour’s pay.” He also did chores around the house, for which he sometimes received a meager allowance. “I had to weed the garden, water and feed the rabbits, water and feed the chickens, feed the goats, and feed the turkeys. At age eight I got a used bicycle that my dad bought for $20 and painted. I rode that bike for many years and used it through my teens for a paper route and personal transportation. Later I earned money for flying lessons and college by digging ditches.”
Coming Up in my next post: Ben Gibbs– The School Years.