I’ve known Mr. Reeve since I was born. My parents moved into our house on Franklin street the week after June, 1985. Mr. Reeve and his wife of sixty seven years, Mrs. June Reeve were/are like a second set of grandparents to me. I have fond and vivid memories of helping the Reeves in their lush garden as a five year old. By helping, I mainly just tossed dirt from point A to point B and that was the extent of my contribution in the rows of tomatoes and cucumbers.
On most sunny summer days I would wander over to their yard with my parents permission and knock on the back door. I would offer to help Mr. Reeve with whichever project he was diligently working on in his workshop. He would hand me a hammer and a tiny saw to ‘help’ him with his project – regardless if it needed any hammering or any sawing. I would be given a block of wood to dismantle with “exquisite” care as if I were the craftiest of craftsmen.
I always remember the breaks for lunch or an afternoon snack that would consist of a small glass of chocolate milk and a fresh cookie that was seemingly in endless supply in the Reeves kitchen. The glass of chocolate milk would always come accessorized with a bendy straw and I would be encouraged by Mrs. Reeve to blow bubbles in my milk. Mr. Reeve would usually follow suit.
I remember being in the fourth grade and having to write a one page essay about a neighbor for an English assignment and selecting Mr. Reeve as my topic.. I wrote about his engineering background, his love for his garden, workshop and his little transistor radio that would sit near wherever he worked and seemingly always functioned – whether rain, or sun, or snow. I remember Mr. Reeve revealing to me that he was a veteran of the second World War, the details of which he kept to himself because I imagine he believed a fourth grader didn’t need to know the horrors of war.
William Reeve is a veteran of the United States Navy, and served on the USS Nuthatch – an Auk class mine-sweeping ship whose sole purpose was to drop depth charges in hostile waters to clear mines for troop carrying ships. The Nuthatch would sail blindly throughout the Atlantic and eventually the English Channel in June of 1944 sweeping for mines, never knowing when one would randomly be struck by the invincible steel hull of the mighty Michigan made ship.
The division sailed from Torquay on 5 June 1944, and before it began sweeping operations lost one of its units, Osprey (AM-56). Early on 6 June, the division started sweeping the coast of France in assault and check sweeps to assure safe passage channels for the landing craft. Sweeping continued after D-Day, and on 15 June, in the Baie de la Seine, a mine exploded close aboard Nuthatch on the port side forward. While no personnel injuries were incurred, the force of the explosion damaged the hull, stopped the engines, and made all electric gear inoperative. However, within two hours, she was underway again, and soon pulled out of range of German shore batteries.
Last week I sat down with Mr. Reeve to catch up. At 91 years old Mr. Reeve is as sharp as a tack and still has that wise sense of humor he’s always had. In fact he even cracked a fat joke at me. At 91, my neighbor growing up is making fat jokes. It killed me inside with laughter. But his joke was also serious. Mr. Reeves said to me:
You know Nate, when you were four years old you made your father stop smoking because it wasn’t healthy. You need to watch yourself.
Despite what doctors, my wife and parents and friends have told me it doesn’t hit you until a 91 year old World War II veteran tells you to stop eating like your 12 and shape up.
Mr. Reeve was the chief engineer on a ship that swept mines in the English Channel on the morning of June 6th, 1944. He didn’t go into detail what he saw that day, nor did he need to. When someone like that tells you something, you listen. I can only hope to be as noble as Mr. Reeve was when he served, and I can only strive to be as inspiring as Mr. Reeve is.
The moral of this tale is simple. Appreciate life. As long as I have known Mr. Reeve he has enjoys life. He enjoys his wife of 67 years. He’s enjoys his daughter and his garden and his workshop. He enjoyed the neighbor kid who would ask to help on a sunny summer day. He enjoys life.
What I took away from my nearly three hour sit down and brief portrait session is that if you don’t stay healthy, if you don’t push yourself, if you don’t appreciate what you have then you won’t enjoy life for very long. I can only hope to be as sharp and as active as Mr. Reeve is at 91, and I hope there’s a neighbor kid that knocks at my door when I’m in my retirement years and working in my woodshop so I can pass on the things Mr. Reeve taught me.