Howard Barber Smith Personal History written by Son, Garth F. Smith
Contributor: Karen Cutter Created: 3 years ago Updated: 3 years ago
Howard Barber Smith
By his son, Garth F. Smith
Finding information about my dad has been a challenge, for it seems know one knew his history. He never kept a journal nor did he write a personal history, and his siblings didn’t seem to know much about his life after his early years. I obtained most of my information from discussions I had with my mother before her passing.
He was born to James Francis Smith and Ruth Barber at Brigham City, UT September 24, 1917 and was the baby of the family. He died in an industrial accident October 16, 1955.
It seems the family he was born into was somewhat dysfunctional. James Francis, his father, was often out of town with his employment. There appears to have been some Gospel influence in the home, for his sisters all embraced the Church, but I could find no evidence any of his brothers doing so; quite the opposite. The brothers appear to have been fun-loving boys and men, but were more on the tough side of life.
Dad was quiet and soft spoken even as an adult. He also was strikingly handsome, which most likely turned out to be a liability to him rather than an asset. Notwithstanding his tough shell, dad’s heart was soft and pliable. Mother told me how tender his heart was, and that seeing or hearing of a tender moment or story could easily bring tears to his eyes.
Howard, it seems, had quite a typical childhood in many ways. But as a teenager, his older brothers had the most influence over him, which may have brought out a tough-shelled side of him.
At age nineteen, dad married and had a child. The marriage was annulled before the child was born. It was a boy his mother named, Kenneth Howard Smith. It was a scandalous event that was troubling for the Smith Clan. There is evidence dad felt an obligation to the mother and his son, and when able, showed his interest and concern by providing what financial resources he had. The child was named Kenneth Howard, probably after dad’s brother who my dad and the child’s mother regarded highly.
I recently met Kenneth Howard, and he shared some thoughts with me about dad. He said when he grew old enough to understand, his mother told him of his father’s kindness to them. Kenneth Howard grew up recognizing dad as his real father even though he was raised by a step-father from a very young age. Kenneth Howard longed to meet his real father, Howard Barber Smith, but never got the chance.
While in his early twenties, Dad’s mother died. Dad would live with one married sister after another until he chose to become more independent.
These were the great depression days. With dad’s mother having passed away and his father usually away, he took to pure independence. He became a hobo; not uncommon in those days, yet very risky and dangerous. There were many hoboes in those days, catching one train car after another, traveling from one city to another looking for work. Dad told mom that he traveled to every state in the Union. He was living that adventurous life for what appears to be at least a year. I’m sure he could have shared many experiences he had in that year, but unfortunately, we have no daily or overall account of it, only mom’s comments she received from him.
His father, James Francis Smith, was hired on at the Spanish Fork sugar factory as a superintendent. He invited his son, Howard, to work with him, which is what got Dad to Spanish Fork where he met my mother, Elma Bowen.
They married and worked to make a family. They opened their own small restaurant between Spanish Fork and Springville on Highway 91 and called it Chicken in the Rough. At that time they also had their first child together, a boy, whom they named Michael Howard. They felt like a normal young family, working hard to build a business and raising a new, young family. But then tragedy struck.
Michael Howard died of pneumonia at age six months; he died in his Grandma Bowen’s arms (Elma’s mother). The whole family was pained by the loss; Howard and Elma were devastated. Howard turned ever more to alcohol to relieve his pain of the loss of that beautiful son.
Saundra’s (Sandy) birth returned much needed joy to the couple. Not much longer World War II broke out and dad volunteered for the war, joining the Army. After basic training he was immediately sent to Europe.
The war tested the toughest of men. Dad fought in five major battles; including D-Day and Battle of the Bulge (A Major Battle was a title for more significant, large battles, excluding smaller skirmishes). He was wounded during Battle of the Bulge. They patched him up and sent him back to the war front. He returned home after several years, a broken man; his nerves and emotions were tied into knots. Mother told me after dad’s return home, the least quick movement or loud noise caused him to shake or jump out of his chair. He lived ten years after the war, and for the whole of those 10 years, he would be in and out of VA Hospitals with hives on his skin and an extreme nervous condition. The truth is, Howard was a tough guy on the outside, but on the inside, he was very gentle, caring, kind and thoughtful. Yet he was brave, volunteering for battle service. His outward hard shell was to cover his insecurities, my opinion at least.
Mother spoke of his war condition, how he would toss and turn at night in his sleep, and how he would moan and grown and sweat until his clothes were wet. On a few occasions, she said, he would open up and share with her some experiences. Each time, she said, he would groan about the impact of taking a life, with the thought that the life he took may have had a sweet, beautiful daughter like his little Sandy. The amount of pain those experiences brought to his tender feelings are impossible to describe in words. Is it any wonder why he took to drink, at least without the influence of the Gospel.
Mother saw his goodness and that’s why she stayed with him even through his years of partying and drinking. He was slow to grow up. She knew well he was a good man with kind intentions but didn’t know how to manage his life. She told me he would regularly get into fist fights, but that he found it hard to hurt the other guy. He wasn’t mean by nature; he didn’t have that “killer instinct” that many mean and hardened fist fighters have. Even though, he never walked away from a fight, it wasn’t his nature to fight. He often fought because that was the environment he placed himself in and the type of friends he chose—the drinking and iron worker crowd. However, at least one fight he lost and lost badly. Maybe after that loss, he stopped his fighting and learned to walk away?
After the war, he enrolled into college at BYU and later at UCLA. It is unclear exactly how many classes he took or how long he stayed in college. At BYU, however, it appears he dropped out just shy of a full year. We have a few of his English class writings. He also wrote some poems, which are cherished by our family. He desired to improve himself and he wanted to do well by himself and his family.
Not long after the war, Gregory B. was born, dad’s pride and joy. And then fifteen months later, I came into the family. Four years later Deborah (Debbie) was born.
He was given a job with the railroad which led him to a job with Ironton (an affiliate of US Steel), which he held until his death. Passing the rigorous tests and training for iron work tested his resolve, but he found the strength and confidence and passed the tests.
From mom’s records of that time, dad started and failed at many jobs before he landed the Ironton job. In each case, he walked away from the job because he felt over taxed; his nervous condition overwhelmed him to the point that he walked away from them feeling overwhelmed by the pressure. Prior to the war, he had held many jobs and fulfilled them well. In fact, his last job before he left for the war was with the sugar plant in Spanish Fork. Mom said he did an admirable job and worked faithfully every day making his father proud.
He joined the iron workers union which secured him a job most of the time. Many of his jobs initially were out of town. One job in particular made for the most exciting summer of my life as a child. This job must have been near 1953 or 1955 for I remember it so well, and it was at a time when dad had made some crucial life changing decisions, namely to become a good husband and father and to stop the heavy drinking and partying with friends. All of these changes he made in the last year of his life.
The job referred to above was at Alpine, Idaho, on the border between Idaho and Wyoming, a small mountain town with a population of about thirty (at that time). Dad’s job was to help with the steel works on the building of the Palisades Dam. For a couple of young boys (Greg and I), that was a glorious summer, surrounded by gorgeous mountains and miles and miles of wild wheat and weeds to play in. Dad and mom were happy together. On dad’s days off we were together as a family doing fun and interesting things. It was my only time I remember waking in the morning to such joy and happiness. Dad had really made some wonderful changes and mom was obviously very happy with those changes.
When we return to Spanish Fork after his job was finished, the joy continued. I even recall our whole family entering our ward church building. It wasn’t for a sacrament meeting, but rather, for Greg’s scouting activity. Greg was a Cub Scout with hopes to advance to the regular scouting program. The scout unit put together a wonderful activity to show parents all the various activities and learning the boys would experience. We were all there even Sandy, as I recall. Nine year old Greg was so excited, he was pulling mom and dad to see all the different demonstrations and examples of scouting; every square foot of the Fourth Ward cultural hall was used to put their point across. I was envious of Greg that he was going to have all this fun in the scouting program. I looked forward to it myself when I came of age. After all, I was Greg’s shadow from as early as I can remember until I began Junior High School. That would be my only memory of our family inside a church building.
Sandy, now a young teen, was already gaining favor with boys. She was a typical teen in so many ways. The trouble was, the kind of boys she liked were more the partying, wild type. Because we were not integrated into the Church community, our friends tended to be the same; good people in many ways, but often without higher principles to guide their lives.
I recall Sandy’s first party at our home. I remember at that party, lots of boys and girls, laughing and joking and a great deal of dancing. Elvis Presley had just made his debut and had taken rock and roll to a new level.
Dad had made from rock an incinerator in our back yard, where we could also roast marshmallows and hotdogs, etc. During the party, the fire in it was so hot it caught a nearby tree on fire causing the fire department to come to our home. I could tell even as a child, that mom and dad were glad to see their daughter with so many friends, but were concerned that they were more hardened boys and girls.
Dad was providing well for our family, financially. He surprised mom with a new car, a Buick Road Master, we named Bluebell. Just prior to dad’s passing, he was offered a job in Salt Lake that would increase the family financial security even more. Mom and dad had even decided upon a lot to build a home on in the Murray, Utah, a suburb to Salt Lake City, and were excited for the prospects of that change.
Dad’s changes were wonderful for the family; it brought happiness to the home. I was an early riser, so I sat in the kitchen each early morning as mom fixed dad’s breakfast and saw him off for work. One particular fall morning, a Sunday in October of 1955, dad had the day off but was called into work to fill in for another worker who was unable to fill his shift.
This particular day was no different than all the others the past year since dad’s changes; he arose early, ate mom’s delicious breakfast, gave me a kiss, stepped out onto our back porch, gave mom a big, loving bear hug and passionate kiss, and drove off to work.
As the morning progressed and all the kids awoke, about nine or 10:00 A.M., we received a phone call. Greg answered it and gave it to mom. It was mom’s brother, Earl Bowen, who worked at Ironton at the time. He told mom of an accident dad was in; trying not to alarm her too much, telling her he took a fall and that she should come over to Ironton.
The moment she hung up and shared with us the news, Greg broke into tears, weeping, he exclaimed, “Dad is dead!” He would not be consoled. Only through a father son instinct could Greg have known what really happened, because mother tried not to show much emotion. Nonetheless, all of us kids could sense something more serious, especially Greg.
Mother farmed all us kids out to others for the day and she left for Ironton. When she arrived, she found that dad’s fall was far more serious than had initially been reported. He had fallen 40+ feet, but first had been gassed with deadly fumes. He fell on his head his fellow workman said. But before he fell, he insisted that his fellow workman (Kindred) go down the ladder first. They both fell, but Kindred’s helmet remained on and dad’s came off, leaving his head totally unprotected.
Mom got there soon enough to ride with him in the ambulance. He never regained consciousness from the fall. They ran him to Salt Lake Hospital where he died just prior to their arrival.
Dad’s life lasted thirty-eight years. He lived a challenged life, but thankfully before his passing, he recognized crucial changes to be made and he applied serious effort to make them. He became a true husband and father and was in the process, I believe, to make even more positive changes.
Those who knew him best knew him to be soft spoken, soft hearted and kindly. It was said by his friends that he was a loyal, faithful friend. And, as already said, he became a loyal husband and a caring father.
After dad’s death and while mother was still in mourning, mom had a dream. She shared it with me years later. In the dream dad appeared to her, called her by name and took her by the hand to her out of bed, where he led her to the back porch of our Red Shutter home. While on the porch, he pointed east toward what would appear to be the Rees School, he said, “Look, Inie (mom’s nickname), at all the beautiful flowers, trees and bushes, and look at all the beautiful colors, isn’t it beautiful?” She was able to see what he saw and so she exclaimed, “Yes, Howard, it is beautiful.” He then added, “I’m happy here, so don’t worry about me.” Then the dream ended.
After a more careful and thoughtful examination of my father’s life, I’ve asked myself what, in particular, defined his life? I came up with the following considerations.
Realizing that dad lived only 38 years and that two or three of those years were in the defense of the country he loved so much, and that after the war, the remaining ten years of his life were fighting the effects of the war, it occurred to me that in the prime of his life, he was either fighting for freedom or recovering from that fight. He was a true patriot.
Also, learning of his naturally kind nature (which had been smothered with a tough-guy mentality for much of his life), that by his own choice came to the point of caring for his wife and children before his passing, I am left to believe that Howard Barber Smith came to earth to fight for freedom. Moreover, before his passing, he was blessed and inspired to point his life in a good direction, toward family, thus assuring him a gracious and liberal final judgment, one that will, I’m confident, allow him to live in a forever family setting.
I’m reminded of a quote by the Prophet Joseph Smith which reads: “Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.”
I believe the direction we are going at the time of our passing is crucial to our final judgment. In dad’s case, he was, without question, moving in a much improved direction. The Lord was very kind to dad, in that he took him when he was moving upward and toward family. I’m confident is saying, that carries much weight with our Father in heaven.