Often when I take a walk through the avocado grove, I catch a glimpse of our neighbor’s American flag. His property is situated high above the road that winds around a small canyon as it climbs the hill. It’s the perfect place to display the flag, on a tall flag pole with a light to illuminate it at night. I’m sure that people who drive through the hills and avocado groves are surprised to find that flag, waving proudly in the breeze, surrounded by avocado groves. If you drive north on the 15 freeway between Escondido and Temecula, you may even be able to see that flag if you know exactly where to look. That flag flies every day, not just on holidays like today.
Today is Veteran’s Day. This year I’m thinking of one veteran who has been a dear family friend. He earned a Purple Heart in the Korean War in 1950 and and continued to serve during the Viet Nam War. He was a Navy hospital corpsman who served with the Fleet Marines for 12 years, including Korea. In the following 8 years he served in Naval hospitals and aboard casualty receiving ships.
A brilliant man who read 20 books a month. A husband , father, and friend who would help anyone in any way he could. A pioneer. An innovator. A farmer and a healer.
The first time I met Dick Beckstead, I was joining a friend for breakfast at a small local Greek restaurant which has since gone out of business. I had seen the man before, holding court in the back room, where he had a view of the doorway, enjoying his oatmeal and coffee every morning at the same table. My friend happened to know him, and introduced us. He had bright, sparkling eyes…a curmudgeon, a teaser, and someone who was open to any kind of conversation that might develop. His voice was deep and resonant…he should have been a singer.
Some years later our paths crossed again when we discovered that we had friends in common. For years thereafter we shared Super Bowl parties, birthdays, and dinners out as three couples. The conversation always came around to avocado growing, but unlike many farmers who grouse about tough farming conditions, Dick would become animated and wide-eyed as he described his latest experiments with his trees.
Dick Beckstead had served his country for 20 years in the 50′s and 60′s before retiring, and the physical and emotional effects of his service lasted a lifetime. He would battle episodes of physical suffering related to his war injuries, requiring long months of treatment and rehabilitation. But he always came back. Dick knew how to use his mind to overcome the obstacles that life put in his way, and willingly helped others who were interested in learning to use the mind in positive ways. He was counseling a group of veterans about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder a few years ago when his heart actually stopped. Again, Dick fought to regain his footing in life, enduring months of therapy to rebuild his capabilities as much as possible.
He couldn’t go on forever though…none of us can. Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 was his last day on earth…not unexpected news, but very sad just the same. He had suffered for a long time, and couldn’t heal again even though he had surprised everyone over the years with his miraculous recoveries.
The San Diego Union Tribune published an article about Dick in 2006 that catches his essence at that time pretty well. I’m sharing this link to “Not Your Usual Farmer” so that you can meet this extraordinary American veteran and avocado grower. He was a person worth knowing…and he would have wanted to meet you too.
Thank you, Dick Beckstead, for your service to our country, and for being an innovator, who made a difference during the service of your country, and who continued to serve throughout your life. Thank you for the contributions you made to agriculture and avocado growing. Thank you for being our friend. We miss you and we’ll never forget you.