If you have a good memory and have been keeping up with this series of stories about my uncle, Nate Knight, you will remember that he was a man who grew up in the Book Cliffs of southeastern Utah back in the 1920s and ’30s. I believe that spending enough time amongst the lonesome ridges and canyons of the Book Cliffs Mountains can give a person a special understanding of nature’s ability to hide her beauty right under your nose.
The average person driving between Grand Junction and Price seems to do so with barely any notice of the stark grey range rising north of the highway. This is most likely due to the fact that from a distance it all seems quite nondescript and pretty much the same for about 165 miles. But, if you are paying attention and give a hoot, you will see a million differences.
If you spend a lifetime clambering around her rims and canyons you will find all kinds of things that can only be described as harshly beautiful and awfully darn wonderful. I think the same goes for folks reared in what I like to call “The Shadow of The Book Cliffs.” They too might seem rather ordinary at first glance, but they tend to be of strong character with an extra measure of self-confidence, gleaned from the ability to enjoy life away from too many neighbors and all the amenities of life in a sizeable town.
Uncle Nate was certainly a hardworking and strong-willed man of many talents, as I’ve explained in my last five columns. I left you hanging in the last story just moments after a terrible accident at a uranium mine near Red Canyon. Nate had forgotten to duck and a low spot in the mine’s roof had caught him by the head, yanking him back over the fuel tank of his track loader just before he could kick the crawler out of gear.
Nate was left stretched partially out of the seat of the machine. He was fully aware of everything going on around him but could not move his arms or legs. The accident had broken his neck
The other miners got to wondering why Nate had not arrived at the face to load the mine buggies with ore, so they went looking for him.
It must have been a shock to find Nate up on the idling loader, unable to help himself, but perfectly capable of discussing the situation with them. My Uncle Larry, Nate’s brother-in-law took charge of the situation. With the help of the other miners they removed the door of the tool shed and fashioned it into a backboard stretcher of sorts. They got Nate onto the stretcher and carried him back out to the light, then into the pickup for the drive to the airstrip some distance away.
After removing the rear seat from the little green Super Cub, they managed to get Nate’s lanky 6’ 2” frame into the little plane. No one seems to remember if they got the shed door in as well or if they just had to stuff Nate inside without it. Uncle Larry had learned to fly along with his twin brother Lee three or four years prior. Fred Frasier had taught them to fly just after he had taught Nate.
Now it was up to Uncle Larry to get Nate to the hospital. They made it off the dusty little strip okay and after an hour or so northbound Larry was able to get hold of someone on the plane’s radio. There was an ambulance waiting when they touched down on the Moab strip 8 miles south of town.
There ensued some discussion about how to get Nate out of the plane and into the ambulance without further damaging him. Nate waited patiently except for hollering out and asking the guys to swing the plane around so as to get the sun out of his eyes while they made their plan. Nate was not at the Moab hospital very long before Doctor Mayberry ordered him shipped to a Salt Lake City hospital and the specialists there.
When the ambulance arrived back out at the Spanish Valley airport Fred Frasier had his larger twin-engine airplane idling and ready to go. My aunt Peggy and Dr. Mayberry boarded the plane after Nate was loaded in; he was on a proper stretcher this time.
The next two to three months in the hospital had to have been a very grueling ordeal for Uncle Nate. He was strapped to a special revolving table with a head clamp that kept him totally fixed. Surgeries had proven that his spinal cord was damaged beyond repair and he was doomed to be a quadriplegic for the rest of what was probably going to be a very short life.
While Nate was in SLC his friends and relatives completely remodeled his house on 2nd North in Moab, basically doubling the size of it and making it user friendly for a man in a wheelchair. After Uncle Nate was finally brought home my dear Aunt Peggy became the best nurse a crippled guy could have. She was by his side practically every minute. She learned how to properly feed, bathe, and help with the physical therapy that was so necessary. But mostly she just loved him so hard that he had no choice but to maintain his normal good nature and positive outlook.
I was 7 years old when Uncle Nate got hurt and 34 years old when he finally passed away at the age of 67. During those 27 years Nate had regressed from a man who could sit up in a wheelchair and ride to the football games in his Chrysler 300 to a man who could only lie flat on his back in his hospital bed while time dragged along. He was plagued with a lot of inner pain even though he had no exterior feeling below the neck, but I don’t think he ever mentioned it.
Uncle Nate had friends and family visiting him all week long because he was such good company. Aunt Peggy would drive downtown every Friday afternoon to go to the hairdresser and then to the supermarket. Other than that, she never left his side. Ever! Nate’s mom, and his kids, Kenny, Sissy, and Sando, as well as Nate and Peggy’s various other friends and family members took turns sitting with him on Fridays.
I often got my turn after I became a teenager. It was certainly never tough duty. Uncle Nate taught me a million things worth knowing over the years. He told me all his growing up stories, a lot of his war stories, he gave me the urge to become a pilot in my own right, and he taught me how to fix stuff. When I was a youngster, I’d turn my bicycle upside down on Uncle Nate’s patio to fix a flat tire or tighten a chain or adjust the handlebars.
When stumped I’d run into Nate’s room and ask him how to do this or that. He had a great ability to give expert explanation without having to be there pointing and taking over. A few years later I’d pull my head out from under the hood of my old Pontiac and go sit with Nate while he instructed me in how to change an intake gasket or adjust a carburetor. Uncle Nate seemed to know everything and was always willing to help. I had so much respect for the man. More than for any other man I’ve ever known!
Uncle Nate was simply the strongest and kindest man I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve always said that if a complete stranger had gone blindfolded into Uncle Nate’s room and sat and talked with him over the course of those 27 years, that person would never have known that anything was wrong, as he would never have heard a complaint. Uncle Nate was just the best and so many of us are better people because of him.