Category Archives: Dad

100

“Who’s thaaaat?” I asked with my three-year old heart filling with love.

She laughed.

That’s your father when he was in the Navy!”

“Wow.”

I sat and stared at that picture for the longest time.

My dad was an incredibly handsome man, and I adored him.  I still do.  And he is still the handsomest man I’ve ever known.

Today would have been his 100th Birthday.

mr-whiskers

Dad loved this picture.  Mr. Whiskers.  1917-2000

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Filed under 1917, 2017, Cool people, Crazy family members, Dad, Family, Father-Daughter Relationships, Good Deed Doers, Growing up, Humor, laughter, Love, Missing Folks, Normandy, Taking Care of Each Other, Thanks again

Home For Christmas Again

She told the story every year with a warm smile on her face.  Sometimes her eyes got a little bit misty.

“It was 1943, and the War was on, and your father was in the Navy, on a ship somewhere in the Pacific.  We never knew where he was.  Like all the other boys I knew, he was in danger every day.  We lived for the mail, we were terrified of unfamiliar visitors in uniform.  A telegram sent us into a panic.  And ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ had just been recorded by Bing Crosby.  It was Number One on the Hit Parade.”

That’s how Mom started the story every time.

Of course I’ll Be Home For Christmas was Number One that year.  Everyone, or just about, was hoping that someone they loved would, in fact, be home for Christmas.  That all the boys would be home for good.  But all too many people were disappointed.  I doubt there were many dry eyes when that song came on the radio that year or for the next few.

Mom and Dad got engaged right around Pearl Harbor Day, but the War lengthened their courtship significantly because Dad enlisted shortly after the attack.  It was to be a long war, and a long engagement.  But Mom was in love with her handsome man.  But Dad was even more so.

Mom, Circa 1943

Mom, Circa 1943

 

My Dad was drop-dead gorgeous, and I have heard that in his single days, he was a bit of a ladies’ man.  Every girl in town, it seemed, had a crush on Dad.

Dad, Circa 1943

Dad, Circa 1943

 

In fact, my Aunt Sally once told me that she had been manning a booth at a church bizarre one Saturday in about 1995, when an elderly woman came up to talk to her.

“Are you Freddie E’s sister?” the woman asked Aunt Sal.

“Yes I am.  Do you know my brother?” Aunt Sal responded.

“I did,she sighed.  “I haven’t seen him since we graduated from high school in 1935.  Sixty years ago.  He was,” she stopped to think of just the right word, “… He was dream-my.”

“He still is,” Sally quipped.

One day not long after after Mom had passed, Dad and I were looking at some pictures I hadn’t seen before.

“Dad,” I told him with wonder looking at a particularly good shot, “You should have gone to Hollywood.  You’d have been a star.”

“Nah,” Dad said.  “Mom would never have gone with me.  And once the war was over, well, I wasn’t going anywhere else without her.”

Dad circa 1935

Dad circa 1935

Dad never quite got over feeling lucky that he had Mom.  And he never stopped loving her.

But back to Mom’s story.

“It was Christmas morning, 1943, and I went over to visit Dad’s mom and dad.  Grammy E’d had symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease for seven or eight years at that point.  She could still move around (she was later, when I knew her, almost completely paralyzed), but she could barely talk.”

Mom continued.  But your Dad’s mom was singing ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  Well, she was trying to sing it, any how. She kept repeating that one line, over and over again.  ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  I thought she was crazy.”

“You see,” Mom would say, “Your father had somehow managed to get Christmas leave – he was coming home!  He wanted to surprise me and wouldn’t let anyone tell me he was coming.  He was expected any minute, and there I was, trying to leave.  But I couldn’t stay.  That song made me cry; Freddie was so far away, and in so much danger.  I couldn’t bear hearing it.”

So Mom left after a while, she had other people and her own family to see.  Later Dad caught up with her and they spent most of Christmas together.  Both of them always smiled at the memory.  Dad was home for Christmas that year, just like in the song.  It was a magical year for them both.

Mom was always touched by Dad’s surprise and by his mother’s loving gesture in fighting back the paralysis that was taking over her body to try to get her son’s girl to stay.  To sing when she could barely speak.

“I’ve always wished I’d stayed.”

We lost Mom on Easter of 1997, and Dad really never got over her passing.

The song and Mom’s story took on an even more poignant meaning in 2000.  Because on Christmas of that year, Dad joined Mom again for the holiday.  He went “home” to Mom for Christmas again, joining her in the afterlife.

Even through the sadness of losing Dad on Christmas, I always have to smile when I hear that song.  Because I can just see the warmth in Mom’s eyes now as she welcomed Dad home.  This time, I’m sure she was waiting for him with open arms.

***

I re-post this story every year, because it makes my heart feel a little bit merrier.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Christmas Stories, Cool people, Dad, Family, Heortophobia, Holidays, Humor, Love, Missing Folks, Mom, Mom Stories, Peace, Taking Care of Each Other

Howard and Sainte-Mère-Église

This story kind of haunts me.  I change my mind about it all the time.  I try to work it out in my mind, but I can never be certain of what really happened.  So now I’ll let you think about it, too.

******

In late June 1998, John, Jacob and I took my Dad, then aged 81, to Normandy, France, to visit the D-Day landing beaches, museums, the works.  Dad was a WWII vet – he was in the U.S. Navy during the War, stationed on two different aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  He fought in some of the big battles in the Pacific, as a gunner on an SBD Dauntless, a seriously cool little plane.

Dad was always fascinated by the D-Day landings, and he’d always wanted to visit Normandy.  The planning, the strategy.  The very real possibility that it could have failed.  And he had lost friends there.  Two of Dad’s closest childhood friends died there, they’d gone ashore at Omaha Beach.  So when he came to visit us in Switzerland, we took a road trip.

The folks in Normandy, well, they love Americans.  We stayed in Sainte-Mère-Église at a lovely farmhouse on the outskirts of town.  The owner of the farm treated Dad like royalty, even though he told her he was fighting in the Pacific.  The trip was, my Dad said forever afterwards, one of the highlights of his life.

Now, you know what happened on D-Day.  The invasion began when the Allies sent paratroopers into some of the strategic areas slightly inland from the Normandy Beaches they would invade later on that day, on the morning of June 6th.  There were many problems with the drops of these paratroopers.  Some of the most dramatic stories came from survivors  who dropped into Ste. Mère-Église.

You see, that night, June 5/6, there was a fire in the town hall.  All the townspeople were out, along with the German occupiers, trying to put out the fire.  It spread to several nearby buildings.

Ste Mere Eglise on fire

Ste Mere Eglise on fire, June 6, 1944.  Photo credit:  Normandie44canalblog.com\archives

Into the midst of this chaos, American paratroopers fell.  Many of them were shot by German troops as they dropped, butchered.  Others were caught on trees, on buildings –including John Steele.  Steele had parachuted into the middle of town, and his parachute was caught on the church steeple.  Steele played dead for many hours, with the church bell ringing in his ear, watching many of his fellow paratroopers die.  Steele was memorably portrayed by Red Buttons in the movie The Longest Day.

There are still parachutes on many of the buildings commemorating the landings.

Things changed, the Allies won, the day/night.  Ste. Mère-Église was the first town liberated by the Allies on June 6, 1944.  D-Day.  It was a vital victory for the Allies, for the French, and for the world.

John Steele survived and returned to Ste. Mère-Église after the war.  He opened up a restaurant that became a huge draw for tourists, including us.  Our first night in town, we had reservations.  But we were early, and the restaurant wasn’t yet open.  So we went to a cafe/bar around the corner to get a drink while we waited for half an hour.

John, Dad, Jacob and I sat at a table, excitedly talking about our tour of the town.  Ste. Mère-Église is seriously cool for all ages.  There are still parachutes hanging in trees, on buildings.  It is still a real town, but it is also a memorial to the men who fought and died there, and a place that welcomes veterans with affection and gratitude.  Unlike much of France, the folks in Normandy remember.  They made us feel very welcome

So sitting there at the table having a drink, we enthusiastically recounted what we’d seen so far.  With two history buffs in the group, Jacob and I learned a lot from John and Dad.  Placards explain the events of the night so that it is easily followed.  We  chatted about the history, explaining more to Jacob.  We had seen so much already, and it was only our first night!  The next day, we would visit the beaches.  We were excited.

A man standing at the bar behind us was pretty excited too.  Quite animated, in fact.  But perhaps that was just because he had had three or four drinks too many.

“Damn, if I had it to do over again,” blared the drunk American at the bar.  He followed it up with a string of obscenities that made my Dad, the sailor, blush.  Then the drunk caught sight of me and 7-year-old Jacob.  He wandered over to us and offered us his apologies.  We politely accepted them.  But he didn’t seem to take “no problem” as an answer.  He introduced himself as Howard Something-or-other, and stood talking with us about how he had retired to Normandy.

Stupidly, I asked “What brought you to Normandy?”

“Well,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I happened to drop into town one night…”

“Oh, uhh, wow,” I said, looking skeptically between John and Dad.  They didn’t seem to believe the guy either.

But Howard proceeded to tell his story:

“Yup,” he said, “I dropped in here one night.  I landed in the cemetery over back by the Town Hall, which, as you know, was on fire.”

He continued:  “First, I crapped my pants,” he announced, looking straight at my 7-year-old son who was mortified.  I was pretty sure we didn’t need to hear that.

“Actually,” he said, “I really lucked out.  The cemetery had a tall stone wall around it.  And the Germans were occupied with the fire and then with the guys who were dropping into the middle of the town square.  Me, I hid behind some gravestones until I realized that, hell, a cemetery is no place to die.  So I made my way out, and linked up with my buddies.”

We didn’t believe a word of it.  For one thing, the guy looked way too young.  Remember, it was 1998, fifty-four years after the Normandy Invasion.  Looking at him, I could see Howard couldn’t then have been more than 60 or 65.  That put him in grammar school during the War.  Besides, there was just something about him.  None of us believed him.

Howard was meeting someone, and we had a dinner reservation.  So we didn’t pursue his story.

But the next day when we went to buy postcards to send back home, well, we saw something rather surprising:  A postcard of Howard Manoian.

Howard Manoian

Our Howard from the night before.  The drunk.  The faker.  The guy whose heroic WWII story we didn’t believe, and to which we only listened to a bit of, and then only out of politeness.

We felt really stupid at not having tackled the guy and listened to the rest of his story.  Peppered him with questions.  What a horrible lost opportunity.  Imagine, to hear a first-hand account of what happened that night.  June 6, 1944.

“Well,” said Dad sadly, “he was a bit of a weirdo.”

*   *   *

Fast forward to May/June 2009.  The Sixty-fifth Anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

A few days before the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, John sent me an interesting email.  It was a link to a Boston Herald article that exposed “an American fraud.”

Yup, you guessed it.  Our Howard was revealed in the article to have not “dropped into” Ste. Mère-Église, after all.  The article claimed that military records stated that instead, Howard was part of the invasion force that landed at Utah Beach.

Even though I hadn’t believed him when he was standing next to me, I was really sad to read the story.  Imagine living a lie for all that time.  For sixty years.  Howard had lived, part-time, in Ste. Mère-Église for decades.  He had attended many D-Day ceremonies over those sixty-five years.  He had been telling his story, albeit often under the influence, for many, many years.

And so I was sad.  Yes, the guy had been “a bit of a weirdo” to quote Dad.  And yes, he had been rather inebriated.  But was he a fraud?  Could “Weird Howard” have been living a lie for all those years?  If so, how sad, how pitiful.  But how could that happen, I wondered, to tell this lie in a place where veterans of D-Day flock?  In a place where, I thought, sooner or later, someone would recognize him?

*   *   *

In traveling about, and especially visiting many battlefields with John, the history buff, I am often astonished at the images of what soldiers and sailors face in battle.  But I have never been anywhere like Normandy.

When you stand on the beaches, you crane your neck to look up the cliffs to  and look up at where the troops had to go, the price of what we often take for granted looms out of the ghosts.  The cliffs are high, ragged.  With no climbing skills at all, I can’t imagine trying to get to the top, much less with guns pointed and firing in my direction. And yet they did.  Many died.  Many were wounded.  Many are still there, buried at the top of the cliffs, overlooking Omaha Beach.  I felt an almost religious appreciation for the Greatest Generation‘s sacrifices.  There is no physical place that to me represents the ancient struggle of good versus evil.  It is awe-inspiring.

And really, it all started in and around Ste. Mère-Église.

*     *     *

In researching this post, I found conflicting information about Howard.  Some folks say Howard was a fraud.

Others, including the French Government believe his story.  And at the 65th Anniversary of D-Day, in 2009, the French Government awarded Howard their highest medal, the Legion of Honor for exemplary valor and service, even after the Boston Herald article “exposed him” as a fraud.

Howard in the center at the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings (Google Image)

For the longest time, including when I originally wrote and posted this piece four years ago, I didn’t know what to think.

But today I find it hard to believe that anyone could live such a lie for over 60 years and not be exposed much, much earlier.  He told his story over and over, like Mr. Bojangles, for drinks and tips.  If he had gone ashore at Utah Beach, he would still qualify as a hero.  Was “dropping into” Ste Mere Eglise somehow more heroic?

The folks who fought at Normandy, who fought in Europe and in the Pacific, regardless of in what capacity, division or from which country, well, they are all heroes.  They all deserve our thanks. 

More practically, the likelihood that Howard would have run into someone who recognized him from that day was pretty high.  Folks return.  Folks remember.  I’m pretty sure at least some would have clear memories of who stood next to them on the landing craft or on a glider soaring silently above Ste. Mère-Église.  Of whom they linked up with on the ground.

So in the intervening years, I have thought about Howard quite a bit.  I wish we had heard more of his story.  I wish, at a minimum, that we had bought him a beer (although he didn’t really need another one).  I wish that Howard, who died in 2011, didn’t pass with a cloud over his head.

Howard Manoian obituary.

Stars and Stripes:  A jump from the truth

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Filed under Adult Traumas, All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance, Anniversary, Classic Movies, Dad, Europe, History, Huh?, Memoir writing, Mysteries, Normandy, Peace, Plagarizing myself, Rerun, Taking Care of Each Other, Travel Stories, WTF?

Home For Christmas Again

Does your family tell the same stories, over and over again?  Mine does.  Or my Mom and Dad did.   Oh and in case you haven’t noticed, I do too.

My husband is no doubt rolling his eyes and thanking his lucky stars.  Because  since I started blogging, he is forced to hear fewer repeats of my stories.

To me, the heart and soul of Christmas is Love.  And repeating traditions.  That is what this story means to me.  And even though Christmas is a sadder day than it once was, this story warms my heart.  And I tell it every year.

Here.  If you haven’t read it before, you may need this.

Handkerchief 2

Don’t worry; it’s clean.Google Image.

***

She told the story every year with a warm smile on her face.  Sometimes her eyes got a little bit misty.

“It was 1943, and the War was on, and your father was in the Navy, on a ship somewhere in the Pacific.  We never knew where he was.  Like all the other boys I knew, he was in danger every day.  We lived for the mail, we were terrified of unfamiliar visitors in uniform.  A telegram sent us into a panic.  And ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ had just been recorded by Bing Crosby.  It was Number One on the Hit Parade.”

That’s how Mom started the story every time.

Of course I’ll Be Home For Christmas was Number One that year.  Everyone, or just about, was hoping that someone they loved would, in fact, be home for Christmas.  That all the boys would be home for good.  But all too many people were disappointed.  I doubt there were many dry eyes when that song came on the radio that year or for the next few.

Mom and Dad got engaged right around Pearl Harbor Day, but the War lengthened their courtship significantly because Dad enlisted shortly after the attack.  It was to be a long war, and a long engagement.  But Mom was in love with her handsome man.  If possible, I think that Dad was even more so.

Mom, Circa 1943

Mom, Circa 1943

 

My Dad was drop-dead gorgeous, and I have heard that in his single days, he was a bit of a ladies’ man.  Every girl in town, it seemed, had a crush on Dad.

Dad, Circa 1943

Dad, Circa 1943

 

In fact, my Aunt Sally once told me that she had been manning a booth at a church bizarre one Saturday in about 1995, when an elderly woman came up to talk to her.

“Are you Freddie E’s sister?” the woman asked Aunt Sal.

“Yes I am.  Do you know my brother?” Aunt Sal responded.

“I did,she sighed.  “I haven’t seen him since we graduated from high school in 1935.  Sixty years ago.  He was,” she stopped to think of just the right word, “… He was dream-my.”

“He still is,” Sally quipped.

One day not long after after Mom had passed, Dad and I were looking at some pictures I hadn’t seen before.

“Dad,” I told him with wonder looking at a particularly good shot, “You should have gone to Hollywood.  You’d have been a star.”

“Nah,” Dad said.  “Mom would never have gone with me.  And once the war was over, well, I wasn’t going anywhere else without her.”

Dad circa 1935

Dad circa 1935

Dad never quite got over feeling lucky that he had Mom.  And he never stopped loving her.

But back to Mom’s story.

“It was Christmas morning, 1943, and I went over to visit Dad’s mom and dad.  Grammy E’d had symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease for seven or eight years at that point.  She could still move around (she was later, when I knew her, almost completely paralyzed), but she could barely talk.”

Mom continued.  But your Dad’s mom was singing ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  Well, she was trying to sing it, any how. She kept repeating that one line, over and over again.  ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  I thought she was crazy.”

“You see,” Mom would say, “Your father had somehow managed to get Christmas leave – he was coming home!  He wanted to surprise me and wouldn’t let anyone tell me he was coming.  He was expected any minute, and there I was, trying to leave.  But I couldn’t stay.  That song made me cry; Freddie was so far away, and in so much danger.  I couldn’t bear hearing it.”

So Mom left after a while, she had other people and her own family to see.  Later Dad caught up with her and they spent most of Christmas together.  Both of them always smiled at the memory.  Dad was home for Christmas that year, just like in the song.  It was a magical year for them both.

Mom was always touched by Dad’s surprise and by his mother’s loving gesture in fighting back the paralysis that was taking over her body to try to get her son’s girl to stay.  To sing when she could barely speak.

“I’ve always wished I’d stayed.”

We lost Mom on Easter of 1997, and Dad really never got over her passing.

The song and Mom’s story took on an even more poignant meaning in 2000.  Because on Christmas of that year, Dad joined Mom again for the holiday.  He went “home” to Mom for Christmas again, joining her in the afterlife.

Even through the sadness of losing Dad on Christmas, I always have to smile when I hear that song.  Because I can just see the warmth in Mom’s eyes now as she welcomed Dad home.  This time, I’m sure she was waiting for him with open arms.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Christmas Stories, Dad, Family, Growing up, History, Holidays, Love, Missing Folks, Mom, Mom Stories, Music, Taking Care of Each Other

Psst! Need a Christmas Tree?

Since I was a tomboy/ragamuffin hybrid as a kid, nobody called me “Princess.” And the one time I tried to be a princess – the time when I was 4 and dressed up as a princess for Halloween and fell on my face in a Queen-size mud puddle – that pretty much cured me of any princess fantasies I might have had.

But there was one time, one time, when I really did feel like a princess. I felt that like a princess because I stood in an actual ballroom.  That’s where princesses hang out, isn’t it?

I looked around the room in wonder.  It was, of course, huge.  I easily imagined hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers waltzing around the floor. There were floor-to-two-story-high-ceiling windows all along the back of the room, covered in Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains. Thick, heavy green velvet drapes with gold brocade tassels holding them back. And through them, I could see to the sea. Long Island Sound.

I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, so I had to use Google Images. Tthanks, Google!

This isn’t the actual room, although there are similarities.   You see, I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, and couldn’t snap a picture.  I had to use Google Images. Thanks, Google!

A balcony surrounded the ballroom on three sides, and it too rose way up. The floor is what I remember most clearly, though: Black and white marble, a massive checkerboard, without a single scuff mark in the entire room.

As was true of all of my childhood adventures (or since it was a princess-thing, perhaps I should call it a fantasy), this one came to me courtesy of my brother, Fred.

You see, Mr. Richardson, the wealthiest amongst our very wealthy neighbors, had invited us to his house. And we were to use the front door! Because we — me and Fred (and our sister Beth) — were heroes.  Heroes always use the front door.

Wanna know what happened?

Well, one hot summer day, Beth and I were out in the backyard, when Fred came racing in from the outer limits of our yard, near “the fields.“ The fields was a tract of land owned by Mr. Richardson, located behind our yard.  It stretched for several hundred acres. Part of it was meadow, but part of it was made up of small, neatly spaced and impeccably trimmed pine trees.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

“Tax haven,” my Dad said, rolling his eyes, when he realized what Mr. R was planting.  “A Christmas tree farm.”

Well, yeah. Probably. Whatever.

But Mr. R believed in investing in land, and he bought anything he could. (He was away when our house went up for sale, or according to my Dad, my childhood would have been spent elsewhere.  I will always be thankful for that trip of Mr. R’s.)

Anyway, Fred came running in from the fields, shouting “FIRE!” “THERE’S A FIRE IN THE FIELDS!!”

Beth and I didn’t ask any questions, but apparently we rushed into the house, called the fire department, grabbed brooms and blankets and rushed out to where Fred had seen the fire. That’s where the fire department found us. We had contained the fire, and there was very little damage. Without our intervention, well, who knows what might have happened.

So back to the Ballroom.

Mr. Richardson had invited us over to thank us. And he gave us a gift!

“I want to thank you for putting out the fire in my fields.  You were very brave, and I am very proud of you both.  And as a reward, from now on, for as long as you and your family live in that house,” Mr. R said, “You and your family may take any Christmas tree you want from my field.”*

 

Before becoming heroes, we had managed to get our Christmas trees for the $2 that Dad bartered with with for as long as we all could remember.  But our heroism took us to the upper crust of Christmas trees.  Because from that year on my family did, indeed, get our Christmas trees from Mr. R’s field.  We chose the biggest and nicest of them all, cut it down, and dragged it home.

But (and you know there’s always a “but” or a “butt” in my stories), it wasn’t strictly Kosher.

You see, not a whole lot of years later, in 1972, Mr. Richardson died. He willed the land to the Audubon Society, and ever since then, the Audubon Society has been selling those very Christmas trees. No mention was made, apparently, in Mr. R’s Last Will and Testament, for heroes who got free Christmas trees. No mention at all.  Naturally that didn’t stop us. But we also didn’t mention our prior claim to the Audubon Society.

And there was another issue.

If you guessed that my brother, accidentally started the fire, well, I will simply remind you that the Statute of Limitations is 7 years.  We’re way past that.  The Statute of Limitations is still 7 years on Christmas tree theft, isn’t it?

* I think there might have been other rewards; at least I hope so. Because I’ve always thought of Mr. R as a really nice guy. After all, he let me be a princess that one time, and, honestly, it was pretty cool even if I was more Cinderella than Snow White.  So I don’t want to think he was a skinflint who just gave us kids, who wouldn’t be paying for them anyway, free Christmas trees, for saving them.  Then again, it was the 60s.  Everybody didn’t get a trophy.

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Filed under Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy family members, Criminal Activity, Dad, Mom would die of embarrassment, Not stealing, Reluctant thief, Stealing

Your Number

It was the only story Dad told us about the missions he flew when he was stationed on the USS Monterey , an aircraft carrier, during WWII.

Oh boy did we have fun, Dad would say.  We’d go out on a mission, and then head back to the ship.  We flew so low, we could feel the spray of the water from below us.  We’d fly just this high over the waves!  He’d hold his hand out at the exact height of my head.  No matter how tall I got, that’s just how far above the waves Dad, Smokey (their navigator and Dad’s best wartime buddy) and their pilot flew.  Not high above them at all.

The Japs, he’d say (before there was such a thing as PC), they couldn’t do it. They couldn’t maneuver over the waves.  We could, and we lost them that way every time.  They never managed to hit us, and they couldn’t follow us back to the ship.

And we had a blast.  Cheating death, every day.

SBD_Dive_Bomber_over_Wake_Island,_1943

An SBD Dauntles, over Wake Island in the Pacific, 1943. My Dad was the gunner; he rode backwards. Photo credit (via Wikipedia) Lt. Charles Kerlee. USNR – General Photographic File of the Department of Navy [1] or [2]

Every time, I asked the same question:

“Dad, weren’t you scared?”

You see, I’m a total coward, I fear pain and injury.  The idea of anybody enjoying a near-death experience, riding 2-5 feet above the waves of the Pacific Ocean, with enemy planes shooting at them, well, it always seemed unbelievable to me.

When you’re number is up, it’s up, Dad would say, shrugging his shoulders, every time.  Nobody gets out alive!

That was Dad’s philosophy, learned in the ready room of the USS Monterey.

USS_Monterey

The USS Monterey, Dad’s Ship for most of his time in the Pacific.

That was where we hung out when we were off duty — the Ready Room.  That’s also where the duty roster when up — where we’d find out when we were flying out to meet the Japs.  Each squadron had a number.  When you’re number was up on the board, you went out.  And when your number was up, you never knew if you would make it back to the ship. 

We understood that “when your number was up” meant a bit more than a flight for many of Dad’s fellow service men.

I’m not sure if Dad’s philosophy became my own through osmosis or because I thought about it and realized he was right.  Maybe a little bit of both.  But I more or less agree with Dad.  When your number is up, it’s up.  And worrying about it, well, to quote Dad, won’t make a lick of difference.

I think of this as a gift from my Dad.  One that has lasted long past Dad’s own expiration date.

There is no point in worrying about dying. It’s gonna happen to all of us.

What’s important is how we live.

We need to remember who we are, recall the immigrant roots of our country, and how it was immigrants — my ancestors and likely yours — who made America what it is.

We need to remember that to our shame, we closed our borders to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 1940s.  Remember what happened to them?

We need to thumb our collective noses at the terrorists, and just not give in to the terror.

This cartoon, on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, the recipient of France’s previous horrible terror attack thumbs its nose at the terrorists.

Charlie Hebdo cover

Enter a caption

Charlie Hebdo cover: They have weapons. Fuck them. We have champagne.

Source:  Huffington Post.

Let’s all get our thumbs into position. Oh and get our hearts into the “open” position.  Because that is who we are as people.

Statue of Liberty - Flickr

Flicker Image

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

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An Ordinary Tuesday

There was no reason to panic, just because Dad had disappeared shortly before he was supposed to “walk me down the aisle.”

“Find Beth,” I said to Mom, who was there in the church’s multifunction room that was functioning as the bride’s dressing room.

Beth had been my problem solver for nearly three decades by the time I was getting married. And she’d never let me down.  Beth could calm the crazies in me better than anybody I’ve ever known.  Just knowing she was around, made everything OK.

And if you had a splinter or a cut or any injury at all?  Go to Beth.  That was true long before she became a nurse who treated premature babies.  If ever there was someone with nursing in their DNA, it was Beth.

Surely Beth could find Dad, who’d gone for a walk, and get the keys to the car from him.  Because, while I’d gotten my wedding dress out of the car, everything else I expected to wear, beginning with my underwear, was locked in the trunk.  And the keys were in absent Dad’s pocket.

Fast forward to 2009.  July 4th was just days away, John, Jacob and I were in Maine, and I was in a panic.  My eldest brother, Bob, had just been taken to the hospital.

For a decade approaching holidays had terrified me.  I suffered from “heortophobia”the fear of holidays.   Well, my heortophobia had a twist:  It wasn’t simply a fear of holidays.  Nope.  For me, it was a perfectly logical terror of illness at holidays.  Someone else’s illness.  Because If anybody I cared about had so much as a sniffle, well, they were gonna die.

As you may have heard 4,327 times, my family members have a nasty habit of dying on holidays.  They’ve hit the all big ones — In order of occurrence:  Thanksgiving.  Easter.  My birthday.  Christmas.  Ho ho ho!

So when Bob ended up in the hospital with Independence Day approaching, well, I knew Bob was toast.  The odds, and likely the Gods, were against him.

“He’s not that sick, Lease.”  Beth said.   “You’ve been sicker and survived.”  She’d contacted his doctors, figured out what was wrong, and called to reassure me.  Beth, a nurse, knew this sort of thing. But as a fake medical expert with then six years’ experience, I was learning more and more –enough to make me fear everything, actually .  So naturally, I wasn’t so sure.

“Beth,” I said, through slightly clenched teeth. “It doesn’t matter how serious his illness is.  It’s the dateA HOLIDAY IS COMING.  He’s going to die!”

As the eldest in the family, Beth had been able to calm me down my whole life long.  She didn’t fail this time, either.

“Nobody is going to be able to trump Dad dying on Christmas,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “The Holiday Death Sweepstakes is over, Lease.  Fourth of July?  Pffttt.  Independence Day isn’t even a contender!”

“I HATE holidays,” I moaned, panic starting up again.

“Lease, I’m gonna make you two promises.”  Beth had always kept her promises. “First, Bob will be fine.”

“Mmmm,” I replied, not believing it for a minute.  Still, I started to calm down.

“Second:  When I go, it’ll be on an ordinary Tuesday,” Beth laughed.  “I cross my heart and hope to die, Lease, I will not die on a holiday.  I mean it.  I couldn’t do that to you,” she laughed still harder. At me, not with me.  Had she been nearby, I might have smacked her for ridiculing me.  Hard.

Bob, whose illness wasn’t all that serious, was released before the holiday; his sentence commuted.  I breathed a sigh of relief, let me tell you.

Google Image, Natch

Google Image, Natch

But not for long.

On a Sunday, just over a month later, I called Beth.  We talked nearly every day.  Beth had had a pretty severe stroke two years previously. It affected her kidneys; she had been on dialysis for about two years.  Things hadn’t been going well, and she was more and more discouraged, depressed and disheartened.  More importantly, he hadn’t been feeling well in the last couple of days.

Still, I was surprised when her phone was answered by one of her sons.

“Mom’s in the hospital,” Chris told me.

It was a Sunday, though.  In August.  No holidays in sight.  So while I worried, there was no need to panic right?  Chris promised that he and his brother would keep me informed.

Late Monday morning, Dave, Beth’s eldest son, called me in tears.

“They don’t know if Mom’s gonna make it.”

I rushed home, packed a few things, and got into the car, and headed to Cleveland.

The weather was horrible.  Storms raged — the rain so heavy that I could barely see.  Traffic rushed by or crept along.  Trucks on the Pennsylvania Turnpike flew by at terrifying speeds when traffic moved.  But mostly, the highway was at a standstill, the rain not letting up.  I couldn’t get to Beth, and I couldn’t see to drive.

How much of my impaired visibility was due to my constant tears, and how much to the pouring rain, well, I didn’t know.

Dave called me again in the early evening to let me know that Beth was in a coma; they thought she would make it for another day or so.

So, exhausted I pulled onto an exit just above Pittsburgh, and into the first motel I found, where I collapsed into bed.

Beth’s doctor called me a few hours later.  Beth had taken a turn for the worse.  If I wanted to see her, to be with her, I’d better get back on the road.

I made it in time for Beth to personally deliver that second promise.  She died on an ordinary Tuesday, August 11, six years ago.

With her passing, Beth brought me an unexpected cure of my heortophobia, and even let me laugh at the bizarre trend she ended.

And on the way back?  The weather was clear.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike twists and turns through the mountains.  With each curve I rounded as I drove home, there was a rainbow.  Rainbow after rainbow.  I knew, seeing those colors in the sky, behind every turn, that Beth was comforting me still.

I miss you, Beth.  Oh, and I was the one who spilled nail polish remover on your new dresser in 1967.  Sorry about that.

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