A Belated Veterans Day Post

It seems that in over five years of writing this blog, I have never written about Veterans Day. This year, I am finally doing it, albeit a couple of days late.

I never expected to be part of a military family. I didn’t have any veterans among my relatives. Neither of my grandfathers served during World War II. One grandfather was just past draft age in 1942. He also owned a business that made machinery for sawmills—his work was deemed part of the war effort. I don’t know why the other wasn’t called up—he was still of draft age, though at the high end. He was married and had two children, but so did other men. I never heard of any health problems that would have kept him from being drafted.

My father toyed with the idea of joining the Air Force during the Korean War, but his eyes were too bad for flight school (which is what he wanted to do), so he went to college, got married, and had kids.

My brothers did not turn eighteen until after the draft for the Vietnam War ended.

So none of the men in my family served, and of course, it was much rarer for women to serve.

USNA picture

Then I married a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Class of 1971.

My husband and I met after he had served his five-year commitment in the Navy, during which he had both sea deployments and shore assignments. Though he had left active duty, he was still in the Naval Reserve and drilled every month while we were in law school together.

He thought about going back on active duty after law school, but I was adamant that I didn’t want to move our family every few years. I wanted to put down roots in a community. So he didn’t return to active duty, but he stayed in the Naval Reserve until 2001, when he had thirty years and was forced out as a Captain.

For the first twenty-four years of our marriage, then, he was in the Reserve. He drilled every month, often in cities far from our home in Kansas City—a couple of years in Milwaukee, another two in Fort Worth, and there were a few other cities he traveled to as well.

In uniform, as a Naval Reserve officer

In addition, he went on two weeks’ active duty every year. Sometimes he trained on a ship and was at sea. Sometimes he went to a course in Europe or did training exercises in Japan. Sometimes he set up a Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare unit on the coast and trained.

These Reserve weekends and active duty periods always seemed to fall at the worst times.

Both of our kids were born on drill weekends. He had to skip the Saturday drills to be with me at the hospital. But he made the Sunday drills.

Our first dog went into seizures on a drill weekend when hubby was in Milwaukee. I had to take the poor thing (a 60-pound mutt) to an emergency vet clinic by myself to be put to sleep. The only 24-hour vet I knew of was all the way across the metropolitan area. Our son helped me load the dog into the minivan, but I was alone when I dragged him into the clinic.

Our toddler daughter broke her arm on the Friday of a drill weekend when my husband had already left for wherever he was going at the time. I took her to the pediatrician on Saturday morning, five-year-old son in tow. It was the only time in my life I showed up at the pediatrician’s office without an appointment.

Our son almost got our car insurance canceled due to too many speeding tickets. I found out while my husband was in Japan on his two-week stint. Son and I had several lengthy conversations about the issue before hubby returned, and I purchased alternative high-risk insurance for son as well.

All of this in the years before cell phones and text messages made communications around the globe a simple matter.

In addition to the crises, my husband’s stock response when we debated who ought to do what around the house, or which of us should ferry a child to a social or sports commitment, was “I provide national defense,” as if his Naval Reserve obligation should exempt him from all other responsibilities. He said it tongue in cheek, but he did spend many weeknight evenings after working as an attorney all day on Naval Reserve paperwork and training. It’s hard to argue with the importance of supporting the national defense mission.

I do not pretend that the problems our family faced were anywhere near as significant as those of families where one spouse has been deployed for months on end in a war zone. But my husband’s military service did have an impact on our family, and I experienced enough of the single-parenthood caused by a spouse’s service that I can relate to what service members and their families endure.

Our marriage survived my husband’s absences, and we celebrate our fortieth anniversary later this month. Many veterans are not so fortunate, and many military families disintegrate under the pressures of distance and trauma.

Our veterans deserve huge thanks from this nation for their service and sacrifice, and so do their family members who do without them.

A belated expression of gratitude this year—to my veteran and to all our nation’s other veterans.

The Summer of ’64: Pacific Grove

PG house 1963

My grandparents’ house in Pacific Grove, 1963

I’ve mentioned spending summers with my grandparents in Pacific Grove, California. It seemed like I spent several idyllic summers there, but there really weren’t that many.

Only twice did my brother and I spend long vacations with our grandparents. In 1963 we spent a month there, but our mother was with us, so that didn’t really count. In 1964, my brother and I were there by ourselves for a month. In the summer of 1967 we spent a week or two there, but our mother and toddler sister accompanied us. There was a Christmas trip to Pacific Grove also, but since it was too cold to go to the beach then, that didn’t really count.

PG view 1963

The view from my grandparents’ living room, of the Pacific Ocean and the golf course where my grandfather played

So really, when I think of spending summers in Pacific Grove, most of my memories come from the summer of 1964, when I was eight and my brother not quite seven.

Our dad drove us from our home in Richland, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. The interstate highway along the Columbia River was under construction, and the drive was long and slow, but we saw lots of waterfalls cascading from the hills above us toward the river.

After spending the night with my dad’s parents in Vancouver, Washington, my brother and I flew all by ourselves from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco. (It wasn’t our first trip on an airplane—we’d flown from Pasco, Washington, to Portland the summer before.) After our solo flight, our grandparents picked us up in San Francisco and drove us to Pacific Grove, about 90 minutes away.

And then we had four weeks on the beach before our grandparents drove us home to Richland.

T in PG 1964

Me, dressed for church in Pacific Grove, in 1964. We didn’t get to go to the beach on Sundays.

What was so wonderful about that summer of ’64 was how unstructured and undisciplined our time was. Papa Gene, our grandfather, was strict, but he was away playing golf most days. Nanny Winnie, our grandmother, loved the ocean. She took us to the beach almost every day. Pacific Grove had—and still has—a sheltered cove with a public beach. I’ve been back in recent years, and the stone alcove where Nanny Winnie and her beach buddies sat is still there.

We built sandcastles with ocean moats, wondering why they never lasted from day to day. We swam in the water and body surfed in the waves, though we were supposed to stay where we could touch the bottom. (Sometimes we ventured out farther.) We caught hermit crabs and took them home in our plastic buckets, but even in a pailful of sea water with a little sand and seaweed they died by the next morning.

Lovers Point Park Beach PG

Beach in Pacific Grove, showing stone alcove where my grandmother sat, and on the right, the stone jetty for glass-bottomed boats

We stayed on the beach until we were hot, sandy, and cranky, and then we had to trudge the three or four blocks back to our grandparents’ house, with our heavy pails sloshing against our legs on the days we caught hermit crabs.

Back in Richland, things were changing without us. My parents had a second telephone installed—it was so weird to talk to them both at the same time when they called long-distance on Sundays. But what annoyed me the most was the things that changed that they didn’t tell us about—like adding carpet to the stairs to the basement, which was a surprise when I returned. I wanted my world to stay the same while I was gone. Even then, I thought I should be consulted about such things. Or at least informed.

The biggest change was in my mother. I knew she was pregnant when we left, but when we returned in late August, about a week before school started, she had this big round ball in her belly. My sister was born in mid-September 1964, just a few weeks later.

In wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized my brother and I had probably been shipped off to our grandparents not for our amusement, but because of my mother’s pregnancy. She had had several miscarriages between 1960 and 1964, and this pregnancy with my sister was not an easy one. Having us gone meant she didn’t have any childcare responsibilities for a month and could rest. And deal with new telephones and carpeted stairs.

I never talked to my parents about why they sent us to stay with our grandparents, but I’m sure that’s why we spent so long in Pacific Grove that summer. But I saw no reason to feel any resentment about being sent away. My parents, my brother, and I all benefited, and I have wonderful memories. Pacific Grove is still one of my favorite places on earth.

What have you realized as an adult about your childhood that you didn’t know then?

No More Libby Jacksons

4 cousins Jul 87

Andy & Libby are the older two cousins. This picture is from the Libby Jackson days

My kids and their cousins often visited their mutual grandparents (my in-laws) when they were children. When it was time to leave, my father-in-law would call them aside and hand them each a $20 bill. I told my children not to expect Grandpa’s generosity and to thank him when it did occur. Nevertheless, Grandpa almost always did pass out the bills, and it became a regular part of their visits.

The oldest of the four cousins was Andrew. On one occasion, when Andrew was about seven or so, Grandpa called him over. “Here’s your Andrew Jackson,” Grandpa told him, as he gave him a $20 bill. (Andrew’s last name is not Jackson, but I won’t tell you what it is.)

Andy’s five-year-old sister Libby wasn’t around when her big brother got his gift. When she heard her big brother had received his Andrew Jackson, Libby went straight to Grandpa. “Where’s my Libby Jackson?” she asked.

Grandpa looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“You gave Andy an Andrew Jackson. I want my Libby Jackson.”

That set Grandpa to roaring with laughter. And, of course, he gave Libby her $20, no matter what she called it.

This story became one of Grandpa’s favorite family anecdotes, told many times over the years. Grandpa continued passing out his Andrew Jacksons until the kids were grown (and even after). In their teenage years, I think they relied on Grandpa to help with gas money. In their adult years, it was a fun (and practical) reminder of their childhood.

Libby is now married and about to have her fourth child. Her oldest two are almost of the age that Andy and Libby were when the Libby Jackson incident occurred.

I thought of our Libby Jackson family story when I learned that the Treasury Department is going to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. As they grow and are told our family’s stories, Libby’s children won’t understand the humor in this tale about their mother—Libby Jackson won’t mean anything to them.

And there’s no one in the family named Harriet to prompt a similar mistake.

As time passes, circumstances change, and history becomes history. What is relevant in one age is irrelevant in the next. That is as true in families as in nations and in the world.

When bad things happen, we frequently thinks “this too shall pass.” But we need to remember that the good things (and people) pass away also. Write down your family’s stories now, lest they be forgotten—but remember to explain their significance to keep your past alive.

Are there stories in your family that have lost their meaning over time?

My Grandfather’s Clock as a Metaphor for Grief

grandfather's clock

My grandfather’s clock keeping time in my home

I’ve written before about my grandfather’s clock—how it formed a part of my childhood, first in my grandparents’ home and then in my parents’; how I deliberately let it wind down after my father died; how I shipped to to my house and got it working again. (see here and here) But even after I set it up in my house, it still felt like my grandfather’s—or at least my father’s—clock.

Over the past few months I have worked to make it my clock. I am less timid about winding it, no longer afraid it will fall apart as I turn the wrench that raises the weights. I decided earlier this year that I needed to help it keep better time. It was losing a few minutes a day, and I got tired of adjusting it every day. So I psyched myself up until I was brave enough to adjust the pendulum. After I made tiny adjustments every few days for several weeks, it now keeps pretty good time, losing a minute or less a week.

As I worked on the clock, it occurred to me that it has become my metaphor for my grief over my father’s passing. It wasn’t his clock to start with—it came from my mother’s family. But he had the care of the clock for so many years, probably from about 1967 until his death in January 2015. And now it has come to me.

Letting the clock wind down in the days immediately after his death was my initial letting go. Shipping the clock to my house was my attempt to hang on to the past. Overcoming my fear of winding it was my initial acknowledgment that I am now the senior generation in my family. And finally making the adjustments to get it keeping good time was my return to an even keel after losing my parents.

A friend told me after my father died that when our second parent dies, “we have only sky above us.” In other words, there is no one left who connects us to the past. I think that has been a large part of my grief. I lost my mother slowly to Alzheimer’s, but my father’s death was sudden and unexpected. I am the oldest child. The brother right behind me—the companion of my childhood—is estranged from the family. My younger siblings are much younger, and don’t remember my first decade of life. There truly was only sky above me.

Last December a Jewish friend of mine lost her mother. I went to my first Jewish funeral, and then later in the week I visited my friend as she sat shiva. We have since talked about our feelings about losing our parents, managing their estates, and the Jewish custom of mourning the loss of a parent for a year.

In my experience, a year of mourning is about right. It was about a year from when my father died until I was brave enough to adjust his clock’s pendulum—to assume full responsibility for my role as the clock’s owner.

I know that my grief is not over. In fact, I’m not sure I ever fully processed my mother’s death, because my father’s came so soon after. Just as the clock will sometimes stop, and may break down, so will I. But I am no longer losing time every day. I am ticking along just fine.

Today, April 25, 2016, would have been my father’s 83rd birthday. We held his memorial Mass a year ago today. I miss him, but I am moving on. I’ll keep ticking.

What possessions of yours are symbols of the past or present for you?

Retelling Tales: My Grandfather the Salesman

My grandfather, Laverne Ernst Claudson

My grandfather, Laverne Ernst Claudson

I’ve written before that my paternal grandfather, Laverne Ernst Claudson, was the grandparent I knew the least. Both of my grandmothers overshadowed their husbands in my young life, and I spent more time with my maternal grandparents as a child than I did my father’s parents, so I never felt I knew my Papa Verne very well.

When I was a small child, I knew my grandfather worked as a traveling salesman in the Pacific Northwest. He was based out of Vancouver, Washington, and called on retail stores in Washington and Oregon. I knew he handled the Carters line of children’s underwear and pajamas, because he kept my brother and me well-supplied. All our footie pajamas came from him as birthday and Christmas presents.

I learned much later from my father that Papa Verne loved to sell and worked in sales most of his career. When my father was small, Papa Verne ran the Woolworth’s store in Pratt, Kansas. Later, he managed stores in the Los Angeles area.

When my father, known then as Tommie, was in high school, Papa Verne ran a five-and-dime store in Klamath Falls, Oregon. In his teenage years, Tommie worked in his father’s store on weekday afternoons and on weekends. I don’t think Tommie enjoyed sales, but he learned some good lessons from his father, which my father later told me.

One lesson was about pricing. Tommie found out that the wholesale price of a pack of gum was two cents, and his father was selling it for ten cents. Tommie thought that was highway robbery. He told his father that the ten-cent price was taking advantage of his friends who came in the store and bought the gum.

Papa Verne took his indignant son into the back room of the store and opened the ledgers. He showed Tommie what he paid in wages, rent, and other expenses. By the end of that lesson, Tommie decided the ten cent price was quite reasonable.

Another lesson my grandfather taught was that the customer is always right. A five-and-dime store in a small town in the 1950s carried some of everything. Tommie was stocking shelves for his father one day, and a customer picked up a ceramic pan. “What a nice vase this will make,” she exclaimed.

“But that’s a—” stock boy Tommie started to say.

Papa Verne interrupted his son and told the woman to bring her vase to the cash register.

After the sale was completed, Tommie said to his father, “But that wasn’t a vase. It was a bedpan.”

“If she wants to call it a vase, who am I to tell her it isn’t?” my grandfather replied. “A sale is a sale.”

And that’s how my dad learned the customer is always right.

Today, November 9, 2015, would have been Papa Verne’s 106th birthday. He worked until he retired at age 65, and he died in February 1975 before he reached his 66th birthday.

What family stories do you know about your grandparents’ occupations?

My Grandfather’s Clock, My Memory, and the Passing of Generations

My grandfather's clock now ticks in my home

My grandfather’s clock now ticks in my home

I’ve written before about my grandfather’s clock. It is now ticking away in my house, after two service calls from a local firm that repairs antique clocks.

The clock worked after the first service call, but just a few days later my husband and I left town for two weeks. When I got back, I couldn’t get the pendulum to keep swinging for more than an hour or two. These old clocks are very temperamental, and I was told by the second serviceman that I must have pushed the two hands together in a way that caused friction, which resulted in it stopping after a bit. I’ve now been instructed in how to reset the time.

Since the second repair visit, the clock has kept ticking. But it loses about three to four minutes a day. In my father’s house it kept excellent time. I haven’t considered the clock’s current problem enough to require another service call. We all slow down as we get older, and after well over 100 years, the clock is entitled to move slowly if it wants. I set it a little ahead when I wind it, and periodically adjust it during the week. Or I just let it chime the hours late until the next Sunday morning when I wind it.

The clock has shown me the falsity of my own memory. I wrote in February of this year that my grandmother kept the clock for years after my grandfather died, and that it didn’t come into my parents’ possession until she downsized into assisted living.

See the edge of the clock on the right? Picture from September 1972

See the edge of the clock on the right? Picture from September 1972

But last month I posted about my brother’s Eagle Scout ceremony in 1972. There in the background of the picture of my brother and me I can clearly see the corner of the clock. So it was in my parents’ home by September 1972. At that point, the only move my grandmother had made after my grandfather’s death was from Pacific Grove, California, to Klamath Falls, Oregon, when she remarried in 1967. Her next move was in 1972, after her second husband died.

Based on this photographic evidence, I have to conclude that my parents acquired the clock in 1967, and it must have sat in the living room of their home beginning that summer, just before I started the seventh grade. Until I saw this picture, I had no recollection of the clock being there.

Though once I focused on that photograph, it seemed right that the clock sat in the corner of the hearth seat where so many of our family pictures were taken. If I dug hard enough, I might find a family picture from this era with the clock in the background.

Now I must conclude that my father took over the task of winding the clock sometime in 1967. He continued winding it until January of this year when he died. For over forty-seven years he wound that clock. Every Sunday night.

I have kept the tradition of winding the clock on Sundays, though I have switched to winding it in the morning. I have a weekly reminder set on my calendar to wind it at 9:30 every Sunday morning, just before I go to yoga class. I left town for several days last week and wound it an extra time on Tuesday, in case I didn’t get back home on Sunday.

I have been winding the clock for several weeks now, but it still makes me nervous. I remember so many admonishments from my grandfather—and later from my father—not to touch it. It still feels wrong when I turn the key in the two holes that lift the weights—one for the pendulum and the other for the chimes. Winding the clock isn’t supposed to be my responsibility. It’s supposed to be the responsibility of the generation ahead of me. But there is no generation ahead of me any more.

The odds are slim that I will maintain possession of the clock for forty-seven years, as my father did. But perhaps I will have it long enough to become comfortable winding it. And to become comfortable in my role as the senior generation in our family.

Are there any responsibilities in life that you have had for over forty years (or at least for a very long time)?

Daddy’s Date . . . No, Make that Grandpa’s Date!

The church where my sister was married had a very firm rule that any children who were members of the wedding party had to be at least five. My son, at age six, qualified to be a ring bearer. My daughter, who would turn three just days before the wedding, could not be a flower girl, so the honor went to the groom’s five-year-old sister, who was barely eligible.

My daughter was devastated. I was a bridesmaid, and my son was the ring bearer. What would she be?

We tried to console her by telling her she could be “Daddy’s date” because my husband also had no role in the wedding party. It didn’t work. Even at three, she was intelligent enough to know when she was being patronized.

After many tears and the purchase of a pretty white dress almost as nice as a flower girl’s, we headed across country to the wedding in California. The wedding in an old church in Monterey was lovely. The reception was in a posh resort on the Seventeen Mile Drive. Pictures featured the Pacific Ocean, cypress trees, and rolling green lawns.

My daughter made a fine date for my husband, until he abandoned her at the dinner table. In fact, everyone at our table—including me—abandoned her. She was stuck in her toddler’s booster seat, unable to get down from the table where she sat all alone.

Tears came, until my father noticed her sobbing and rescued her.

My daughter and her grandfather, after he rescued her

My daughter and her grandfather, after he rescued her

I don’t have a picture of my daughter as Daddy’s date. But I do have this picture of her with my father. She stuck close to Grandpa after the rescue. In essence, she became Grandpa’s date, and he was much more attentive to her than my husband had been.

Today, my daughter turns thirty. She can stick up for herself much better now than at age three. At five-foot-nine, she no long needs a booster seat. And she is much more likely to patronize me than the other way around.

What wedding stories can you tell about your family?