From the President:
My father ran away from home at 17 and joined the Army. He'd grown up on a farm in Three Oaks, Michigan with a younger brother, Richard, mother, an ultra-stern father, and a grandmother. Three Oaks was a small rural town where men hunted and wore Elmer Fudd-looking hats.
Both my dad and uncle were handsome young men. My father, Carl, got his blonde looks from his father, and uncle Richard got his dark looks from his mother. My dad didn’t get along well with his dad at all. I later asked my uncle why, and he said, “Carl just wouldn't back down.”
My dad ended up on a ship headed for Korea when someone asked, “Who here can type?” My dad raised his hand and found himself in Japan for several years.
My grandpa Leland wrote to my dad and said, please come home and finish high school. Let's bury the past. So my dad went back to Three Oaks and ended up taking his senior year with my uncle Richard.
My uncle said that after school, my dad would go to the bar and have a beer. “I wasn't old enough and that used to really piss me off.” After high school, my dad worked his way through Michigan State as a truck driver. Then he met my mother, a petite, curvaceous, brunette, and told his mother. “I think I just met the girl I'm going to marry.” But did he ask? No. It took my mother applying for a job with Clairol in Chicago to finally nudge him to pop the question. That's why later my mother would advise me that sometimes men need a little push. They were married on December 28th, 1957.
They had me during my dad's senior year at Michigan State where he graduated with a degree in economics, and he entered the Army as an officer. We went to Fort Carson, Colorado where he trained as a fixed-wing pilot. Then we transferred to Germany to a little base at Friedberg, the same base where Elvis Presley was stationed from 1958 to 1960.
My dad was often gone on maneuvers. But I was only about 5
then and I had no idea about what those
were. But when he was home, I would sit on his lap in his big chair and
feel the warmth and strength of him and pester him with questions. “Where will we go next?”
“We’ll probably go back to the States,” he said. I didn’t know where The States was.
“Then where will we go?”
“Well, he said,” I’ll probably go to Viet Nam, and you and Mom will go to Michigan to be with family.” “What’s Viet Nam? I asked.
“Well, it’s really hot there and you live in tents.”
“Oh, Dad, that doesn’t sound like fun.”
My brother, Lee, was born there in Germany, and I remember my dad waking me up and telling me I had a little brother. What does he look like I asked. He picked up one of my dolls and said, “He's about this big, but he has a bigger head.” I went to sleep that night wondering why my little brother had such a big head.
After a few years there, we moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, where my dad trained to be a helicopter pilot. My dad was around more and taught me how to ride a two-wheel bike. We spent hours out on the cul-de-sac. Me riding. Me falling. Scraped knees. Me kicking the bike and crying, and him gently saying,” It's not the bike’s fault. Get back up and try again.”
Then the unthinkable happened. We moved back up to Michigan to be near family. Why? My dad, my hero, was going to Vietnam. Why do you have to go? I asked. “Because the president asked me to go,” he said. In bed at night, I ran scenarios through my head whereby I asked the president not to make him go. But one day my Uncle Richard showed up at our apartment to get my dad, who was dressed in full uniform, and they left for the airport. My hero was gone and my heart was crushed.
When my dad returned from Vietnam, it was as if I had to get to know him all over again. But he jumped right in there by helping me with a loose tooth. He performed the old tie-the-tooth-to-a-door-knob and then slam the door shut bit.
Our next orders were for Mineral Wells, Texas. So, my parents packed up our station wagon, and like a band of gypsies, we said goodbye to relatives and drove to Texas. I drove my dad crazy by leaning over the front bench seat and asking him questions about Vietnam. He blew most of them off with trite answers, but he told me one story about having to transport a group of villagers. One of the women had a pig that was squealing its head off and going crazy. And there was no door in the helicopter my dad piloted. The pig squealed and squirmed out of the woman’s arms and ran right out the door and into the sky.
When we arrived at Mineral Wells, Fort Wolters, there was no base housing available. The base was being built up as a helicopter training base, and my dad was going to be a helicopter instructor. So we found a house off base. Most of the families on our block were military, and the rest were civilians. We spent three years there. During one of those, my dad would be sent to Vietnam for a second time.
I remember driving him to Love Field Airport in Dallas. He'd been promoted to Major, and this time he would be in a command position. We had to say our goodbyes at the car, and as I watched my dad walk through the airport doors, I felt a whole empty void open up inside of me. We filled the year with dance lessons, dance contests and shopping in Fort Worth. And like we had in Michigan, we sent letters and reel-to-reel tapes back and forth.
When he returned, we met him at the arrival gate, and we all hugged him with great big smiles. I was about 13 then and I wanted to jump up and down. But this was not permitted. First, we were from Germanic stock and our family wasn't the emotional huggy type. Secondly it was the self-control military thing. Though with one look, my dad could pour out more love at you than pages of words. He gave me that look and said, “You did get pretty cute while I was gone.” That's all it took. Tears were streaming down my face all the way to the car. My hero was home!
Our next stop was Fort Ord near Monterey, California, and I wasn't ready for the culture shock. We were leaving “Leave It to Beaver” land and going to a base where anti-war demonstrators picketed outside the Fort gate. My junior high was rampant with girl gangs, weed, racial tension, and guys feeling up girls in the hallway.
Not much to do here but try to make good grades, keep your head low and wait it out until you move. That's what I tried to do, until this boy kept following me around school insulting me and driving me crazy. One day he picked up a dirty tennis shoe off the ground and threw it at me. It hit me on the side of my face. It triggered an out-of-body experience I backed him up against a brick wall and just flailed, hitting him and kicking him. I was like a crazed demon. He just stood there stunned, trying to keep his glasses on. A teacher broke it up and dragged us to the principal's office. The principal called my mother, who called my dad. My dad faced off with the principal and read him the riot act. “You can't assure her safety on this campus. You've allowed everything to get out of control, and I've told my daughter to do whatever she has to do to defend herself. So stick your suspension up your ***.”
As beautiful as California was, I was never so happy to see a place in the rearview mirror as we headed to the Joint Forces Staff College near Norfolk, Virginia. The base included all U.S. military branches: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, plus NOAH and even some British Royal Air Force. We knew we'd only be there for six months.
Someone decided we should have a teen picnic, and a girl I had already met, Alison, and I were playing the egg race game when we got this brilliant idea to grab a bunch of eggs and chase this boy, David, that Allison knew. We were trying to hit him with eggs, but he was great at dodging them. He ran into a building and then the men's room. Allison and I were laughing so hard that our stomachs hurt. And because our frontal lobes were not yet fully developed, it never occurred to us that this was a bad idea.
We followed him into the men’s room and threw eggs at him like crazy. Yet, he continued artfully dodging until we were out of eggs and the wall was covered with them. David ran out as a corpsman ran in, complete with rifle. We were ushered to the Office- on- Duty. Seems not only were we trespassing in a government building, but defacing it as well. We had to give our names and our father's names and ranks. Allison and I trudged home to tell our dads the news, To this day I remember the look on my dad's face. It broke my heart. Disappointment and anger covered his face as he said, “Just great. Now I get to go in and get my *** chewed by the company commander”.
After the chewing, my dad came home and said that for one month I would go to school and come home. No visitors. No phone calls. I would clean and be my mother's slave. My mother was standing behind him rubbing her hands together like the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz: “Now I've got you my pretty”. We had the cleanest house on base. I didn't mind all that. I just never wanted to see a look like that on my father's face ever again.
Our next stop was Lawton, Oklahoma. I spent my high school years there and joined the drill team. I loved finally being a part of a group. We lived on base and for the most part it was everything you would want for your high school years. Until I started dating a guy, Mike. All of a sudden, a girl I'll call Stephanie appeared and wanted to be my best friend, calling me almost every night. But I thought she was kind of strange. Then when Mike and I broke up, she started rumors about me saying I'd slept with every GI on base. It dawned on me that she'd done this to other girls Mike had dated.
I told my parents about Stephanie and her rumors. My dad got a really stern look on his face and he said, “You get this girl close up, eye-to-eye and you tell her that you have witnesses and if she doesn't stop, your dad is going to sue her dad for every penny he has for defamation of character.” So that's what I did. And Stephanie kept her mouth shut after that.
After graduation I went to UT Arlington. Military families claim a home state. My parents claimed Texas, so I went to a Texas university to be an in-state student. I chose a radio/TV major and journalism minor. Why? Why does any clueless college student do anything when she doesn't know what she wants or where she's going? My mother suggested it.
While I was in college, my dad was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was stationed in Fort Sam Houston, and the family moved there near San Antonio. He was also sent to Korea. He was given a choice: one year without family or two years with family. He felt that the situation there was tenuous, so he chose one year without family. While he was gone, he and I wrote to each other, and I still have all of those letters today.
After graduation I got a job with a diversified oil and gas company in downtown Dallas. When I began working there, I was meeting managers and V.P.s, and I realized I didn’t know how to shake hands. Sounds crazy. But no one, then at least, ever taught girls this essential business skill. So, I went to my dad. He taught me how to deliver a firm, confident handshake, while looking the person in the eyes and smiling. After that, I was completely confident in that department.
During those years, I ended up dating and marrying a guy completely wrong for me. But my parents went along with it. He had become my best friend. I was 22.
I'll never forget standing in line in my wedding dress on my dad's arm when the organist played the big intro music after the bridesmaids had already gone before me. I looked at my dad in sheer panic and said, “Oh dad!” in alarm. He smiled at me and patted my arm as if to say, It's going to be fine, relax, and he said, “Smile”. That's what I needed.
My parents were right. The marriage lasted six months. He wasn't husband material, and I got out fast even though it was painful.
I was then recruited by the outgoing communications manager of an airline supplier company and invited in for an interview with the V.P., who would be my new boss. I'll call him Jeff. Things didn't go well at all. He was bullying, and I was defensive. But I really wanted that job. I drove straight over to visit my dad and described the situation.
He said, call the guy back and say, “I know the interview didn't go well, but I'm really interested in the job and I'd like to give it another try”. I did that. Jeff reinterviewed me. This time it was on a Saturday and he was friendlier. He was showing me around, and it was more like two people having a conversation. At the end Jeff said, “You do have a way about you.” He hired me and I became the manager of the department. My dad had come through again!
While I was at that job, I met the man who would be my second and forever husband, though it took us five years to get together and get married. My new husband wasn’t thrilled when I brought with me my Siamese cat, Buddy. Buddy was loaded with personality and had a lot of dog traits. He and my dad hit it off right away when my parents cat sat when I traveled. They played a hide and seek game where Buddy sat on the top of the staircase and hid behind the banister. Then Buddy would peek out at my dad, who would then hide behind the ceiling and then peek out. They went back and forth like this until Buddy gave up and came running downstairs to him.
I wish I could say that my new husband Don got along with Buddy so well. But Don didn't like cats, nor did he understand them. Buddy would shoot out from behind the couch in front of Don as he walked by like a cat doing jumping jacks and practically give Donna heart attack. One day Don sat me down and said he just couldn't live with this cat anymore. I asked my parents to take him, Buddy not Don, promising to pay any vet bills and knowing he'd be going to a calmer environment.
Years passed and all was well with Buddy. But he was getting old, and one day while I was visiting my parents, I was petting him and I said Buddy is sick. He doesn't feel good. When you pet him, he doesn't respond like a cat responds to being petted. I think he's in pain. I cried during most of that visit, because I knew what that meant.
A week later my parents told me that my dad had taken him to the vet to have him put down. I know how hard that was for my dad because he was close to Buddy too. My dad said, “I knew you couldn't do it, so I did it for you. I was with him when they gave him the shot. I had my hand on his side, and he looked up at me and he knew.”
As the years passed, Don and I were working long hours building a snack and confections manufacturing company we had started in 1989.
Unfortunately, my mother's health was not good. She'd inherited clogged arteries and all that goes with it. Late one night I got a call from my brother saying that Dad wanted us to meet him at the hospital. My mother's had been rushed by ambulance to hospital, but she hadn't made it. At 64 she had passed.
I urged my dad to stay with Don and me for two weeks. I didn't want him to be alone. We sat up and talked late into the night and it helped both of us.
He'd heard that after a death you shouldn’t make any major moves in your life for one year. He kept repeating it and stuck to it. But when that year was over, I began to see a side of my dad I'd never seen before. He needed female companionship. In short, he loved women, and they loved him. It started with an old friend he dated when he was up to seeing my uncle Richard in Michigan.
Then while playing games on the computer he met a woman, Loretta, in Newfoundland. They spent hours on the phone, and he flew up there and married her. He brought her back to Texas - land of blast furnace heat, crazy drivers, and backed up freeways. What else could a new bride want? My dad was developing macular degeneration, and she was scared crazy to drive here, plus she missed her family terribly. My brother, Lee, and I liked Loretta a lot, but we understood when they moved back to Newfoundland. They had about another four happy years together until she died of cancer.
When he returned to Texas, he stayed with Don and me for three months. I took him to eye, ear and general doctors that he hadn't seen in Newfoundland and got him a Texas wardrobe. I also went with him to look for independent living places until we found the one that he said, “This is it. This is the one.”
Lee and I visited frequently and took him out for family events. But as he aged, he said he didn't want to go out. “I can't see anything (macular degeneration) and I can't hear anything (ear damage from the Army).” But he did manage to get a girlfriend, Carol. Lee and I were happy he had the companionship. They were together for two or three years until she took a bad fall and died in the hospital.
My dad's own physical condition worsened. He grew less ambulatory. At the age of 89, he fell one night and wasn't wearing his alarm button around his neck and lay there until they found him in the morning. He spent a few weeks in the hospital until he passed. Before he did, I at least had the chance to tell him how much I loved him and that he would always be my hero.