Thursday, September 24, 2009
My Dad Met My Grandmother Today
He spent most school months with George and Amy Guy in Richmond. Amy was a pioneer working woman making a career of Goodwill Industries. My Dad was a latch key child. For the summers, the Smith family (originally from South Hill VA) gathered and negotiated who got my Dad for the vacation months. He would eavesdrop on the stairwell - listening as others defined his fate. It was rare that anyone came forward willingly to care for Dad.
But Dad made a happy childhood for himself. He really enjoyed model airplanes - the large kind that fly with gasoline engines. When he was a mere 16 years old he went to a high school football game. There he met a 15 year old girl named Mary Lee from his school's rival. This morning Mary Lee held the hand of the man she loved for more than 70 years. Neither of them ever looked for love in anyone else after that fateful ball game. She called him Minor or Sweetie or Honey.
After World War II broke out, my parents got engaged. Like all other men, my Dad joined the Armed Services as soon as possible. Dad memorized the eye chart for the Navy recruiter so he could sign up as a pilot in the Navy.
Prior to deployment, my Dad took my Mom to visit his father in North Carolina. Along the way, they decided to elope. Mom had a friend in Greensboro so there they drove. At the marriage license bureau, Mom had to fudge her 20 years into 21 years in order to legally marry. My parents stood before a Methodist minister, with Mom's friend as a bridesmaid, and became man and wife forever. They telegraphed Mom's parents, intending to say "Married in NC. Very happy. Home soon." However the Western Union clerk was either slack or mischievous. My grandparents got this telegram from Mom:
"Marooned in NC. Very happy. Home soon." Mom's folks were quite worried about the morals and safety of their only daughter until she showed up with a wedding ring.
And Dad went to war.
He trained in Florida and San Diego CA before heading to the Pacific theater of war. He flew a single prop Hellcat plane off the deck of an air carrier - the US Langley. He only shared with his family glimpses of his experience.
He spent one New Year's in Hawaii. There the guys made a punch with all the liquor anyone had and pineapple juice. Dad said, "And to this day, I can't stand the taste of pineapple juice!"
After flying very low and strafing enemy territory, Dad's Hellcat had mud covering the US insignia. When he flew back to the carrier, they refused to let him anywhere near the carrier. The Navy feared Dad was a Japanese kamikaze plan. Dad said he had to name a lot of baseball players and the winners of several World Series before they believed he really was Lt. MCS.
During the war, Mom followed Dad as long as he was in the USA. She drove across the continent with one friend to be with Dad in California. The war ended, Dad was returned to San Diego, and my older brother Mike was born in 1946.
Dad and Mom returned to Virginia where Dad enrolled in VPI under the GI Bill. With a tight budget the young couple lived in a two story home with the heating stove on the first floor. Many a morning my parents awoke to find Mike happy as a clam with his diapers frozen firmly to his butt.
Receiving a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Dad took his wife and son back to Richmond VA. He began working as an engineer for a local company. In 1951, I came along. I had a minor birth defect - but Mom and Dad moved mountains to see that I was made good as new by the respected Dr. Butterworth. Almost as soon as my last operation, my twin brothers Rob and Dave were born - 22 months younger than I. Of course, I was jealous of the attention given these invaders and immediately forgot all my toilet training. So Dad spent most of his time off changing diapers and tosses kids into the air to hear them squeal with delight.
Around 1956, Dad began working for the DuPont Corporation. He eventually retired from his career there. Dad was first assigned to Waynesboro VA through my elementary school years, then Wilmington Delaware for my junior high years, then Camden South Carolina for my high school and college, then Newark Delaware where Dad retired.
Dad invented the term "Minimum Adequate" for the company and his sons. "Minimum Adequate" means you do not necessarily purchase the most expensive item to meet your needs. Nor do you necessarily go with the lowest bidder or price. You purchase that which minimally meets your exact needs - you get the best price possible for that which is adequate for the job. Dad saved DuPont a lot of money with this idea.
Dad was also in a large meeting one day with lots of chemists in research and lots of managers of the various artificial yarns DuPont made. My Dad was explaining that if certain workers turned off their equipment when it was not in use, the company would save thousands of dollars. The folks in the yarn industry snoozed. My Dad asked one derider of his proposal what the goal of that DuPont plant was? The guy answered: "To make nylon." My Dad looked him straight in the eye and said, "Your wrong. The goal of this DuPont plant is to make money!" Dad won the day and equipment use was changed.
Dad not only worked - he came home as husband and father. Every year he took he took Rob and Dave and me to Little League tryouts. Every year we were cut and cut first. So Dad enrolled us in the "farm league" program for other baseball losers. Every summer he came to game after game in support of his sons. On the first night of summer vacation, after dinner, the sons met Dad at the picnic table in the back yard. There he used electric razors to buzz our heads of hair for our summer of fun. It was a nice and practical ritual.
Through the divorces, alcoholism, drug use, coming out, flunking out of college, dropping out of college, and all the other stuff four sons put their parents through in the 60's and 70's, my Dad never for one moment stopped loving all of usand doing every thing within his power to "make it right."
I also need to say that my Dad always and everywhere loved my Mom. We boys faced a solid front. There was no playing one parent off another - they were a solid front. To us, they were Mom and Dad. To neighbors, they were Mary Lee and Minor. Theirs was a most solid marriage.
Dad treated every woman his sons married as a daughter from the day of the engagement. He never had a daughter-in-law, only more children to love. With divorce most of his grandchildren's mothers drifted away. But one, Julie, stayed close to my Dad until he died this morning. As a young bride, Julie called Dad "Father Christmas" because of his generous and loving ways. In later years she felt free to call him Minor.
Dad was a good friend to neighbors and pals. He also instilled acceptance in his sons. In Waynesboro one next door neighbor was a lovely Jewish family at a time where anti-semitism was just dying away in polite society. Mom and Dad treated them with respect and dignity and interest. We were honored to attend some Jewish religious observations and festivals in their home - as they were welcome in ours. Our other next door neighbor was a family of refuges from Cuba. Again Dad accepted them and found interest in their story and way of living. He brought us up to respect differences and to accept people as they are - until their actions prove them untrustworthy.
When Dad married my Mom, he asked only one thing of her ... he asked her to be home when the children got home from school. He made certain his childhood was not repeated - all four of us felt wanted and secure and loved all our lives. And Dad had one life goal for himself - he wanted to put all four sons through college. And he did. I will be forever grateful to Mom and Dad for that gift,
After retirement, my Dad and Mom got a 5 month old miniature poodle they named Sandy. Every day possible, Dad and Sandy would take a five mile walk. At night Sandy sometimes had trouble deciding to snuggle up with my Mom or to snooze in Dad's lap. He was definitely Dad's boy until his death a few years ago.
In retirement Dad loved to play golf and to travel. He and Mom visited their sons in Alaska and South Carolina and took a trip driving across country. He also loved playing generous host to family and friends - especially during the holidays. "Father Christmas" was a good name for Dad.
I offer all my love and deepest sympathy to my Mom. I know how very, very lonely she will be. I know how lonely I am for Steve.