Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dad's Stories and some of my Own

I'm 63 and my father (who was always larger than life while alive) passed on in the summer of 1985 when I was 37. My life at that time fell apart at that point for me (even though it appeared everything was okay from the outside for about 9 years) and after those 9 years I went through a really terrible divorce while raising 4 kids (two were hers from a previous marriage, one was mine from a previous marriage and one we had together who was then about 5 years old). I knew my father's death had been the trigger mechanism that had eventually ended my marriage. But I also knew it wasn't his fault. Sometimes stuff happens and then we just have to find some way some how to survive it. Getting divorced and remarried was the only way I could survive it.

Though I wanted to believe that my 2nd marriage could survive anything (after all we had already been together 14 years this wasn't the case. I just couldn't believe or come to terms with then that the 7 happiest years of my life (1980 to 1987) could be followed by the 7 unhappiest years (1987 to 1994) all within the same marriage. But as we all know by now "Truth is always stranger than fiction". But when I had a "Panic Attack" one night and thought I was going to die because I couldn't walk or feel my arms or legs much, my now ex-wife didn't seem to care much about what was happening to me. Oh, she called my step-son who was an EMT and fireman asking about my symptoms. But my experience was being abandoned to my eminent death while she was on the phone and crawling to the bath to get in and to die there all alone. So after that I kind of knew I didn't want to be with my then wife anymore. The writing was on the wall. So, finally after about 2 hours I convinced her to take me to the hospital where I was told I was having a panic attack. (never had one before). However, I was convinced I had heart problems. Now almost 20 years later I realize the primary cause was a then undiagnosed hypothyroid condition which eventually in 1999 made me susceptible to a heart virus from which I almost died for about 7 months from. So, finally my now ex-wife and I separated for the last time in June 1994 and after filing for divorce I met my next wife to be in the fall of that same year. At the time I didn't think I could survive a divorce at then age 46. It just seemed to old to me to emotionally survive breaking up a family with 4 kids. Even to this day though my kids and step kids are now 22 to 40 none of them have had children of their own, though 3 of them are married or living with someone and one is in the process of divorce at present. So, I know the awful divorce and custody battle that I had with my ex-wife scarred us all in many many ways. However, now, after remarrying in 1995 I have a new 15 year old daughter that traveled with my now 22 year old daughter and her boyfriend with us to England and Scotland that we got back from a week or so ago.

So, the stories about my Dad I'm telling are because I miss my Dad and by telling his stories it is like he is still here with me once again even though it is now over 26 years later since he passed on.

Most of his stories that I have told before he was between his birth in Morenci, Arizona at the copper mine there and when he was high school age. Now, I would like to tell stories from the next period in his life.

When my Dad was about 24 and his wife about 21 or 22 (he had married when he was 21 and she 17) and his younger brother, Tommy, was about 22 also, he got the bright idea of chartering a yacht and the 3 of them sailing off into the sunset to Tahiti and the Tuomoto Archipeligo. So he did and they did. The time was about 1939 when they started from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They made it as far as Catalina Island off of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California before Dad realized that the captain of the yacht (The Lorna D) didn't have any money and wouldn't have any money for the journey. So, Dad realized that they needed more money for the trip. So, he and his brother jumped on a freight train to save money to Seattle where they could work some more as electricians for a month or so with my father's Dad's Electrical Contracting business there to save enough money to go to Tahiti for a couple of years. By the way this was a very different time than now. There was no plane service at all to Tahiti at that time and no electricity there much and most of the locals believed in ghosts and spirits and Dad could rent a house for $2.50 a month. So basically for under 3 bucks a month you could rent a place with all the fruit you could eat like bananas and papayas growing all around your house then.

So, while riding the old steam trains north to Seattle Dad got a cinder in his eye which burned his cornea a little, so I had to stop at a town and go to an eye doctor and get a temporary patch for his eye along the way. After working as electricians for a month or two they returned to his wife and the Lorna D in Long Beach I believe and sailed first to Catalina Island then in 1939 and then through 40 days of open sea without ever seeing land to Tahiti. They stayed in Tahiti and the surrounding area about 1 year but also during this time world war II got going and they realized that likely the war was going to move also into the Pacific Ocean as well. My Dad brought 16mm movies back from this time and my mother converted them to VHS after he passed on. And since then I have converted the VHS to DVD's so I still have most of the footage from that trip in 1939 still. There is footage of a what I think was a Bastille Day celebration (because Tahiti was a French colony then and now I believe). Though I have never been to Tahiti myself in this lifetime I have lived in Hawaii on the Big Island in Hilo and on Maui in Hana and Paia which is a somewhat similar climate to Tahiti. I personally cannot imagine sailing for 40 days and nights straight to reach Tahiti on a boat under 100 feet in length with 6 or 7 people on board, but that's just me. I found sailing to Catalina onerous and I have done that more than once and it is only 6 to 12 hours under sail depending upon the sailboat (much shorter by powerboat). Since it is only about 26 miles off the coast of California you can reach Catalina within an hour if you are traveling 30 mph or more under the right ocean conditions. In fact, recently from the Newport Harbor and out to sea on my cousin's Cal 25 sailboat we watched 2 jet skis with 2 people on one and 1 on the other jet out to Catalina at about 30 mph. However, I wouldn't want to be doing that myself either because what happens if one jet ski conks out during that 26 mile journey. Also, a jet ski is a pretty rough ride over the ocean almost any day. I have rented jet skis in Santa Barbara before and the ocean conditions have to be just right for me to be happy at 30 mph on one in the open ocean. And even then I prefer to have a family member on a second jet ski in case someone falls off. (I and my wife fell off of a jet ski on Lake Tahoe and luckily a family member on another jet ski helped us back on because she is 56 and I am 63).

Anyway, as the Pacific War started to progress especially with Japan in China Dad and his wife and brother realized they needed to find a way back home. So, they purchased passage on a steamship that carried some passengers as well from Tahiti to Hawaii. They spent a few weeks in Hawaii until Dad and his brother's father sent enough money for them to return to Seattle to work for their Dad in his Electrical Contracting Business there. It was now about 1940 or early 1941. Tommy, Dad's brother was a very intuitive and incredible plane pilot and so he became a military test pilot (even though the family was told he died in his own private plane) what actually became of him is something I tried to write about in "Uncle Tommy travels time". It turns out my cousin has a certificate from the Military that Tommy was a military test pilot in 1942 that he got from his mother (Tommy's sister) when she passed on.

dragonofcompassion - Uncle Tommy Travels Time

In Uncle Tommy Travels Time I write about some of this. 

My father was in the USMC from 1934 until 1937 as a weekend reservist. He was a gunner on a Hellcat which is a two passenger biplane with two holes in the top for two people. The front hole is for the pilot and the second hole is for the gunner. My Dad and his older brother Bob were the gunners on the biplanes. 

There is a funny story my Dad tells of the cowling around the engine coming loose on Bob's plane. So the pilot yelled for Bob to get out and re-attach the front cowling. So Bob did this but forgot to fasten his seatbelt. In a Bi-plane at that time your parachute was your padding for your seat and the seat was metal usually. So when he forgot to fasten his seatbelt he did have his parachute on. So, anyway, Dad and his pilot were following Bob's plane doing maneuvers over the Puget Sound and Beaches of Seattle. So this meant practice dive bombing and loop de loops with the planes. During the first loop Bob became aware that he hadn't reattached his seat belt so my Dad was watching this and began to laugh and laugh. In the end somehow Bob held on and didn't fall out of the plane so he didn't have to open his chute. But the fact that Dad was laughing kind of showed how these boys were. They were pretty fearless. Dad was this way still as I was growing up. Both Dad and Bob gave Macho a new name. Dad said that Tom was the same way. The whole family were these kinds of fearless people who survived anything. You know, there are some people who just walk out their front door and break their leg and there are other people who can do almost anything and walk away from it okay. Dad's whole family were a part of this Pioneer stock of America that just seemed to survive anything they tried or did. I miss these people a lot. 

To make sense of all this kind of bravado and macho in my family I have to covert it into some of my own experiences growing up with my Dad.

At age 5 my Dad sort of thought I was grown up enough to ride my bicycle on the streets alone with with friends in traffic so he gave me my own 24 inch wheel bike. (Back then the adult bikes were 24 inch and 27 inch for the biggest ones available then in 1953). So, even though I was always about a head taller than most kids my age, I still needed a block of wood to stand on to actually throw my foot over the bike and to mount it properly. But soon I was riding down the roads of my home development in El Cajon, California and riding alongside of my 5 year old friend Danny Barsocks there. We would watch Superman and other shows on his TV because my parents didn't buy a black and white TV yet because they were new. There was no Cable TV yet that I knew of anywhere yet then either. There was just the reception from Aerials either on the roof or a rabbit ears that you set on top of your TV inside your living room. Color TV wasn't any good until the early 1960s either so no one but someone like an engineer had one and even then you only saw lines of colors that surrounded the lines on people. The whole thing wasn't color like now.

Within about a  month I followed Danny over a 3 foot high cliff like embankment out into the street. However, being a relatively new rider I didn't know that you had to lean way back when you hit the ground to compensate for being thrown forward by gravity while going off high jumps yet so I crashed into the pavement and burnt off on the asphalt my right eyebrow and right eyelashes. But kids that age heal up pretty fast and soon I was climbing our ripe apricot tree in our backyard and picking and eating ripe apricots right off the tree with Danny Barsocks. It was also there where I watched out neighbor cut the head off one of his egg laying chickens and watched it run around spouting blood out of its neck for a while until it fell down. Right about then I was glad I was being raised a vegetarian by my parents.

Dad had decided to become a vegetarian for health reasons in 1934 when he was 18 years of age. So by the time I was born he had already been a vegetarian following his teacher Paul Bragg's lead aready for 14 years. My mother was already a vegetarian because of the religion she was brought into by her father in 1936. So, since Mom and Dad were already vegetarians it was pretty obvious that they were going to raise me as a vegetarian too.

Also, the same day that they gave me my first adult sized bike at age 5 they also gave me a jacknife. Was this a good idea to give a 5 year old a jacknife? I don't know but I decided I wanted to see how sharp the knife was so I ran my right thumb along it. I still have a scar across my right thumb from that bright idea. However, I respected all knives a whole lot more after that experience. When I was 8 years old my father's mother gave me his .22 Remington pump 17 shot rifle that he had been given at age 6 years of age when he was little. So there is this tradition of hunting rifles that probably goes back before the American Revolution in my family where they give a kid (sometime between age 5 and 10 years of age) depending upon how responsible he is a rifle and teach him how to shoot, to hunt, and how to be a crack shot, just like the Minutemen of historical New England. My relatives came over from Switzerland through Germany and England in 1725 so this tradition of teaching one's kid to hunt as a way to survive by about 5 to 10 years of age was a very long tradition in my family. I haven't really carried this on because first and second wives were very against guns even though I have family heirlooms that I never shoot but just keep for tradition and memory of my long heritage. So, I did a lot of shooting and hunting between ages 8 and 15 with my father and cousins all over southern Calfifornia, especially out in the desert and up into the mountains. 

There are other stories that demonstrate this kind of macho that all the men of my family had. I too am macho but I, unlike them can also be diplomatic. With my father and his brother Bob, they were not diplomatic at all so people either loved my Dad's brilliance and directness or their pride was wounded and the secretly hated him. Dad wasn't the kind of person you wanted to confront because he could be pretty scary like most men of that era. Whereas my cousin and I both got college educations and so we both saw the value of becoming diplomatic in most of our dealings with the public even though we both were always capable of scaring people if we felt we had no other choice. My cousin is a very successful lawyer and so has channeled this family confrontation quality into making a great deal of money over the years as a lawyer.

I, on the other hand am usually very kind and diplomatic. I find the best way to confront people when I have to is just to say nothing and stand there as the 6 foot five inch person that I am without a smile on my face. That usually does the trick. So, I usually never have to verbally confront people. I prefer it that way.

However, I prefer to be kind to people as being verbally kind is important when you are as tall as I am. It is sort of like being a Clydesdale among quarter horses. It is important to be kind and well mannered so people put up with someone as big as you are. 

My father came to me when I was 12 and said to me, "Freddie. You are a really big guy. You are 12 years old and already taller than many adults and stronger than them too physically. If you allow anyone to get you really angry you are likely going to kill them and no one will be able to stop you. So, you just can't let anyone get your goat. You always will have to be an adult while your friends are just being crazy kids. I listened carefully to my Dad and always was the adult in the room ever since. So everyone stayed alive. I protected everyone ever since in this way. My Dad was right. I always had to be the adult in the room ever since I was 12.

When I was 8 year old my father and I one Saturday drove up in his utility Electrical Contracting Truck from his business to Chilao to go hiking from Glendale where I grew up from 1956 until I was 21 in 1969 there in California. At one point my foot slipped on a rock and I fell about 9 feet back onto a rock and hit my head really hard. I likely had a concussion and so I started to throw up and my head hurt terribly. I wanted my Dad to carry me but he said, "You are too big to carry. Get up and walk. This hurt my feelings because I didn't understand what was happening to me. I was whining about how much my head hurt and he just maintained that I had to get up and start walking. Looking back now this would be how his father would have been too. There were no cell phones and we were at least 3 miles from the truck in a deep canyon hiking there. If he left me for help likely he wouldn't have found me again. So his only choice was to make me get up and walk if I could. Making me walk would tell him I wasn't likely going to die there. So I walked crying and throwing up back to the car. I'm not sure we even told my mother about the incident because she would have been angry at my father for taking such an extreme climb with an 8 year old. Two years later I got childhood blunt trauma epilepsy from age 10 until age 15 that was likely caused at least in part by this fall and concussion on the back of my head. My son who is now a nurse told me that the only kind of epilepsy anyone grows out of like I did was blunt trauma epilepsy. He says what happens is that the cranium (skull) grows and this growth releases the pressure on the brain from the dent and concussion over years which causes the seizures to stop by about 15 or 16 years of age after the cranium gets to full growth. 

Another macho kind of story was when my mother and Dad and I and my 5 years older cousin traveled to my grandfathers 2000 acre mining claim in Idaho in 1956 in my father's new Century Buick. When we arrived there to my Grandad's mining cabin there near Elk City, Idaho, Granpa strapped a German Luger 9mm on my 5 year old cousin's hip and a Woodsman .22 automatic with a loaded clip onto my leg as well. Since it was lightly raining out that day and only room for 3 adults in the bench seat of the Mash World WAR II Dodge Power Wagon 4wd my cousin and I rode on each of the front fenders of the four wheel drive truck down the dirt roads of the mining claim to where it would be safe to shoot our weapons. At one point grandpa hit a rock about 10 inches in diameter on my side of the power wagon which threw me forward between the bumper and the grill of the truck. Grandpa's reflexes were slow and he  didn't stop the vehicle before the right front wheel had grabbed the left boot I was wearing and had drug my under the truck. Somehow it had run over my right leg from my right shin with my leg bent and my right thigh but only caused my leg to black and blue because we were driving through mud so the mud distributed the weight so my leg didn't break. I remember hearing my mother scream and pushing my father out of the passenger door and my saying with the wind knocked out of me, "I'm okay!" so I was barely heard. Everyone was greatful that I was basically okay with just the wind knocked out of me so we proceeded to our gun shooting tryst.

When we got there I limped a little from the pain in my thigh but it was manageable. So, I watched my cousin shoot his German Luger 9mm automatic pistol. When I tried to shoot it I had a bad experience. I held the gun with both hands but wasn't prepared for the kick which drove the gun into my forehead and then my forehead started to bleed. I didn't try to shoot it again. I also tried to shoot my grandad's 30 odd 6 World War I Army rifle that he used to shoot Bears and Elks with. This put a black and blue mark on my shoulder for about a month and knocked me down. However, even though I had now been injured 3 times I was happy because I was as macho as my Dad and Grandad in my own eyes at this point. It's pretty funny to think about being 8 years old in the 1950s at this point. 

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