LD Rose, Class of ’43

I was the one to sort through my parent’s papers and files after their deaths. Among my father’s various papers—drafts of short stories, travel essays, random thoughts and highlights from his career as a City Manager—were his military service records in the Merchant Marines and later in the Naval Reserve. The first piece of paper in the first file was a simple half-sheet form titled, “Employment Severance Notice from Douglas Aircraft,” which read,

I, LD Rose, hereby state that I am terminating, on my own volition, my employment with the Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc., on this 3rd day of April 1942 for the reason hereinbelow set forth: Military Service—Voluntary Enlistment.

On the back of the form was a note written in my father’s hand:

I know that I shall never be the same as I was the days that have past. It is something numb and bursting inside, like nothing within the compass of words. It is bitterly sad and jubilant and aches for a night and complete stillness it shall never know. A sad, thin, stretching voice. A face that is a stranger to the day.

My father was 21 when war was declared on Japan. Unlike so many of his peers, including his good friends, my father did not rush to join up. So, what inspired him to finally do so? I doubt it was at his parent’s behest. From the little I was told about them, I would guess them to be Isolationists. He might have been swayed working for Douglas Aircraft (later McDonald Douglas). He would have been surrounded by a lot of pro-war propaganda working for a company like that. Who knows. Whether he was spurred on by a guilty conscience, or a late-arriving sense of patriotic duty, he never said.

Jammed in the back of the files I found a small journal. It was wrapped in a plastic bag that used to contain Palmolive soap bars. The front and back hard-bound covers were ripped away, leaving the clusters of pages precariously clinging to dangling strings that once held them to the biding, and it was badly burned at the top where fire had once threatened to destroy it. I was confident the singed top was the result of a house fire when I was a child. It was a thrill to discover the journal survived.

From the first page, starting from just under the charred top:

…if I were about to take the most decisive step of my life I hesitate upon these words. For indeed, I have taken a decisive step, perhaps a monumental one, and the need for words of monument is impressive. I am, on this date, aboard my first ship, the Phillip Livingston…We are tied up at a smelter, discharging nitrates from Chile, Peru and Ecuador. Oh, the fascination of the far-sounding names!
I fight the death of youth, fight the becoming a man, wanting neither to the exclusion of the other.
I took the helm for the first time today while we moved to another dock. It was a magnificent sensation of importance and responsibility…
Gray ship, gray day…frantic bouncing of the gulls in the wind, a boiling, brutal wind sprawling on the face of the sea-top. We depart Bellingham at 6am and the adventure commences.

In the 1990s, my father was interviewed for a book—though I do not think it was ever published—about the Cadet Midshipmen of the US Merchant Marines during World War II. It was then that all the stories of his three or so years of service came pouring out, exactly as if a faucet inside him was turned to the open position. The interview inspired him to write it all down. I have a photocopy of one of his drafts, somewhere. For all his efforts at writing the perfect short story, opinion piece for the local paper or essay of my parent’s traveling years after retirement, his memoir of his war service was his very best work.

Kingspoint, USMM Academy, class of 1943 or 44.
b.May 1920-d.April 2011

The only time I saw my father sob uncontrollably was during a televised Memorial Day ceremony. Though he did not know combat as those who served in the other branches of the military, he carried very close to his heart the ultimate sacrifice so many of his generation made. He was profoundly proud of his service and honored to be called a Merchant Marine.

Snow Day #2

Snowy park trail
The last snow day around here, photo taken on a park trail near my home.

The first snow day of the year is always about getting out for a walk in the winter wonderland. Because this sort of thing happens only every so often, it’s always a treat.

However, this time, because of the terrible cold (in the 20s and teens) and the high winds with gale-force gusts up to 50 mph, going outside for a lovely stroll was not recommended. The conditions prompted the first “frozen spray warning” I’ve ever heard in the weather forecast for those crazy enough to be out on a boat. When I took the trash/recycling out, the experience was the closest I want to know what it must be like to live in Alaska this time of year. So, I stayed inside watching movies, napping, puttering around with this and that, started a new novel, and watched another movie before calling it an early night.

Cars piled up on slippery downhill road
Even a little snow on the streets on my hill is an issue. (Photo from a twitter feed)

Day #2 is clear and sunny, and the wind is gone, but that’s about it. It’s still in the 20s; the sun only expected to warm things up to a relative balmy 35-degrees. There’s still no getting out of my hill-y neighborhood, as sanding our steep roads is not my city’s priority. It’s another day stuck indoors.

So, Day #2 will be about writing. Stay tuned. 😉

So Many Stories, So Little Time

“Woman with Baby Fleeing Across the Moors”
by John Constabl
e

I look at this painting and instantly wonder, what is her story?! A myriad of ideas goes off in my mind, like a room full of phones, all ringing at once.

What is she running from, and in such a hurry she didn’t have time to put on shoes? But, she did have time to put on her bonnet and cape…? Her long shadow and practically pure white face, along with bits of her garment, indicate a very bright light behind her, but this was painted in pre-electricity era. Is she running from a fire? And, why does she look back? Is someone chasing her? Or, has someone fallen behind and she can’t see them? Is she the infant’s mother? She might not be. She could be a relative, or even a stranger. Is this a kidnapping?

I start drowning in words, unable to sort through and organize any of them into anything cohesive. If I had enough time to flesh this out, I would have many happy hours (yes, hours!) of plotting, scheming, creating …(sigh). Isn’t inspiration wonderful?


The prompts this week (other than the image) are: if I had enough; drowning in words; the phone trilled. 

No, really. I’m thankful!

It’s cliche, I know, but, this being Thanksgiving, I want to acknowledge I’m grateful for…

…the dedication of parents. Because of my indifference to parenthood, having never had children, these people leave me in awe. Their drive to make sure their children thrive is amazing to me. I came to this realization only after both my parents were gone. My relative comfort throughout my entire life is solely due to my mother and father’s commitment to their children.

…the chance to pursue a career of my choosing. Though it’s come at a cost—relatively low salary, but most especially the loss of a personal life—I know if the Fairy Godmother of Go Back and Try Again dropped in, I would say, “Tell my younger self this: Just because you are true to yourself, it does not follow you will have everything for which you hope, or wish, or even deserve.”

…that I love art, in all its forms and genres. Design, skill, creativity, color, form, evolution, evocation, emotion. Even if I don’t understand it, or sometimes am unable to tolerate it, I simply can’t imagine life without it.

…a landscape. Natural, urban, human or surreal. There is not a one I do not find absolutely spectacular.

…a beach. If someone told me I had to name a sacred place, I would name a beach, be it a lakeside, riverside, stream or ocean. But, particularly, an ocean beach and sea air. It’s as close to  divinity as I think I will ever find.

…my willingness to find a solution whenever trouble rears its ugly head. Oh, sure, adversity has made me gunshy. I’m not a chance-taker as a result. I’ve hesitated and put my head in the sand many times. But, eventually I can’t stand it anymore and find a way out or onward.

…the friends I once had. They are long gone, for any number of reasons, but if they were not in my life at the time I knew them, I’m not sure I would have been able to manage.

…now that I’m middle aged, the medical establishment. Even for all its faults, I’m grateful for a place and a people who can tell me exactly what the hell this thing is on my arm!

…a midlife crisis that steered me directly into the world of writing, cooking and photography. Just when I thought my creative life would never be fully realized, I found these outlets. I’m not all that good, but that’s hardly the point. I love the process, the discovery, and whatever successes I can claim. Just look at my smile!

…a few trivial things: wine, to name one. A handsome face smiling at me, for no particular reason. Perfectly cooked Salmon or pork. A beautiful garden and a stroll through a park. A well done BBC TV series. Novels and movies that enthrall. Fascinating documentaries. That I’m no longer hung up with what I look like (I credit menopause). Whomever created dark chocolate. Weekend mornings, anywhere, any season, rain or shine. Road trips. Unexpected chances (so exciting!) All the folks who came up with modern conveniences, as well as those who subsequently outlined how those conveniences are not actually beneficial, but the potential death of us all. Except kitty litter. Those of us with an indoor cat that is afflicted with a delicate digestive system knows that stuff is literally magic in a box.

Tonight’s Characters

#1: He’s 80, reading the newspaper while making his way slowly through a slice of key lime pie and an Irish Coffee. The waitress swoops by with ” ‘nother one for ya?” and grabs the almost empty coffee. He snatches it back. “Yes, but let me…” He swallows the final gulp, then thrusts the mug into her stomach. When she comes back with his 2nd drink, he places a gentle hand on her arm and apologizes. She shrugs it off.
The bill arrives. He pays with a card, but makes a point of leaving her a 20-dollar bill. He places the bill carefully, intentionally, neatly in the middle of the table, fussing with how level and even it appears. When he leaves, he stops her and points to the table. “For you.”

#2: Forty-something bartender. Tall and lean. Thick glasses and soft spoken. Always friendly, of course, but shy and serious. One time I ordered a chocolate martini from him  and he beamed. Probably one of the worst concoctions I’ve ever had, but I smiled when he asked if I liked it. “That was fun!” he said.  “Nobody orders drinks like that, ever! Want another?” I shake my head. “I’m good.”

#3: “I’m 61 and retiring in 4 years!” It was something she was always quick to say. Short and very, very round. When I say short, I mean not technically a dwarf, but unquestionably short. So is her hair. She proudly sports a Dennis the Menace tuft. “I tell the barber, it’s not short enough if it isn’t standing up!”
Happy and energetic, but something about  her puts you on guard.
“I hate beans,” she says giving a mock shudder and vomit. “Hate! Any of ’em. All of ’em!” with another mock shudder and vomit. You get the feeling you’re supposed to ask why, but something tells to you keep quiet and not engage. She continues to shake her head and pantomime she’s been made to sniff a turd.
Over time, you come to realize there is something not quite right about her, so you distance yourself. Eventually, you mention this to your manager, who surprises you when she says, “Good idea.”
It’s been a couple of weeks since she was fired. People were surprised she lasted as long as she did (10 months). Turns out she fucked up a lot, in many different ways. But always with a smile.
Anway, she was at our workplace tonight, happy as you please, as if showing up at the workplace that summarily dismissed her with cause (and a long list of causes, at that) ain’t no big thing. “Bet you’re surprised to see me!” she says. I laugh, awkwardly, and walk away.
I get it. It’s a big Fuck You. But she didn’t come in the building with guns ablazing. So, you keep just being you, Terri. You just keep being you.


Thinking of April’s wonderful character studies!