My dad died in his sleep at the age of 62. He hadn’t been well for years but they managed to go out to dinner once a week and see a movie occasionally. He did, however, make it a priority to take care of her as he always had. She had never had to write a check, shop for groceries, pump her own gas, or take out the trash. He did all those things for her and more. Until the day before he died. That day, after he made a trip to the grocery store, he made a list of all their credit cards, insurance policies, retirement accounts, and bank accounts plus each company’s customer service number. Then, he took her to the bank and had her write out a check and cash it. Afterwards, he stood beside her as she put gas in her car for the first time. I have the shopping list he wrote, and the list he made for my mom. These are a part of who he was.
My parents lived in Illinois where my dad retired from the Air Force after having a stroke at his desk at the age of 49. He had reached the rank of Colonel and had been the Deputy Base Commander at Ramstein AFB in Germany and the Base Commander at Pope AFB in North Carolina. He was the younger of two children; his sister, my Aunt Jan, and I are very close. She’s brilliant and reminds me so much of him, from her wit and sense of humor to her story telling ability.
Dad attended Grinnell College in Iowa. He was in the ROTC program and excelled at everything scholastic and extracurricular. He was captain of the football team, participated in track, basketball, the glee club, drama, and ROTC. His parents, especially his mother, expected him to be the best of the best and he delivered. He was 6’2, with dark brown hair, permanently tanned skin and pale blue eyes that always gave away what he was really thinking. He could tell a story that would have you laughing so hard your sides hurt and compose a down right naughty poem at the drop of a hat. He could carry a tune and loved to mimic the girly looking dudes on the Lawrence Welk Show by batting his eyes and singing about doggies in the window.
When he graduated from college he was accepted into flight school and proceeded to become one hell of a pilot. He was one of the first Americans to fly into Vietnam; the movie “Air America” with Mel Gibson is loosely based on what pilots like my dad did minus the drug trafficking. Dad was always tickled that they were told to not wear their uniforms, just a Hawaiian or Panama shirt and casual pants, so they would blend in. I’m certain they did lots of things but blending in was not one of them.
My mom’s father had retired from the Air Force and built his home near Langley AFB in Virginia. Mom was living at home after her divorce and was employed by Nachman’s Department Store as a window dresser. If she ever had a true calling that was it. After work and on weekends, she did all the typical early 1960s single girl things. Cocktail parties and parties on the beach. My dad happened to be working as a general’s aide at Langley when he met her at, of all things, a cocktail party. Their courtship moved along quickly and they were married on March 21, 1964. Mom fell into the job of being an officer’s wife and embraced every minute of it. They moved to Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina where I was born 14 months after they were married. They were transferred every three or four years dragging me along with them. The early years were good; mom did her thing and on weekends it was time for my dad and me unless he was golfing. I started taking golf lessons a few months ago. I would like to think that if it’s true that your loved ones stick around and drop in occasionally he would help a girl out with her mad golf skills. I think he’s just sitting back, laughing and enjoying the hilarity of my lack of athletic prowess.