I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Remembering my parents

Mama and Daddy
This studio picture of my parents must have been taken not long after they married in 1941. Mama was only nineteen when I was born, so I'm thinking that she was eighteen when she and Daddy got married. One of my nephews was married on their anniversary this year, November 16. It has got me to thinking about how different the world was back then. Daddy, as you can see, was in the Air Force as a Warrant Officer. During the war, he earned a commission as a lieutenant and retired from the service as a Major.

Just yesterday I finished a novel (City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert), much of which was set in the mid-twentieth century, when my parents were married and raised their family of six children (there was a seventh daughter who didn't live more than a few days). It made me think of that time so long ago (75 years!).

Rita Rice and Norman Stewart met at a wartime dance hall. These dances were all the rage during the war and the buildup to it, and I remember Mama telling me once that Daddy was instantly smitten. And of course, at this time in history many people were getting married, and hopefully starting a family, because they were not sure about the future. Many young men were drafted into the war and would not return. I don't think my parents had a long period of time getting to know each other before they married.

I was the firstborn and therefore the only child who never had to share my parents with my siblings, and I know I was not only cherished but very much loved. I was the center of the world, after all. Then when I was not yet three, my sister Norma Jean was born, and I must have been quite a terror when my world changed so drastically. But the two of us were quite close for most of our years growing up. I am still very close to her, decades later.

We lived in many different places as I grew up, but our time in California at Travis Air Force Base lasted a long time, and most of my childhood memories are of those years. And then when I was seven, my next sister was born, PJ. (Her name was Patricia June, but we always called her by her initials when we were young.)

Daddy moved from base to base during the 1950s, as he learned to be a navigator on Air Force bombers, and then was stationed in Puerto Rico when I was a young teenager. We lived in officers' quarters on base, not far from the ocean. It was an idyllic time for me, and my memories of that period are quite vivid. I enjoyed the attention of boys in my class and cared more about what I was going to wear to school than anything I might have learned there. In fact, I have little memory of that time that doesn't involve boys, clothes, or girlfriends. Some of the dresses I wore at the time still appear in my dreams.

My parents took up golf in earnest while in Puerto Rico. Mama was quite good and won many trophies in local tournaments. Daddy complained that all the trophies had skirts but was actually quite proud of her. He went on TDY (temporary duty) often and we would be without his presence for months at a time, when I was growing up, but that was a normal occurrence for those of us who were Air Force dependents. I didn't realize that moving around all the time and having him gone was anything but normal behavior.

My brother was born when we lived in Fort Worth, Texas, and I graduated from high school there. Although my memory is hazy, I think both of my youngest sisters were born when we moved to Albany, Georgia.

When Daddy retired from the service, my parents bought a home in Fort Worth on the lake, and that's where my three youngest siblings were raised. The home was in need of much work and repair (which my mother transformed almost singlehandedly), but it had a dock where those three took to the water like ducks. They were raised in one place, very different from the life that the three older children experienced. I visited from time to time, but I had left home before my youngest sister, Fia, was born.

Daddy died of a heart attack when he was only 62. It was a hard time for all of us, because we just didn't know how to carry on without him, but of course we did, as we all must when we lose a loved one. Mama still had young teenagers at home, but when they left, she decided to move away, to some land that she and Daddy had hoped to develop one day. She commissioned a friend to build her a home, and I visited often when she was there. But she was lonely and eventually moved back to Fort Worth, where her youngest children lived. She died fourteen years after Daddy, at the age of 69. So neither of my parents lived as long as Norma Jean and I have; I think it's fair to say that we still miss them.

Norma Jean and I are the only ones left who have memories of those early years, since PJ died in 2014 at the age of 63. Heart disease is what has taken so many of my loved ones, and it spurs me to continue to exercise and keep as healthy as possible. But I've lived a full life and don't really have any regrets. My parents were wonderful people who gave us the gift of life, and raised us to the best of their ability.

It was a very different time than today, where communication is instant, and I can keep in touch with my family through Facebook and video chats, so I don't really feel too far from them most of the time. Our parents would be proud of us, I think.

And with that, I should bring this lengthy post to a close. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, and my tea is long gone. The coffee shop beckons, and I look forward to our next meeting, which will occur on my birthday. I hope until then, you will be well and happy. Don't forget to count your blessings; you are one of mine, dear friends.


Rian said...

What a nice photo of your parents, DJan. My mom was 19 when she and dad married in 1932. My dad was older (7 years older) and although he wanted to join up - either his age or the fact that he wasn't a US citizen (British - but naturalized at some time), wasn't allowed to. He was also married then and had 2 children (my older sister and brother). Anyway, I have the letters he wrote and the recommendation letters sent from employers and friends. He was disappointed. But mama was probably glad. Your post made me think about all that. But I too had a happy childhood and loving parents. We were blessed. Never rich, but got along fine...

gigi-hawaii said...

I am glad that you have somewhat happy memories of your childhood and of your parents. It could not have been easy moving around so much, but you seem to have adjusted quite well. That name for PJ - Patricia June - is really pretty. I like it.

Linda Reeder said...

I always enjoy reading about your family history. I am the second oldest of seven children, all raised in the same house on the same small farm in Oregon, so our stories are very different.

Marie Smith said...

Such wonderful memories, Jan. The two young people in that photo did really well in life.

Elephant's Child said...

What lovely memories (and that photo is a beauty).

William Kendall said...

A wonderful tribute!

Gigi said...

I adore that picture of your parents! And, yes, I know they would be proud of you and your siblings. Have a great week, DJan. Sending hugs.

Gigi said...

...and I'm back - I looked up the book you mentioned; it looks really good so I'm adding it to my list!

Red said...

Interesting how we put some of the pieces of our parents life together. We know some things but not all. By a process of deduction we put things together. We would like to know the details but they are gone with our folks. You look back with much love and respect for them.

ApacheDug said...

Hi DJan; I've often seen your name on some of the other blogs I read, but this is my first time on yours, just wanted to tell you how very much I enjoyed reading this. I lost my dad in 2001, my mom in 2004 and sometimes (especially around the holidays) it feels like only a year or so, not 15-20. Anyway, I loved your look back and outlook on things now, you're inspiring.

peppylady (Dora) said...

I sure been seeing quite few photos of WWII
Coffee is on

Far Side of Fifty said...

What a wonderful look back and I also enjoyed seeing the old photo. Times sure have changed...I like that you Dad was quite smitten with your Mother:)

Arkansas Patti said...

Loved the picture. Can see where you got your good looks. While my family was not in the service, we lived a similar life of regularly moving. Had to smile at your reference to being more interested in the boys than school. That was one of the perks of being the new girl all the time--the guys flocked around us and a few girls tolerated us.

Rita said...

I was also the only child for almost three years, but then they had two babies in one year (Jan and Dec) to put me in my place--LOL! My dad was in the navy but had left before he married my mom (9 years older than her). I love to hear about your family. I know you miss your folks a lot. The holidays always bring family to mind. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. :)

Galen Pearl said...

What a sweet tribute to your parents. Loved the photo of them. I love family stories like this. Happy Thanksgiving!