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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ninety Candles

Recently, my Lovely Bride and I had the privilege of attending a 90th birthday celebration. No, it was not mine, smarty-pants.  Frank, my boyhood friend’s father had attained this milestone. LB and I were part of an exclusive gathering made up primarily of family and close friends. Some, like me, Frank had known since our childhood.

What can be said about “Mr. E”? Of course, there are the usual vital statistics. He was born and spent his early years in Indiana. Due to the turns of life, the family moved to Ohio. A veteran of WWII and Korea, he returned to get his college degree, and became a lifelong educator. He was the lifelong husband to Marjorie, and proud father and grandfather; the typical grist for the obit pages.

Somehow, to merely do so would be a disservice to the man.

Frank came into my life vis a vis my friendship with Bill. For more background, take a look at “Old Friends”, December of 2013. Frank was amongst the cast of bleary eyed parents.

Being a school-teacher, his Saturday s were sometimes spent grading papers, working on lesson plans, or that most dreaded of all…report cards. Bill and I will never know how many times his concentration was shattered by the sound of a machine gun cutting loose, or a grenade crashing against the side of the house.
Occasionally, he would emerge from the smoking ruins of the German pillbox, or Japanese gun emplacement to exclaim “Hey, you two! Take the battle to the woods for awhile!”  Off to the Ardennes we would go, determined to push back the German offense in our lines.

Mr. E was one of those men who rarely became angry. I can only recall him raising his voice a couple of times. 

  One time, Bill and I had committed an atrocity of some sort. From our confines in the holding cell, we could hear muffled voices; Frank’s at a higher volume than Bill’s Mom’s. Occasionally, we would here “Frank, calm down. They are just boys.” About six months later, the cell door swung open. Setting our comic books on Bill’s bed, we looked at the jaded, cold-eyed guard who ushered the two of us toward the Prisoner Transport Vehicle.  We rode in silence to a court in a new jurisdiction. To me, it was much higher court; my parents.

Standing upon quaking legs, and with voices choked by terror, we offered our ineffective defense. Court was recessed, the accused were removed to the holding cell of my room while the Justices conferred.  After only a three month wait this time, we were hauled back before the bar of justice. The sentence came down; we were both forbidden to play Army (or any derivative thereof), and not to spend Saturdays together for a period of two weeks. We were then remanded to the custody of our respective jurisdictions.

Many years later, I was witness to one of Frank’s more amusing losses of his normal cool.

LB and I were married while I was in college. We lived in Northwest Ohio, at that time a fairly good area for upland bird hunting. It was December; Bill, Frank, and I were all on Christmas break, they came out to visit and hunt for a couple of days.

Dog, guns, and caffeine fueled hunters ventured out early for a nearby hunting area. As we drove along narrow township roads, Frank asked Bill to check the map. Since Bill was a senior at The Citadel, it seemed only logical his military training would be put to good use. Bill fumbled with the map for several minutes, with no success.

 Frank pulled the van over to the shoulder of the narrow road, while exclaiming; “Bleep of a bleep! The bleep-bleep Army hasn't changed since I was in it! Just like in Burma and Korea; the bleeping officers would stare at a map for half an hour and finally hand it to the sergeant! Give me that map!” Frank looked about our surroundings, glanced at the map, and dug his old compass from his shirt pocket.

 In less than a minute, he pointed at the paper; “Here, we are here. This is where we want to be. Here is how we get there.”, while tracing the route with his finger. “Think you can remember that, Lieutenant?” he asked as he flipped Bill the map.   Frank was a Technical Sergeant in Burma, and a Master Sergeant in Korea. With a shake of his head, he muttered “Officers!” and we continued on our way. 

There was one other time Frank was a little upset. I was not a witness, therefore, were I to relate the event; it would be merely hear-say. However, if you see or speak with Bill, you may want to ask him about “The Moon Over Mayfield Incident.”

Frank and Marge formed a very significant part of my life. When I was seven, my mother passed away. The tipping of this domino set an entire succession of not-so-great events in motion. During it all, Mr. and Mrs. E still had room in their hearts and lives for a kid who pretty much hated the world, and nearly everyone in it.
I am eternally grateful to them for looking beyond the anger and self-loathing to see who I could become. They played a large, though subtle, part in my coming to Christ so many years ago.

We stayed in touch over the years. Our young family would join them in Western Ohio at field dog trials. Frank is an accomplished dog trainer and handler, having finished several Bench and Field Champion Brittany Spaniels. The dog bug continues on, as Bill and his son Brett train and work Munsterlanders.

A friend of ours from high-school works in the same building I do. I ran into Harvey a few weeks ago, and mentioned Frank was turning 90. Without skipping a beat, he related that Frank let him borrow the family car to take his driver’s license test. That seemingly insignificant anecdote encapsulates who Frank is.

The years have slipped past, yet we have remained in contact. At Marge’s passing, we shared our sorrow. We have celebrated college graduations and marriages. 

Most recently, we celebrated 90 years of an impactful life, complete with 90 candles on the cake. That alone was something to behold. And, he blew them out with no help.

May you have many more to come, Mr. E. 

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