Memory can be strange. The three items of the title came to me as I was talking with a just-met young lady who does fisheries research. I was telling her some of my adventures as a fisheries biologist, specializing in the study of downstream migrant salmon dealing with high dams. On February 8, 1952 I drove from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia. to attend a meeting of the Pacific International Fisheries Commission. I had been attached to a high dam study of Baker Dam in northwest Washington State, run by four biologists of the Commission.
While I well remember the study itself, I remember nothing about the meeting held that day, more than sixty-four years ago. What I do remember was flashed in my mind as I told my new friend about a drive north on old Highway 99, the main auto north-south travel road through Western Washington at the time. The drive was made challenging by a cold and occasionally snowy day. I had left my 1951 Chevy parked in a downhill-slanted space in front of a grocery store during the Vancouver meeting, finding the space icy when I prepared to leave after the meeting.
When I tried backing out of the parking space, it turned out to be impossible because of the ice. The back tires were spinning, I was shivering, the radio was on and suddenly I stopped the engine because of what I’d heard on the radio. England’s King George VI had died, and Elizabeth was ascending to the throne. She was 25 years old, just a couple of years older than I was at the time. As a part of the British Empire, Canadians would be greatly moved by the loss of their King and curious about events to follow.
I went into a hushed atmosphere in the grocery store in front of my car, hoping that they might steer me to a place where I could buy chains for my back tires. Without chains I would not be going home that night. The man checking out groceries was not busy at the time, especially because all the people in the store were standing around and listening quietly to the latest news about the British throne on a radio set up in the store. I spoke to him in a low voice, telling of my predicament and asking my question about chains for sale.
“Sorry, I don’t have chains, but I could sell you some Clorox,” he said.
Clorox? What in the world did that have to do with tire chains, I wondered. I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, but I had to ask that as diplomatically as possible.
“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll give you some old rags along with the Clorox you’re going to buy. You take that stuff out to your car, and use the rags to wipe both of your rear tires with the Clorox. You’ll be able to back out fine, and if you have to drive far on the ice you’ll find that the effect lasts quite a time. But carefully, eh? You don’t want to bleach those good pants you’re wearing.”
Sure enough, my Chevy backed out of the parking spot like there was no ice at all, and it handled well in the icy weather all the way back to Seattle. I learned later that a truck hauling bleach down the dangerous Frazer River canyon in icy weather had gone off the road when bleach leaked onto the back tires. It was discovered that those tires on one side of the truck had improved their grip on the road, throwing the truck into a skid. The theory was that bleach “puckered” the rubber of the tires. I was glad to learn about that, but sorry about white spots on the pants I’d been wearing.
Until chatting with my new friend I would never have realized how Highway 99, Elizabeth ascending and Clorox could go together. Memory can be strange.
* * *
We lost a lot of stuff in a burglary of our home in Madrid in 1967. The loss was compounded by the fact that some of the items were not replaceable. But the memory is softened somewhat by a comic opera aftermath.
My late wife, Eunice, our children and I had been out for a social evening, leaving our dog “Penny” on guard at a home that was a big, brick house with solid doors and no apparent way for casual entry. Penny was a 110 pound Great Pyrenees that loved our family dearly but was not very friendly to others, even having nipped a neighboring child who came too close to Penny’s litter of puppies.
Burglary was the last thing on our minds as we trooped back into the house in the pleasant afterglow of the party we’d attended. Penny was delighted to see us as always. I don’t remember who first discovered the theft, but Penny was soon “in the doghouse” for allowing somebody to get away with a lot of valuables. The worst loss was Eunice’s heavy 18 karat gold charm bracelet. I traveled far, wide and often in those days, and many a time brought back a charm for the bracelet. Several years of that resulted in a valuable piece of jewelry that was irreplaceable. It was among the missing items, of course. Other losses included more jewelry, trinkets from other countries, cameras, etc.
Next day I reported the theft both to my insurance company and to the police. The latter took serious notice as they would for a crime against an officer of any of the embassies in Madrid. Justice was swift but not very effective. Three or four days later a police officer came to the embassy and gave me several of the stolen items, none of much value. They had been found, he said, at various stalls in El Rostro, the Madrid flea market.. The gold bracelet? Most certainly melted down for the value of the gold.
Two o’clock the next morning, our household sound asleep, I heard a pounding on the big front door. Throwing on a robe and slippers I went to the door in a not-very-good mood, opening it to find three fairly scruffy men. “We are the police,” one said, ‘and we’d like to come in and talk with you.” When I found myself wordless, he added: “This is my partner, we’re police in plain clothes. This third man is the burglar who stole your things a few days ago. We thought you might like a chance to talk with him.” As I let them in he mentioned that it might be nice to share some coffee and brandy, since the burglar wouldn’t have a chance to enjoy such things for quite a few years.
The scene that followed was surreal. I made a pot of coffee, found a bottle of brandy, and we sat cozily in my den. The policemen seemed to know the burglar pretty well. When I asked why that was, they explained that this wasn’t the first time he’d been caught in a crime. For his part, the burglar was very much at ease and happy to answer my questions. What about our dog, Penny? “No problem at all, she never barked and followed me around in a friendly way while I looked for valuables” What happened to the gold bracelet? It was melted down. Most of the items were given for sale to his friends with stalls in the flea market. I never got a straight answer from the police as to how they caught this fellow. It wasn’t hard to guess that a snitch among the flea market stall owners knew him and passed on the information.
It was close to four o’clock in the morning when we were finally talked out, an amazing couple of hours. Being burgled isn’t pleasant, but it surely is interesting to be able to have a casual talk with the burglar and learn the ABC’s of the profession. I’m not passing on that information because I don’t want my readers to take and use it. The police who catch you might not be as friendly as those I entertained so long ago.
* * *
We’re getting ready to leave home for the weekend and I see Jan organizing her prescribed pills in a compartmented box, a weekly chore. She’s muttering to herself. Listening closely you can hear her: “How can it be time to do this again so soon? Seems like I filled the pill box just two days ago.” Actually I don’t have to listen because she says the same think every week while putting pills into their little places in the box. Because she feels the same thing every week.
“It’s amazing,” she adds while closing the pill box, “how time flies. It never used to be that way.”
From my past I remember “old people” like my parents, uncles and aunts talking about middle age as beginning at the age of forty years. I’ve felt that middle age is about the time a person begins having this feeling.about time. A review of the topic on the Web generally agreed, suggesting that it may be due to having fewer activities in advanced age.
I remember asking when I was a kid, “how can time fly?” When my elders carefully explained the meaning, it only confirmed for me the fact that they were unhinged in many ways. For me, time had two speeds: slow, as in waiting for the end of a painfully dull school class; and slower, as in the last few days before we got to open our Christmas presents. And that leads into some thoughts beyond the flying of time.
If you go over your memories of time perceptions in the past, I’m sure you will remember time dragging like mine mentioned above. If you’ve ever had a dull job, five days a week, you may remember time dragging so cruelly it seemed the workdays would never end. On the other hand, the weekends sometimes brought fun activities you hated to see end. A friend might ask “How was your weekend?” getting the reply that “The time just went too fast.”
Thinking about these matters brings me more confusion than light. I started this blog with the idea of clearing up some of the reasons for our time perceptions, especially at different stages of life. One of the psychologists with an article on the subject opined that time flying for us in older years is probably due to the elders having reduced activities. That doesn’t gibe with my experience of living a very active life in retirement, and still the weekly pill box fills seem only a couple of days apart.
It would be great if some of you who have experienced these time perceptions would be willing to share them. If you have any ideas about the causes it would certainly be good to hear them. You can communicate through leaving a reply to this posting on Facebook, or by writing me at vaughnpip.wordpress.com. Many thanks in advance for your contributions.
* * *
When I went through the Navy boot camp physical at the age of seventeen years, they listed my height as six feet, two inches. I know that I’ve shrunk with age, so now I put down “six feet” when asked my height in a doctor’s office. But if they measure me I see them write down “five feet, eleven inches.” It’s kind of sad to be downsized that way, another reminder of advancing years.
There’s another kind of downsizing that is sadder yet and challenging to the extreme for Jan and me. I’ve talked with married couples who calmly went about the business of moving from a large home to a condo, no muss no fuss about choosing the household furnishings to be sold, or which of the children would get what.
So what’s our problem? Think about the fact that my late wife and I collected all kinds of treasures during a long marriage, while Jan and her first husband did the same. When Jan and I began our almost thirty years of marriage we brought together two households of furniture and other stuff. Shortly after that, a cousin passed away and we inherited all his worldly goods. Then we lost my stepmother and took over most all of my parents’ stuff. Then an uncle, then Jan’s parents sadly left us with similar kindnesses. I don’t mean to make light of losing dear ones; just trying to give you an idea of what we’ll be facing.
Now, to describe the real challenges, I know I can speak for Jan as well as myself in saying that we have enjoyed a wonderful marriage, much due to an understanding that we would not try to change each other, different as we are in many ways. Early on in the marriage we discovered that our tastes in furniture, paintings and other household items had developed uniquely while living with other partners. To illustrate: When putting all our furniture together it was apparent that we needed a matched pair of table lamps. We visited every light store, every furniture gallery in the greater Seattle area over a two-year period before finding lamps that agreed with both our tastes in furnishings.
So now you have some idea of what it’s going to be like on the day when the two of us wander around our home with bunches of red and green tabs, choosing what goes to the condo and what goes to the estate sale. To add to the challenges, Jan and I are very different in our wants and needs. She says of me that I would be happy with only an easy chair, television and computer in any part of the world. If I say that she wouldn’t be happy with that, it will give you an idea of that final challenge.
The strength of our marriage is illustrated partly in the fact that I could post this blog without first showing it to Jan, without getting her upset.
Or maybe a better illustration would be the fact that I will show it to her before posting.
* * *
It was 1966. I had my family along with me for a tour at the American Embassy in Madrid. When we arrived in Spain ours was a family of six – my wife and I and four children – but now it had grown to seven with the addition of another boy. Too many for the car we brought with us from the States. We needed something with more seating, and better suited for driving conditions in Europe.
I was explaining this to the Naval Attache as we lunched together in the Embassy cafetieria. “My wife and I settled on an Opel station wagon. It’s ordered and I’m flying to Frankfurt on Monday to take delivery,” I told him.
“Have I got a deal for you,” Don said. Our office has a DC-3 we use mostly to fly personnel for training and exercises in Europe. I’m the pilot for a flight to Frankfurt on Monday, hauling a Spanish general and other officers for some training in Germany. I think there’s room if you’d like to go along – and of course if my boss (the Military Attache) will sign off on it. Don called me that afternoon to say that it was “a go.”
I canceled my commercial air reservation, and on Monday morning found Don and his DC-3 on a ramp at Torrejon Air Base, located along with the Madrid Airport on the outskirts of the city. While we waited for the Spanish officers I chatted with a U.S. Army major who was a liaison officer with the Military Attache office at the Embassy. Born in Puerto Rico, Jose had developed a truly elegant Castilian Spanish that served him well in dealing with Spanish officers.
The Spanish Army officers arriving at the plane included a general, a couple of colonels and a scattering of majors and captains. This twin-engine DC-3 was set up with a row of two seats on the right (starboard) side, with luggage and miscellaneous items strapped down on the left (port) side. The Spanish officers were seated by rank with the general seated in the front row. I had a window seat in the very last row, with Jose seated next to me. We had good views out of the starboard side of the plane, but could see nothing out of the port side.
As a cigarette smoker in those days, I always had my hand on a pack of cigarettes in my shirt pocket during departure of a plane, waiting for the red “No Smoking” sign to go off so I could light up. This plane had the usual warning sign, which went off soon after we cleared the ground. The cigarettes were almost out of my pocket when the light popped back on. Seconds later the copilot opened the cockpit door and signaled to Jose with a bent finger, wanting him to go forward. Jose did, and a minute later he reappeared and stood in the aisle to address the military guests in his elegant Spanish.
“My general,” he began, “colonels and other officers with us today. The pilot has asked me to tell you that the plane has developed a very minor mechanical problem. We are returning to the airport for what should be a brief time, and then we’ll be off again to Frankfurt.”
With that he walked back down the aisle to sit next to me, seemed In a hurry to put on his seat belt, leaned over and said quietly to me: “The goddamned port engine just blew up.” None of us passengers could see that, a good thing.
We got back on the ground safely. Once off the plane we were able to see damage to the port engine, making it clear to all that the DC-3 would not fly again this day, nor many days hence. The Spanish officers were hustled onto another plane. I was planning to go over to the Madrid Airport side of the area to see if I could get a commercial flight, but Don advised me not to do anything until we got back to the Embassy. He’d call no later than that afternoon.
True to his word Don called later to tell me that there would be another DC-3 departing from Torrejon for Frankfurt the next morning. I was cleared to go along, leaving from the same ramp at the same time as the Monday flight. I would have been just as happy to spend the money for a commercial flight, but Don was so kind it was hard to refuse him.
The next morning I met the crew of this DC-3. It consisted of a pilot, copilot, engineer and radio operator. They all were up front for the first hour or so of the flight, then the radio officer gave me a little company in back. It was a lovely, clear day, and we were looking out at the scenery when the plane turned from its northerly course towards the east, which would take us across southern France to Italy. Thoroughly confused, I asked the radio operator what that was all about. I thought we were going to Frankfurt.
“Oh,” he said, “we’re going to Frankfurt eventually, but this afternoon we’ll be landing at an air base in eastern Italy.”
“Do you have any idea when we might get to Frankfurt?” I asked, feeling like Alice in Wonderslan.
“No,” he said, “you’ll have to ask the pilot.”
I don’t have a real good idea of the speed of a DC-3, but I suspect if it were compared to a modern passenger jet the difference would be like that between a Ford Model T and a Mustang, We putt-putted across France and Italy that afternoon, with just one bit of excitement. Our route took us over Pisa in Italy. The pilot dropped altitude and circled the Leaning Tower a couple of times to give us a view.
It was early evening at the air base after we’d checked into the officer quarters and had dinner in their mess. The pilot informed me that we needed to check out of our quarters by 4:30 a.m. in order to be ready for a 6:00 a.m. take off. “Going to Frankfurt?” I asked. He smiled. “Yes,” he said, “but I’m not sure yet what time we’ll arrive.”
The rest is an anti-climax. I took delivery of the car in Frankfurt, getting home only a day or two late.. I’ve done more than my share of flying since then, but never again in a DC-3. I did get a life lesson from this experience: when traveling, it’s a good idea to ask where the plane (boat, train, wagon) is going, and when it’s expected to get there.
* * *
When I resumed writing Saturday with Vaughn two weeks ago, after a long hiatus for reasons mentioned in that post, I had every intention of again sticking to a weekly timetable. “Man proposes but God disposes” is an apt saying for my missing another Saturday.
On Tuesday morning, March 31st, my youngest son, Chris Sherman, took his own life while sitting in his car in a beautiful, secluded spot by a river in southern Oregon. He left a loving note for his wife, Shanna Sherman, not wanting her to feel she had anything to do with his final decision. As in so many cases like this, we can only speculate about the reasons for his taking that ultimate step. And as in almost all cases he left a trail of unhappy, puzzled people who loved him deeply, his spreading from Alaska across the U.S. to Europe.
Chris was born in Madrid, living there until he was four years old, then spending the next four years in Copenhagen. When he was eight years old, I was sent on a CIA-directed assignment to Vietnam, a move that had terrible results for our family. My late wife, Eunice Sherman, was mentally challenged at the time and not able to provide the kind of care needed by our three children still at home. My daughter, oldest of the three children at home, did her best to take up the slack in parenting. Eunice had a cardiac arrest while I had been in Vietnam less than six months. That resulted in my early retirement from the CIA, taking up the parenting challenge and caring for a wife who was still further disabled.
I spent a lot of time with Chris, taking him out on our boat, instilling in him a love of the sea and encouraging him in a wish to be a scuba diver. He did very well during diving courses at the age of twelve years. His instructor called to tell me that to be a qualified diver Chris’s last challenge would be to dive deeper than one-hundred feet, at night, in the very cold waters of Puget Sound.
Ever since learning of Chris’s passing, the night he took that dive has been on my mind. We met the instructor about 10:00 p.m. on a deserted beach north of the ferry dock at Mukilteo. The instructor helped Chris get into his gear, telling me that they would be submerged for about an hour and assuring me that Chris would be safe. I paced that cold, wind-swept beach until it was almost midnight, when they surfaced with lots of yells and laughter. At the time he was the youngest qualified diver in the area.
In recent years Chris has been living in Oregon and we haven’t had much chance to see him. But he was always faithful in calling or answering my calls, when we’d have a chat about family matters or anything else going on.
“How are you doing, Chris?” I’d ask if I made the call.
“I’m doing okay, Dad. How are you?”
My constant remembering of his qualifying dive has segued into a fantasy of Chris landing now on a distant shore never trod by a living man. He surfaces, a hand reaches to pull him from the water, and he hears a voice: “How are you doing, Chris?”
And I pray that he answers: “I’m doing okay.”
* * *
I was twelve years old when my mother left my dad. It was early August, 1939. Dad was admitted into an alcoholic treatment program, while my mom and I went to live with her sister. Aunt Gwendolyn Christensen had a nice brick home in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of Seattle.
I definitely didn’t want to leave our home on North Greenwood Avenue, where all my friends, school and activities were located.
I certainly did not want to live with either of my parents. To me at the time they were not good people if they could not stay together to raise one child.
And I most surely didn’t want to live with Aunt Gwen. There was no man in the house. Gwen’s husband was a maritime officer gone to sea on voyages lasting many months. (See the book Sea Travels, in the banner above this blog.) I had zero friends near her home. She and my mother both worked during the day. They also shared an interest in going to a tavern near the Sand Point Naval Air Station not far from my aunt’s home, to spend evenings dancing. My days and some evenings were beyond lonely, unacceptably lonely. Something had to give.
That something was my telling my mother I couldn’t continue living with her and Aunt Gwen. She could take us back to the Greenwood home and take my dad back to live with us there, or make other arrangements. Then I told her that I had called another aunt, my dad’s sister Vera Dofsen, who had agreed to take me in for a minimal monthly support payment to cover food and other expenses. I had spent a lot of time with Aunt Vera and her husband Ed Dofsen, being especially welcome as a companion to their boy who was my age. My cousin Mahlon suffered from epileptic seizures, both grand mal and petit mal, with the result that he was not very well adapted socially. My aunt and uncle had always appreciated my visits with their family because I provided a companion for Mahlon.
You can imagine my feelings, but I won’t write more about them here. Instead, I want to tell you the results of all this on my schooling.
My aunt and uncle lived on Roosevelt Way in northeast Seattle, a couple miles north of the University of Washington. After moving in with them, I found that I would not be attending an elementary school, but rather the eighth grade at John Marshall Junior High School, in the middle of the seventh to ninth grade years taught there. It was a challenging time to build friendships,
For me, an angry and disoriented child, it was deadly. I hated every minute of it. I can’t remember how long I lasted, but I remember the ending of my time there. I was sitting in a music appreciation class, which I tolerated more than others. Mostly you just had to sit and listen. Our teacher introduced a recording titled “Going Home” or “Going Home Suite.” The title and composer are unimportant here, because the minute she announced that, I got up and left the class and school, walking home to my Aunt Vera and crying in her arms. Once cried out I told her that I never would go back to that school. I had tried to tell the adults in my life that I wanted to complete the eighth grade at Broadview Elementary School, located in a school district independent from Seattle. As far as I was concerned, that was now the only option.
The obstacles were many. Broadview was then part of the Oak Lake District, a group of only three schools, independent of the Seattle system and many miles west of where we lived. Besides the challenge of getting the Oak Lake District to accept a student for whom there would be no reimbursement of costs, there was no school transportation available. Somehow the adults in my life pulled it off. It was probably late September 1939 when I was “transferred” to Broadview, and spent the remainder of my elementary education there.
I was happier, but not happy. As a child of divorce I was an oddity at a time of little divorce, in a school that knew little of dealing with such children. I had to take three buses each way, morning and night, to keep my attendance there. But it was still better than that damnable John Marshall Junior High.
I tell this story not to solicit sympathy from readers, but once again to underscore how damaging divorce is for children involved. Today’s children may have more opportunity to share feelings with others going through the same thing, but that is nothing compared to what most divorces do to children involved. As a mediator I have handled many scores of cases involving parenting plans for divorced couples, and can testify to the heart-rending problems generated for children of divorce.
I hope someday our society will trend in another direction, with more counseling help available for those couples on the road to divorce, and more help for the children who are affected by divorce.
Throughout my long life I’ve lived with the “what if” and “if only” thoughts that come with regret. I wonder what it would have been like if my parents hadn’t divorced. Whatever was gained for them, they lost important parts of the relationship with their only child. And they had set me on a road approaching a fork; good one way, not so good in the other.
* * *
I apologize to my readers for the long break since November when I last posted a “Saturdays with Vaughn” blog. In the time after that we have sold our Edmonds home, and are planning to move to another in Edmonds sometime this year. Together with three surgeries on an eyelid and some painful, disorienting results, the life events kept me away from writing until now, when my health has recovered and I can again drive my car.
Life events bring lessons., These reminded me of my mortality and the undetermined time I have to write the memoirs several people have suggested. I’m not quite ready for that. Instead I’ve decided to use this weekly blog as a vehicle for sharing some stories from my life, some funny, some not so fun, hopefully giving readers a glance into a life that has been quite full and varied. God willing, time and continued good health will give me the opportunity to gather them together into writing a biography. Someday.
Setting the Stage
Last night a neighbor, close to my age and with similar interests, invited me out to dinner at a waterfront restaurant in Birch Bay, a small and charming town just a few miles from the Canadian border. Much of our non-stop talk was about the birth parents we had chosen, and the lives they had chosen to give us. How different to be born in Seattle or Olympia, rather than Somalia or Afghanistan!
My parents had chosen Swedish Hospital in Seattle as the place to bring me into the world, one of the good choices among those they made that concerned me, not all of them good by any means. My dad was a post office clerk, my mother a secretary in an insurance agency. We had a home east of Green Lake, a popular recreational site with its surrounding neighborhood in Seattle. There I attended kindergarten and first grade, until we moved to a home on Seattle’s Greenwood Avenue North, where I spent the remaining seven grades in Broadview Elementary School at 125th and North Greenwood Avenue. Here’s something I remember from that time:
It was springtime 1937, and a beautiful spring at that. So nice that the windows were open in my fourth grade classroom at Broadview Elementary. I don’t remember more about the teacher than that it was a man, and he was droning on and on, writing on the blackboard occasionally and boring me into stupidity. So bored that I ignored his lecture and devoted my time to making an airplane out of one of the papers on my desk. I was pretty skilled at that. There was no doubt that my creation would fly. But where?
Some of my nearby classmates were also bored, so they spent their time watching me build my airplane and urging an early flight. The outside beckoned through the open window, alongside my seat near the back of the class. Not one to disappoint my friends, I launched my airplane out the window on a very successful flight. A light breeze lifted the plane out of sight for a minute, then it flew gracefully in circles, gradually lower, until it was out of sight. The teacher again had his back to the class, not hearing the titters from those in the class who had been treated to my aerial display. I felt proud.
It was two or three minutes later that the classroom door burst open. Mr. Belcher, a teacher from the classroom below ours, charged into the room holding something behind his back. “Who’s the pilot in here?” he shouted. I was afraid I knew what he had behind his back, but I said nothing. He asked again, with no replies from the class. I was lucky that none of my classmates who had seen the building and launch of my airplane were mean enough to rat me out.
“Well,” said Mr. Belcher, “let me tell you that I have a name here on the paper that was used to build this airplane. The name is Vaughn Sherman.” He turned to our teacher and suggested it would be a good thing for me to leave the class. Friends told me later that my paper airplane had sailed through an open window in his classroom, landing neatly on one of the students desks.
I don’t remember the details of going with him to see the principal, but I must have been pretty scared. Corporal punishment was part of the educational process at Broadview, with a wood paddle to the behind for a number of times appropriate to the crime. I’m sure I did not get that, but I remember very well the punishment I did receive. I had to spend two hours after school each day for a week, cleaning up the school grounds under supervision of the janitor. The real punishment of that was that I lost two hours on those days, playing with my friends in that beautiful spring weather.
What I learned:
In aviation, planning a flight should always include one or more possible landing sites.
* * *
My wife Jan and I are experiencing a life-changing event: selling the family home where she and I have lived for twenty years. It’s a special home, the first part built in 1915, with two remodels changing it to a great place for living and entertaining. It’s been in the Sherman family for more than half a century, a place for family and friend events, a place for children and grandchildren to think of as their family home, their place in the world
When I think of that importance, I think of my eldest son, Roger, whose education began in Stockholm, Sweden, at the age of four years. My transfer from there back to the States was hard on the family because we had integrated the children into the community so much that their first language was Swedish, and they spoke English with a typical Swedish accent. Roger had a bosom buddy named Johan, making it even harder for him to leave.
We sailed for New York from Gothenburg on a lovely evening in June, aboard a Swedish passenger ship. We were on the after deck of the ship, dressed up as the custom was then. I was wearing a suit and tie, my late wife Eunice in an appropriate dress, and our boys in slacks, shirt, tie, and blazers. The weather was perfect, the ship’s band playing first the Swedish national anthem and then our Stars and Stripes. Roger, who was then nine years old, leaned against his mom and started crying.
“What’s wrong Honey?” his mother asked.
“I want to go home,” he replied.
“But we are going home!” Eunice told him.
“I mean really home. I want to be with Johan.” He cried even more.
So what does home mean to children like mine, educated mostly in Europe with a couple of short assignments in the States, mostly in northern Virginia? They felt that their only home in the States was the one we are now selling, the place where we visited Grandpa and Grandma on our home leaves.
It’s a wrench to take this away from the family, but the condition of the house and growing expenses to maintain it have forced us to move. Jan and I have blended two families. Her three children were born in the Los Angeles area but have mostly lived in the Pacific Northwest. Mine have scattered, like many families with children educated abroad. They live variously in Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Oregon and South Carolina. The result is that they have had less time to enjoy the home than Jan’s children.
A heartbreak similar to Roger’s plight on leaving Sweden came from a telephone conversation with my daughter Kim, who lives in Arizona. She was having some trouble and I asked if she might want to come home.
“Home, Dad! Home? You must know I don’t have a home. I’ve never had a home in all my life.”
Educating children abroad has many advantages, but it has this disadvantage of their not having a place in the world to call their own.
Selling this home is tough for Jan and me, and even tougher for our kids. For Jan’s children and all of our grandchildren it will be an immediate loss; no longer will they be able to drop in or spend the night here. I know that for my children, living away and seldom able to visit, the loss will be less immediate but just as hurtful.
This is another example where winning something means losing something at the same time. Jan and I will survive. All our children will survive.
But things won’t be the same.
* * *