Tag Archives: Dad

Letters from Dad — Letter 1 to his parents

Okay, this is the real first letter, I think. Or it may be the fourth or fifth. See, he didn’t always remember to put the month on the letter. This one says Mon — 29 — 48. According to the Time and Date website the 29th of the month fell on a Monday twice in 1948 — May and November. Judging from the length and detail of this letter, however, I am going to guess it was written in May.

“Mon — 29 — 48
Great Lakes, Ill.

Hello Everybody,


Well I was going to write this letter yesterday but I will try and write it now. Boy, yesterday was a busy Sun. We got up at 5:30, went to early chow and then went to church. They had 3 different churches so I went to our church. I didn’t like the minister as well as at the church at home though, he was a civilian too. After church we came back and mopped the whole barracks floor, shower room , head (toilet), washroom, drying room and everything. When we got the barracks cleaned up it was time for noon chow. Afternoon we went to the recreation room. Boy is it nice up there. They have 5 pool tables, a big room full of nice overstuffed furniture, a nice big television set and a lot of magazines. You can check out most any game you want and it’s really swell up there. Up in the rec room they also have a long line of papers with different states marked on the tip so you can put your name, Co. no, and hometown. I haven’t found anybody from Elgin in Camp Moffet yet, but I think that there is a guy here somewhere because he said that he was coming here…….


Well I am back again. As I was writing the chief came in and he hollered “Fall out for drill” so we went out and drilled for about an hour before chow. We just got down cleaning up the barracks so maybe I can finish this.


After we eft the rec hall yesterday my buddy and I came back and started to clean up our clothes but before we got done we had to fall out for chow. We don’t get as good chow here as we did over at Barry but I’m not complaining.because we get a lot to eat anyway.


When we got out of chow we went to the P.X. to get some cigarettes and went to the canteen to get some ice cream. When we left the canteen we went back to the barracks, finished washing our clothes and read the funnies which I bought that morning but didn’t’ have time to read yet. I was pretty tired last night so I didn’t’ try to write.


Well, just got back from night chow so I’ll finish quick like a rabbit. I can’t think of much more to write. I went down to the P.X. after night chow and got some pictures. Nobody has a camera here in camp as we all had to send stuff like that back with our clothes. The pictures will give you some kind of idea what this place looks like.


Well, guess I’ll have to close pretty soon now as I have to hit the sack pretty soon. How’s Morris and Darlene? I sure would like to see them again. Can you send me some of the best pictures of them? Not too many just 2. How are all of the rest of the kids? Wild as ever, I suppose. Corrine doesn’t know what to do with herself right now — but pretty soon school starts. I hope  Verne is getting better. Tell everybody hello.


My Father / My Son

Pile of lettersFor the past few weeks I’ve sat at my [messy] desk, working and feeling a little guilty. I’ve meant to transcribe more of my dad’s letters to his family in my spare time, but I always find other things do do instead. It’s not that I don’t want to type them up, I just haven’t.

They sit, inches away from my left hand and occasionally I read a snippet or two.

He was lonely and wanted people to write him letters:

“I’ve gotten one letter so far, it was from Martha but it’s the only one I’ve gotten so far. By god, I’m not going to write any more until I get a few.”

He wrote about his activities:

“Yesterday morning we had to swab decks in 1 barrack and last night got they got 12 of us guys to swab decks in 3 rooms of the PX, and they are darn big rooms.”

He wanted his parents to send him his camera, he went to church, he talked about the food he was served at boot camp.

Whenever I read one of the letters, or even just look over at them I remember that he was younger than my son is now. These are the handwritten words of my 20 year old father written before he met my mom, before he had children, before he was 21. He was in Navy boot camp during wartime.

My son doesn’t write me letters. He texts now and then. He calls us occasionally. We communicate on Facebook sometimes. But he’s only in college and not heading off to a possibly dangerous situation like my dad was.

I guess I just wanted to say that it feels strange to be able to read my father’s words when he was younger than my son. It puts a whole different perspective on things. Before he was my father he was someone’s son. Just like my son will be someone’s father. Not earth-shattering news by any means. Yet it certainly shakes me up a bit.

Letters from Dad — Letter 1 to his parents

In the box that probably belonged to my Uncle Don and Aunt Leila were some letters Dad wrote to his parents and to my aunt and uncle. Here is the oldest one to his parents. He was twenty and a half years old.

Great Lakes, Ill

Dear Folks,

Well, how is everybody? I’m feeling pretty good except for a slight cold which is getting better. Well our chow is a little better this week because a different company is feeding us. The company that is feeding us now has made an agreement with our C.O. that they feed us good and we feed them good when we get in chow hall. Our weekend is just about over, it’s Mon. night now and we have just finished swabbing the decks with sand, washed all the windows inside and out with Bon-ami and scrubbed every piece of wood in the building. I got all my clothes washed yesterday and left them out all day to bleach.

How is everybody at home? Is dad feeling pretty good, I hope so. I hope everybody else is pretty good too.

Say when you send my camera will you send back my toiletry kit and a good map of Illinois, Indiana or any other state you have. Send on of Chicago too if you can find one.

I’ll have to quit now because they are going to turn out the light.

Goodbye for now.


P.S. Don’t forget to write

I still live at the same place, ha! ha!

My Wants by Elvin, age 7

One of the attic kneewall finds was a box that probably came from my Aunt Leila and Uncle Don’s house. In that box, in an envelope marked Portrait Reorder Division was, among other things, a piece of paper with “To Elvin” written on one side and the following poem written in nearly completely faded purple ink on the other side. At first I thought it was simply an old mimeographed copy of something and nearly threw it away, but when I took a closer look I saw that it was a handwritten poem, signed by Elvin — my dad.

My Wants

Elvin, age 7

I always want more than I can tell
And other folks just want a smell.
I always want things for my bike
But I don’t always get what I like.

When I ever go into the store
I want those things more and more.
I want something that’ll make a noise
But of course you know I’m like most boys.

I like to make airplanes you know
I rather do that than play in the snow.
But if that would make me real happy
I don’t think I’d have time to help my pappy.

Here is the actual poem with the contrast turned up a bit so some of the writing is legible.


Squeeze Coin Purse

Not much reminds me of my dad more than a squeeze coin purse. He carried one in his pocket at all times, packed full of change. The points where you squeezed the purse were usually darker than the rest of the purse from the motor oil that stained his fingers for most of his life. I remember him pulling the purse out of his front pant pocket, squeezing it between his thumb and middle finger and giving it a shake while holding it out for me to choose a coin. I remember the smell of the purse, a combination of copper from the pennies warmed from the heat of his pant pocket, plastic and oil. I remember the sound of the coins hitting each other.

Among the things I found in my Mom’s attic was an old, barely used squeeze coin purse. It was not one of dads, or maybe it was a spare. It is stiff and slightly cracked — probably because it was exposed to heat and cold in the kneewall, but also because it has to be at close to 40 years old. I know this because on the back is an advertisement for the B&B Tavern in Chetek, Wisconsin and my folks stopped going to Chetek for vacations in the mid-1970s when they bought their own property on the other side of the state.

This will be another of the growing pile of useless items the kids will need to deal with when I’m gone because tossing this would be like tossing out a warm memory of my dad, and we can’t have that!


Dad’s 9th Grade Report Card

Among some of the more interesting items I found at Mom’s house last month was a Joseph Spiess box of photos, letters and documents that belonged to my Uncle Don and Aunt Leila. One of the items was my dad’s 9th grade report card from Plato Township High School.

For some reason I’d always thought dad quit school before 9th grade, but I was mistaken. Maybe it was just after 9th grade. It was not something he was proud of. I think he actually might have liked school — or at least respected the teachers because he always wanted me to be a teacher and was proud that I became one.

Despite dropping out of high school, this report card doesn’t look too bad — It looks like science was his best subject (after PE). His English scores were good the first semester, but not so good the second. I don’t understand the “incompletes” in Agriculture though. His dad was a farmer.

His English teacher, Miss Muirhead, must be a relative of our alpaca farm friends.

Designing Dad’s Headstone

After my father died I knew that we’d need to think about a headstone, but was too busy dealing with insurance stuff as well as my own grieving process to want to handle it right away. I sort of thought it would be good to have a headstone installed for his birthday and then maybe go back to Elgin around that time to see it with my family but that day came and went with no headstone or plan to order one.

Finally, my mom and brother started the process by visiting a few headstone vendors in the Elgin area. They settled on the vendor they liked and chose a size and color they liked for the headstone. When I was back in Elgin at the end of August last year, Mom wanted me to go with her to see the one she and my brother picked out. I was completely up for it because the headstone place was across the street from Elgin’s coolest cemetery.

Mom showed me the stone they’d chosen and we began the ordering process. All went smoothly until we were asked to choose a design. I assumed that there were a set number of designs and we would choose one of them but the salesperson said we could have whatever we wanted for a design. It was a lot to think about so we went home and talked about it.

We thought about what was important to Dad. We thought perhaps sheaves of wheat to symbolize his life as a child growing up on a farm. We thought about an anchor to symbolize his time in the U.S. Navy. We thought about crosses because he was brought up a Christian. We were solemn because this was a solemn task.

To break the solemnity I laughed and wondered aloud what about bluebirds? Mom shook her head. Not bluebirds. No, people are going to see this. It is in a cemetery. I assured her I was only joking, but my husband thought it was a good idea and so did my ex-sister-in-law. Later when I asked my brother about the idea, he liked the bluebirds. We still had to convince Mom. We assured her that no one would understand the bluebirds except his close family. We threw in an anchor and ribbon for good measure. She finally said she was okay with it.

After several back and forth emails with the headstone company they sent me a draft of the design. Above his name and birth and death dates was a ribbon being held by two flying birds. In the middle of the ribbon hung an anchor. It was perfect. Everyone agreed. We told the headstone folks to go ahead and use that design.

My brother visited the grave recently and uploaded a photograph of the headstone to Facebook. Here is a copy.

Dad's Bluebird Headstone
Dad's Bluebird Headstone -- Click the image to make it bigger

And in case you are wondering, why bluebirds? — shh, don’t tell mom I told you that he, like Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, had a pair of them them tattooed on his chest. (And he was proud of them).

Many thanks to Elgin Granite Works for the fantastic job they did on the headstone, for making sure the Military plaque on the back was put in place properly and for keeping me updated on the process.

Stewing Away on the Back Burner

I know I should let it go. There’s nothing to be gained except a small satisfaction for me and perhaps my brother. My mom wants to just forget about it.

But I don’t want to let it go. I want an apology. A real apology, not an offhanded remark about “getting off on the wrong feet”.

And then there is the fact that perhaps there is nothing to apologize for. That we were hyper-sensitive and that any rational person would have let it slide. Perhaps we should have not gone to the funeral home the day Dad died, but waited until the next day. But we were ready for it to be over. We’d already spent 4 and a half days knowing that this was how it would probably turn out.

Here’s what happened. (I know I’ve mentioned this on Facebook and have told many friends about it — so feel free to ignore this post if you already are sick of hearing me talk about it).

In a nutshell, we believe that the young man who helped us plan my father’s funeral was rude to us in the initial moments of the planning process. I called him on it and he changed his attitude. Perhaps that is all that needed to be done. However this was not someone selling us a wrench at Ace Hardware. This was someone who was supposed to help us deal with the grief of losing a loved-one.

I stewed about this for about a month, then wrote a letter to the director (who was out of town when we used the services of his funeral home). I’ll post the letter (names removed) after the break.

When another month passed and I’d not heard back from the funeral home director, I sent him an email. I never got a response to the email.

I sort of figured that if he got the letter and the email and didn’t respond, it was not worth dealing with anymore. I’d gotten it off my chest and that is all that mattered. I nearly forgot about it until my mom callled me a few days ago and said that the funeral home director left a message on her answering machine. I asked her what he said and she said he wanted her to call him back but she was reluctant to do so. She thought she’d ramble on and make no sense. I said I’d send her a copy of the letter I’d sent him and then she’d know what was in it.

That evening I accessed Mom’s voice-mail account — we had it set up for that when she was here and I was curious to know what he said). Here is, verbatim, what the funeral director said:

Yes, [Mom’s Name],  this is [funeral home director’s name] of [name of funeral home]. I’ve been meaning to get ahold of you but I’ve…I’ve…it’s just been on my back burner and I really wanted to talk to you regarding a letter that Dona had sent me regarding the funeral services for your husband. I just wanted to kinda touch base with you and I had a couple of questions for you. So if you could, at your convenience, give me a call back [phone number] I’d appreciate it and I’d like to speak to you. Thank you.

The next evening I called my mom to see if she’d called the funeral home back. She hadn’t and pretty much said she didn’t want to and didn’t know what the big deal was. Maybe the person who helped us was young and inexperienced. She said it was part of the past and didn’t want to deal with it any more.

I can completely understand her point. After all, I was already done with it before she called to say they had called. But now I’m upset again. Upset that it took him 70 days to call. Just another, in my opinion, insult to us.

I may call him myself to tell him that Mom’s done with it and doesn’t want to reopen old wounds. I may tell him that I’m disappointed that it took so long for him to contact us. I may write a review on Yelp. Or I may just sweep it under the carpet and move on.

There are not too many other options for funeral homes in my home town. This family owns the two main ones and as Pastor Keith said on Facebook the other day, they’re the “biggest game in town”. I don’t know what we’ll do when we need funeral home services again — many many years from now of course.

Letter I wrote after the break.

Continue reading Stewing Away on the Back Burner

Found Items: 2. The Nite Owl

For the last decade or so of my father’s life his bedroom was his sanctuary. He spent more time in his room than out of it — and not always asleep. I once asked him what he did when he went to bed at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He said he usually lay in bed thinking.

Dad’s room was pretty much off-limits to anyone not invited in, but the stench of unwashed old-age was enough to not want to be invited in. Occasionally my dad would ask me into his room to look, for the umpteenth time, at the photograph of the navy ship he’d spent 4 years on or to look at something he’d found among his trinkets. I was never very curious about what was in his room — I couldn’t imagine there was anything of interest I’d not seen many times before.

I couldn’t have been more wrong as I found out after my father’s death in October. I found his father’s wallet, still with the cards and photographs he carried while alive. I found his wedding ring that my mother thought was lost. I also found a ziplock bag of things that belonged to my Uncle Don, my father’s brother-in-law and best friend until Don’s death in 1963.

Some of the things in the bag are bizarre — a hat with a tassel and matching purple satin sash from some honorary Moose Lodge event. Some are historical — correspondence between my Uncle Don and the War Department in 1945. Some possibly valuable — an unopened pack of Milwaukee Road playing cards.

My favorite of the trinkets, however, is the plastic box of key-chains. When I opened the box, the top key-chain was one I recalled from my childhood. Probably not the same key-chain, but I had one just like it.

It is a red and white plastic key-chain shaped like an owl. The red part (the body of the owl) separates from the white part (the eyes and tail) to make two key-chains. The white part also glows in the dark. I think the reason for the two parts is because two keys used to be required for the ignition and trunk, so this way you could keep your car running and get something out of the trunk. The back of the key-chain advertises a store called “Rorry’s: Apparel for women who care”. I vaguely remember Rorry’s — I wonder if there was one in Elgin.

Clare loves owls so, for Christmas, I parted with the Nite Owl key-chain and placed it in her stocking. I feel good that a memory of mine is now a concrete object for her.