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In hopes of easing my own workload I’m moving to a Monday/Thursday posting schedule.  There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. I’m becoming a bit stretched for time and, at the end of the day, this project is the only thing I can really cut back on without major ramifications.

2. I don’t feel like I’ve really been able to process the letters as much as I want to be able to.  I’ve become so focused on getting them posted on time that I’m not really able to work ahead and read through the letters thoroughly, and since the whole reason I started this was to get some perspective on my father, that’s a problem.

So this is the future and what I have to work with:

  • 2/3 of the letters left
  • 14 hours of audio
  • a book of letters he wrote to his folks
  • a box of photos (50 or so)
  • another box of photos and negatives (200+)
  • wedding album (when it’s located)

Ideally I would like to get a couple dozen letters in the bag, find the pictures that correspond, and (once he gets to Vietnam) post the audio I have stuck on my laptop (thanks again to everyone who donated to help make that possible).  Doing all of this three times a week increases the manpower/post ratio to the point where it goes from being a fun me-project, to a deadline-driven publishing job.  And as I already have a job, I need the fun-me part more than ever.  I hesitate to mention it now, but if time keeps getting crunched, it may even go to one post a week until the summer when I don’t have any classes.  But I hope it won’t come to that.

So that’s the plan Stan.  (I’m not being coy, Roy.)

As always, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.

Ethan

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Okay, my turn.

To me Bob was slightly larger than life.  You generally didn’t come into contact with him without getting a smile and a handshake, and you generally felt better about yourself by the time you parted company.  That said, he had zero tolerance for bullshit and didn’t suffer fools, so if you managed to stay out of these two categories with him, chances are you’d just made a reliable friend.

Of course, Bob has been in my life since forever.  We would visit his home during summer vacations from Arizona and I’d play with his kids, Dan mostly, as he was a little bit older than me and the only one who shared the powerful Star Wars/Comic Book/Weird Al/Laser Tag gene that seemed to be recessive in the rest of our families.  I owe more than a little of my geeky disposition to Dan.

After finishing high school and I headed back to South Dakota like a homing pigeon, and to be honest it didn’t occur to me to go anywhere else.  I attended and graduated from SDSU, just like Bob and just like my father.   When I arrived, having Bob there helped make it feel more like I was returning home than moving half way across the country.  He never made an attempt to replace dad, but he certainly filled some fatherly gaps by offering me sound advice and always making sure that I knew I “was welcome at any time, day or night.”  I remember after about three weeks of living in Brookings he told me to stop knocking before I came into their house and just come in already.

“You’re family,” he’d say.

When I was looking for work he gave me a part-time job in his store, working whatever hours worked for me; when I was short on money for rent or car insurance he would lend me the little I needed to get me through the month (with an understanding on when it would be paid back); when I needed someplace to stash the money for my wife’s ring, he kept it in his safe; when I needed someplace to stash the ring, he kept it in his sweater drawer.

When Bob began to lose his final bout with cancer, I suddenly realized I might not just be losing a good friend but also one of the single best sources of information on dad.  So one evening I turned on a small tape recorder and we started talking.  By this time he was on medication so the conversations are quiet and rambling with long pauses, but he was fierce in his love for my father.  He told me the key to their being friends for as long as they were was communication: there was never a time that they weren’t in constant contact via either mail or phone.  He also talked briefly about their decision to volunteer for Vietnam.

“Our country was in a war.  And when your country is in a war goddammit you go.”  Simple as that.

We only completed two tapes before he died and they’re of terrible quality, but you can hear his distinctive voice, his anger and sadness, and his trademark “no bullshit” style of conversation.  Ultimately I made the same mistake with Bob that I did with dad: I waited too long to really sit down and talk about the important stuff.

To say that when he died it was like losing a father would be a lie.  It wasn’t.  Only his children can say that.  But I lost my dad at 13, at a time when I had no idea of how to relate to him as a man, how important he would really be to me, and what a void his absence would create.  In a way I understood Bob’s death much better than I did my father’s.  At 23 I knew exactly who I was losing and how it was happening and what his place was in my life.  I’m not searching for Bob.  Bob isn’t a mystery to me.  I know who he was.  I love him and miss him, but his passing was much easier for me to synthesize mentally and emotionally.

This whole experiment is me trying, at long last, to fill in the gaps that remain in my knowledge of my father.  I want to use that information to build an image of him for myself to relate to, and since I can’t know him, I’m having to settle with being able to study his history like an archeologist.  Which I guess is what I’m ultimately doing here: studying my father.  Trying to learn as much as I can about him so I can develop an opinion, a feeling, or perhaps even an emotional connection with his memory.  A connection which I certainly don’t have now.

For reasons that I’ll have to articulate later, I don’t have any truly strong feelings about him. I feel I should, but I don’t. All I feel is the hole that he would have occupied in my life.  A hole that Bob’s presence helped me realize I had.  Bob was a huge piece of the puzzle that is my father.

Now I’m sure that some people who are reading this remember him differently than I did, and that’s to be expected.  I was his best friend’s son and that pretty much puts a rose-colored tint on everything Bob.  It’s also fair to say I put him on a bit of a pedestal, so I can’t possibly pretend to be objective here.  He wasn’t my father but he supplied me with a healthy number of fatherly moments.

Anyway, while these three posts are here to provide a little context to Bob, they are also meant to serve as a small tribute to a man who was, to many of us, kind of a big deal.

Ethan

From Rita:

Bob has always been there. I worked with Bob at the College Theatre in Brookings, he was the one who tore the tickets (head usher) and I was the one who sold the popcorn and candy. Bob and I had to work the weekend of the SD High School State Wrestling Tournament to be held in Huron. Bob planned to go after work on Saturday with his best friend, Jeff and asked me to fill the car with my friends, so we could all go together. I sat between Jeff and Bob in the front seat and had a great time ignoring Jeff. By the end of the evening, I found him rather charming. For the next nine nights in a row, he came to pick Bob up after work (never done before) and they offered me a ride home. After that, he finally asked me out and you are reading the rest of the story.

We lived near each other in Brookings, where they both graduated from college and our first babies were born. They were living in Pierre when we moved there but had moved back to Brookings before we moved to AZ. Besides all the hunting trips and visits at their (Bob and Dee’s) home; we would meet them in Vegas each February. They would both come for a week long convention and we would be there for the final day, gambling, eating and laughing.

When Jeff was sick with cancer, Bob brought Jeff’s brother, Dexter to Kingman for a visit. It was the last time Jeff was able to be “out” for a day traveling through the mountains around Kingman. Jeff knew that Bob would be back in February as usual, I’m convinced that Jeff was able to hold on until he saw Bob one more time. He hadn’t spoken in several days and hadn’t acknowledged anyone for 24 hours, until when Bob came into the room; Jeff tried to sit up and said HI. He laid back down and never spoke again; he waited until after Bob said good-bye late that evening before he chose to go home (heaven).

Bob called me every month after Jeff died; slowing only after several years past.

It’s funny too, that the Clay that Jeff talks about in his letters, was a lot like Bob. Clay and Jeff were best friends all during the service. Clay flew in to see Jeff a month before he died and I couldn’t believe how much Clay looked like Bob; they even sounded alike.

So the last letter got me thinking about Bob. For a while now I’ve wanted to have a post dedicated to him because I felt it was important to make clear how big an impact he had in the lives of our family, not just on my father forty years ago. As most of you reading this are either family members or close friends, most of you already know something about him.

Today there will be no letter, but instead a short post I asked my sister to write.  She had a very close relationship with Bob and his family.

I should also mention that Bob passed away from cancer a few years back (after beating it down two or three times first).

First of all, he and dad knew each other for as long as I can remember stories being told- they used to go pheasant hunting in fields that are now housing developments. They got into a lot of trouble together and had a heck of a time along the way! Bob’s oldest child, Dan, and I (also the oldest) are only a couple of months apart in age and Dan’s middle name is Jeffrey (after my dad).

They moved to Pierre around the same time and lived not to far from each other while their families were young. Even after my dad moved our family to Arizona they stayed close- talking on the phone and going on hunts together. Every time our family would come back to SD to visit, Bob would be one of our first stops. Best friends if I ever saw it.

My dad passed away in February 1992 and Bob was there. He had flown in to spend some time with dad and they had spent that whole day together. Bob had gone back to his hotel that evening and I think he had just settled in when I had to call him to tell him dad had passed- he was the rock, the fill in for dad that night and many, many years after. I was very thankful he was there for our mom.

The year after I graduated I was trying to find my way in life, not really knowing what to do next. I decided to move back to Brookings, living with my aunt and uncle but spending most of my time at Bobs. I was their 3rd child- always eating with them and spending many long evenings sitting next to Bob listening to advice and great stories of my father! Bob really filled that void that my dad’s death had left. He got me my wonderful job at the bank, which led to me meeting my husband and having 3 beautiful girls- I really owe it all to Bob. I feel very lucky to have known him and to have had the opportunity to spend so much quality time with him. Sadly he also lost his battle to cancer years ago but he will always be in our hearts!

Jeff’s oldest child and only daughter, Alana

This is a letter I received from my dad’s cousin who lives in Minneapolis. I’ve edited a bit out of it because there were some specifics in there and some of it just wouldn’t make sense to you if you’re not me.

Hi Ethan –

I am your dad’s cousin – my mom and your grandma (Jeff’s mom) are sisters.  I haven’t seen you since you were little, I’m sure you don’t remember me, but you’ve probably heard of our branch of the family.  I have many wonderful memories of your dad back when we were kids — at family reunions on the farm and staying at your grandparents house in Brookings.  We lived in Minneapolis and would travel to the farm… at least two or three times a year, and often we would stay overnight at [their] house on the way.  We always had a great time.  Your dad was a few years older than me, but what I remember most is that he was always so nice to me and would take the time to talk to me and actually listen to what I said.  I was kind of in awe of him — he was obviously so intelligent and self-confident and friendly and good-natured — just a great guy.  Your dad’s family growing up was pretty cool – Dex was so funny, and Brian was so nice, and they both were really cool guys.  And Brenda was a little princess (don’t tell her I said that!)… she was four years younger than me, but after a certain age that didn’t matter anymore and we would play together and I feel very close to her still.

Anyway, [your aunt] Brenda told me about your website (is it called a blog?) and so I’ve been checking out your postings since summer.  At first I felt kind of like I was eavesdropping and I decided that if it ever got too personal, I’d just stop reading it.  But it was so sweet with a “Gushing Young Love” thing going on.  I can hear your dad’s a voice when I read his writing.  And your mom is wonderful.  I remember Jeff and Rita came to Minneapolis, I think to visit some friends, and they stopped at my parents house to say hi (they were so sweet to do that).  If I remember right, they were engaged at the time.  I know I’ve seen a picture of them standing in our dining room — I’ve been looking for it and if I find it I’ll send it to you.

But I did find a few other pictures that you should have.  I wasn’t good at putting dates on the back of pictures, but the pictures of Alana with the puppy and the group were shot in 1980.  My husband and I had been married for about a year and had just gotten a puppy when your folks and grandparents and Alana [your sister] were in town and stopped at our house in [Minneapolis].  Looks like your mom is pregnant (is it you or Dana?).  And the picture of your mom with a baby (again — is it you or Dana?) is so cute.  I don’t remember if I took the picture at the farm of your dad and uncles at the table with [our] uncle… but you should have it.  Any idea of what year that might be?

Well, I just wanted to let you know how much your postings mean — it is such a tribute to your dad and mom.

Nancy

When Nancy asks “is it your or Dana?” the answer is “you.”  Or rather, “me.”  Or rather: Ethan.   Dana is the youngest and was not yet even a twinkle in dad’s eyes.

In other news:  thanks to all of the support I’ve received, I was able to get over 2 hours of tape transferred to digital!  There’s nothing I can post yet, but at this rate I expect to be done by the end of January. All of the pieces are from the Vietnam era so far, so I don’t have anything from the bootcamp era to post.  And since I want to insert the audio into the proper places chronologically, it may be a little before we get any posted.

You should notice however that the donation button is gone.  I think we might have enough to get the lot done.  If not, you will see the button reappear.

I know that it specifically says “don’t tell her I said that!” but right after is says that they are close.  I’ll take the risk.

Ethan

Jeff and Rita on her 17th Birthday

Photobucket

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We publish every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
For a quick rundown of the family, start by reading this post
Make sure you read the comments. People who are mentioned in the letters will sometimes expand on whatever is being discussed in the posts.

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