Why do parents who were young during WWII seem to have lived more impassioned lives when seen through the eyes of their children? What romance they must have lived! What clarity and purpose they had! Wars were fought and won, children were bred and born, homes were set up and run, industry was established and conquered. To us it is the stuff of epic movies. To them that was life, and it went on.
In a memoir which he wrote in his 70s, my Dad tells lively stories revealing his intrepid love for life and a determination to have fun despite being a hungry child during the Depression and a shy young man entering adulthood during the war. His adventures, detailed from his boyhood on the Mississippi to old age in our small town in Michigan, are all written simply and well, with his hard-earned, innate capacity to see the struggling humanity in everyone.
Dad wanted to be a pilot in WWII and fly an A20, a cool low level attack bomber. After training for weeks for a shot at getting into the Army Air Corps, fate (or luck) intervened, and he was rejected because of simple hay fever. Still determined to fly, Dad became a private pilot at age 18, soaring low and slow over Wisconsin in a J-3 Cub.
In college when he wanted to be an architect, he was simultaneously failing math, so he switched majors and became a radio engineer. Again, this made all the difference in his life. It was the era of the big bands.
Dad lived with the sounds of big band music and jazz as his personal soundtrack . It anchored his life, always in the background like the indelible blue smoke hanging in a dance club. He loved music and it loved him back, giving him years of fun and work as a young man, and hours of pleasure as an audiophile when old age set him on the couch. At the end of the day, if he couldn’t find a local station that played his music he’d fiddle with the AM radio trying to pull in a station from Canada that still played the big bands and had an announcer who knew ” what the hell he was talking about!”
After Dad died I took a few of his old albums from the stereo cabinet as mementos, specifically Frank. As in Sinatra. At the Sands. Because of this album, which I heard as a child on Sunday afternoons, I made sure to stay at the Sands on a business trip in the 80’s, before it was torn down.
Carefully setting the disc onto my husband’s old turntable, Frank’s voice saturated the air of our old wooden house with the rich seamless tones and crackling effervescence that only vinyl can emit. Even my young daughter noticed the unusually full sound as it soaked into us that afternoon, igniting our imaginations of that legendary night in Las Vegas with Dino, Sammy, jokes, drinks, smoke, perfume and song. When Frank sang, he filled the house.
Dad’s birthday rolls around later this month. I can still see him sitting in the basement reading, eating popcorn and listening to his favorite music with his big headphones on, reminiscent of his radio days and the era of living mightily, yet humbly.
Here’s to you Dad.