My father was born on November 26, 1939, and since cancer took him nearly two years ago, I find his approaching birthday a chance to look through old family photos and letters.
I had almost forgotten about one letter he gave me in January of 2009, not long after my husband and I told all the grandparents about my being pregnant with our second child.
He felt compelled to write me this hand-written letter the next day. (He never did anything on the computer if he could help it.) He titled it “How I Met Your Mother.” No, he hadn’t seen the series of the same name, by the way.
I thought with the anniversary of both his birth and death approaching in the late part of the year, I would share this fascinating story with you, sans any names he included. I replaced them with random initials.
Keep in mind my dad wasn’t a writer, and he was in his mid-70s when he wrote this. Yet, it reads like an old 1950s romantic movie.
“People often ask how (your mom) and I met. It occurred to me that my own kids don’t know.
“On March 2, 1961, a KB-50 Tanker crashed near El Paso killing all on board. The crew assigned to that plane were…”
My dad gave a list of six men, including himself a radio operator. He continued:
“Even though it was my crew that crashed, I was not on that flight. In my place was an airman named (T). Why he was flying in my place is another story. But the bottom line is (T) is dead and I am alive.
“After the loss of my crew, I was waiting around to be assigned to another crew. One of the airmen in my squadron was a supply specialist named (L). He worked a regular 9 to 5 so he was able to attend TWC at night and on the weekends. He came by the barracks and told me he was going to a party at a friend’s house and why didn’t I come along? He said a lot of people would be ‘college types’ and maybe there would be girls there, too.
“I said, OK.
“As I remember, it was a very dull party. All the guys were in the front room watching something on a black-and-white TV. The girls were in the kitchen sitting on the floor laughing and talking.
“Then my life changed forever. One of the girls got up to leave. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I remember to this day she had long brown hair and a sylph like presence.
“As I watched her put on her high heels, I asked (R) ‘My God, who is that girl?’ He said I think her name is (K) — but forget about it. She’s a college girl and college girls don’t go out with GIs.’
“The next day, however (R) saw her at school and told her that a guy at the party would like to see her again. She said yes!
“I made arrangements to meet her and her parents and then take her to a movie. As I was getting dressed for the date with (your mom) the OP came to the barracks. He announced that we were on alert and that I had been assigned to a new crew. He said to grab my equipment and be on the flight line in 30 minutes.
“We were at 20,000 feet and heading to George AFB at the very time I was supposed to meet (your mom). I just knew it was all over. She would never understand why I did not show up although (my friend) told her the next day. I was miserable for the next two weeks. I was sure she would forget about me. BUT SHE DID NOT. She waited for me to come back.
“From then on I was with her every hour I could be off base and a month later I asked her to marry me (although I knew I wanted to marry her from the first time I saw her).
“To this day I don’t know why she chose me over the gaggle of rich fraternity boys and football players who wanted to date her, but I thank God she did.
“Even though I often acted like a jerk, she stayed with me for 47 years and gave me two wonderful kids.
“When God took her on August 16, 2008, a part of me died, too. I hope to see her again one day.
Wow. Just wow. My dad never shared this kind of information with us before. He was a quiet, easy-going, and funny man who didn’t show that kind of “romantic” emotion. Of course, this letter knocked me back a bit, and I am often uninterested and a bit jaded when reading or watching even a dorky rom-com.
My dad lived another 11 years after writing this letter, and I do believe he made it to see my Mom again.
Whatever your beliefs or situation is in life, there are likely at least a couple of older individuals in your life who have a story they want to share.
With the holiday season coming up, there is a good chance you might get to see or hear from one of them. Ask them what funny, sad, or beautiful life stories occupy their memory, and what they want to make sure the next generations get to take with them as well.
I promise, no moment spent listening to them will be wasted, as there will come a time when you won’t get to ask for these tales again.
Plus, you might be amazed at what you learn.