Monday, February 27, 2012

The 'Pins' of the Father

The springs of the minivan protested as it traveled the rutted old dirt driveway. Brittney silently wondered how her childhood home had held up over the intervening years. Deep forest gave way to unkempt brown withered grass surrounded by a potholed gravel driveway.

Early morning sun filtering through the trees revealed the remains of the porch she had stormed off of 20 years earlier. Missing roof tiles lay scattered among broken slats. The railing supported by just a few remaining posts sagged in unison with deep waves in the old house's roof supports.

'I don't know why your father's lawyer said it had to be done today, there's not much to look at' chimed Brittney's husband Justin from the drivers seat.

'It could have been on the cover of any house and garden magazine when I was a child' replied Brittney. 'I agree, it's not much to see anymore. But, I'll bet the garage behind the house is still in tip top shape.
My father had some strange priorities'.

Silencing the minivan's engine augmented the isolated feel of the surroundings. Humidity regained hold in the summers heat as the cool air escaped from the opened doors. Mounting the first warped steps memories struggled to the forefront of her consciousnesses.

Fights over her choice of friends and clothes gave voice inside her head. The heated exchanges with her father caused rifts that time had never repaired. She felt that in light of her mother's recent tragic death, he had become resentful of her. She hadn't spoken to the man since the day she left. Announcing to the front door as if it could relate the message to him, 'You never gave a damn about me did you? Bikes, rallies, whiskey and that damn patch was all that mattered to you wasn't it?'

As if responding, hinges groaned in protest as she pushed open the front door. Glancing around the living room she saw the overturned coffee table and the broken vase still littered the floor where she had thrown it in heated argument years before. 'Couldn't even clean up, since I wasn't here for "chores" could you?'

All her perceived  injustices came flooding back to her. Recent heated exchanges with her own teenage daughter suddenly rang familiar to her ears. 'We are not the same,'  echoed down the hall as the voices in her mind responded, 'maybe more than you think'. The dialogue between thoughts and voice were interrupted by Justin's reply 'what did you say?'

Waving her hand toward the backyard she curtly responded 'Go check the garage will you?' Stung by the sudden dismissal in her tone, he headed out to do as asked, leaving her alone to her thoughts.

Walking down the long hallway she noticed that nothing had changed in the house. Though older and faded, pictures along the wall were still crooked as they had been years before. The realization that no one had entered this part of the house in years started to become apparent.

Entering the kitchen brought further proof to her eyes as she noticed the table was set just as she had done so that night all those years ago. 'What did you do, close the doors and never enter again?' she asked. The voice in her head responded 'Certainly appears that way.'

Entering her childhood bedroom the only change was what looked like an old upright gun safe in the corner. Well worn grooves in the floor told the story of many years travel to the safe. The bed had a depression at the foot as if someone had sat there for long periods of time. 'I don't understand.'

Reaching into her pocket she retrieved the letter her fathers lawyer had given her when the will's reading was done. Unfolding it, she read the three numbers. That was all had been written. Looking towards the gun safe she knew it had to be the combination to it. Dialing them on the safe, she became aware that the numbers corresponded to the date 11-27-92, the day she had left home.

Swinging open the door, the well greased hinges were absent of sound which told her this had been a  well-used safe. Stacks of letters sealed with rally and commemorative pins filled the safe almost to the top. Removing the top envelope, she unclasped the pin and opened the contents: flyers for a recent rally held in Prescott, Arizona several months earlier. The dates read August 12 and 13. It had been the same town and date of her recent college graduation. 'Bet you didn't even know I was there, did you? she said aloud. Unfolding the enclosed letter caused a  picture to fall to the floor. The writing on the back said Masters degree in Finance with top honors. Overturning the photo she saw that it was of her giving her  valedictory speech. 'What the hell, you were there?'

Grasping a stack of letters off the top, she began checking the dates and locations. Most dates matched pivotal moments in her life, some did not. The first was a letterhead from her place of employment.
Inside was a letter addressed to her father:

To Dan "Scooter" Wilson:

I have received the letters and recommendations you have sent.
I agree she is highly qualified and would be a perfect fit for employment here.
She will be hired for the position.

Love and respect Brother,
John 'Cowboy" Peters

See you at church.
You're buying.

'What the hell, my boss is a patch-holding Hellrider?' Opening further letters revealed the high school Guidance counselor, the admissions director at college, various teachers, professors all were Hellrider members. Yet more envelopes showed correspondence with many of her former employers. And ride pins matching the dates.

'My God, I wish I had known'

Now she was intrigued as to the dates she didn't recognize. She found more letters addressed to her father:

Your daughter's car broke down outside of town.
Roach and I provided assistance and got her going again.
We are still looking out for her as asked.
She still don't care for bikers, but accepted the help begrudgingly.

Love and Respect
Roach and Popstart
P.S. Here's the pin for that day.

'Are you kidding me, them too?' She opened yet another.

Dear Scooter,
My daughter Vicki assisted Brittney in her selection of a wedding dress.
She looks fabulous.
The dress she wanted was sold to her at half cost and we are forwarding the bill's
remainder to the club as instructed. Enclosed is a photo of her in the dress.
The clubs pin maker has been instructed as to the design.
Love and respect,
P.S. "our Daughter" is making us all proud!

'Our daughter, what could she mean by that?'

Retrieving the pin attached to the photo, she saw the it was indeed in the shape of her
wedding dress. The photo had slight water damage from faint droplets.

The source of the droplets burst forth in her minds eye. 'Oh Daddy, you cried?'

Others followed with similar writings; assistance carrying groceries...another pin. Help moving No matter how inconsequential the help. In all aspects of her life where a little help was needed, it was provided. Mostly by 'prospects' of the Hellriders. And a custom-made pin for every single event.

The club and her father had always been there for her. She had never known. Believing herself to be self-made and fiercely independent she had always considered herself bereft of family ties. The realization of her 'family' had weakened her knees, landing on the well sunken spot upon her bed.

She understood it all. He had followed her directive, "Don't ever contact me again" But, a fathers love can't be constrained. He did all that had been available to him.

Reaching the final letter in the safe, she saw it was addressed to her:

Dear Brittney,
I tried to honor your wishes. But as you now know, I couldn't completely. I love you too much.
I'm proud of the woman you have become. I even like the man you married. And damn!  What amazing grandchildren I have!!
They will make mistakes in life, just be there for them. That's all one can do. You will love them in good times or bad. Don't let anger separate you.
As time moves forward you may have many questions and or regrets in life. Don't, as it took me a lifetime to understand. Regrets are yesterdays choices. Todays are the ones that matter.
If I can make one final request of you, please check behind the back gate before you leave.

Love always,

Tears fell from her eyes staining the letters as she carefully refolded and inserted the contents, reattached each pin and closed the safe. Holding a photo of him, she spoke, 'Daddy, your grand-daughter is in trouble, but, I suspect you already knew. She is as I was at her age. I won't allow her to make the same mistake. I promise.'

Reaching for her phone, she placed a long-overdue call. 'Heather, it's Mom. When I get home, you and I really need to talk. I love you.'

Walking towards the garage her husband Justin met her on the path. 'You were right, honey, his garage is immaculate. He has a helluva bike back there. Looks like that's all he ever cared about.'

Brittney grabbed Justin's shirt, pulling him close to her face, 'Don't you ever speak of my father like that again!'

Stunned Justin just stood there as she opened the back gate. Her heart skipped a beat at what she saw: over two hundred motorcycles and hundreds of bikers applauding her arrival.

'Who the hell are they?' he asked. 'That', she replied 'is my family.'

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Man from Nantucket

On a blustery winters day early in Dec of 1923on Nantucket island, a son was born to immigrant parents from Norway. This firstborn child would go and live to see the world change as never before in history. He would go on to leave an indelible mark upon it.
His family,country, and friends would be forever in debt and gratitude.
This is the story of  that Man from Nantucket.

As his last born son, I will attempt to give you some sense of the man.
I will from time to time in this narrative tell you of my recollections and lessons learned.
We didn't always see eye to eye on a lot of things. Thankfully in his last years we came to an accord of each other.

And so it begins.....

Of his very early life I know less than I would have liked.
Here are the few things I do know:
After leaving Nantucket my grandparents settled in the small fishing village of Noank, Connecticut.
This is just outside Mystic, the famous whaling port.
This was a time when four-masted schooners still sailed, outhouses were still common,and milk and ice still came delivered to your door.
In his youth he belonged to the sea scouts [a nautical boy scouts].
At thirteen he built by hand a 16 foot sailboat with a small cabin,
hand cut, sanded and assembled from keel to mast.
It made the local papers.  [Somewhere in my vast library I personally have a copy and photo..Impressive as hell.]
From the cabin he witnessed history we have only read about.
The last age of grand sailing ships interspersed with the modern age of shipping unfolded under his gaze.
Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart flew past his boat...Lindbergh even waved.
The Hindenburg passed over so low he could see the faces of the passengers on it's final fatal journey to New Jersey.
He also got a job driving and delivering the local milk truck at 12.
He also got into harmless mischief from time to time....
Moving outhouses a few feet back in the dark..
Relocating ships in the harbor..
Sneaking into the local old cranky sea captains house and making spooky noises,relocating furniture.
Deep in the middle of the depression his father [a fishing boat Captain] died of pneumonia.
At the age of 16 he was the sole breadwinner for his family of 5 siblings and his mother.

He worked three jobs and carried on.

The winds of war came in 1941.
He heard the call to arms and volunteered.

Selected for duty in the then relatively new Army air force.
He was chosen for Bomber command aboard the pride of the air force fleet.
The new B17 flying fortress.
[Having seen the Bombers of WW2 ....I gotta say it was the best looking plane ever built]
He tried as a pilot but due to his size the local commander asked if he would consider belly gunner.
This was no small request.
From  Piloting to sitting in the most vulnerable spot on the plane.....I doubt many men would have said yes.
But, it was stressed that not many had the fortitude and size to fly in that small turret....His service would be better served.
Going where the need was most, he agreed.
Off to gunnery school near Kingman, AZ.

Most of us know our parents as straight laced do-rights and my perceptions were no different.
Imagine my surprise..
In his eighties after my mothers passing I offered to track down the lady he had dated when he was stationed in AZ.
He replied...I think she would have passed by now as she would be over a hundred..
Yes, my straight laced conservative father dated a 40+ year old women when he was 19!!
Rock on DAD!  you little Cad.

Back to the story.

Off to Europe aboard the troop ship Queen Elizabeth 2.
Final destination Kimbolten England.
Staff Sergeant Lief H "Flash" Nelson.
[The story is told that when asked to due a task...He'd get it done so fast they called him "Flash"
Personally..I think it was the "Eisenhower incident" as my mom called it..;]
379 bomb group. 524th  Squadron.
His first was to Bremerton Germany attacking the heavy water plants..[German nuclear research]
Students of bomber history will recognize certain famous names..., Dresden.. Schweinfurt.
Some raids 80 percent were lost.
On one mission an inexperienced pilot drifted into my fathers slot in the formation.
His plane rose and veered into the others spot.
No sooner had the planes settled in their accidental positions..
A direct hit from anti aircraft flak exploded the plane now in their slot.
All hands lost.
Another raid had flak go off just below him
Blasted the ball turret up into the  belly of the plane.
Another, He saved his fellow airmen by shooting down a Focke-wulfe.
[To put this in perspective..try shooting an airborne fly with a bb gun....actually that might be easier]
Another he took a direct hit of flak that blew his pants off.
[Upon landing he had to walk pass Gen Eisenhower reviewing the troops in full dress.
Half frozen and pants less...The Eisenhower Incident]
His courage under fire and determination gained him notice of the local fighter pilots commander.
He was recommended for p51 fighter pilot duty.
[This is huge...the two branches rarely if ever interchanged...A bomber pilot isn't considered a good candidate for fighters and vice versa due to the extreme different flight characteristic's of each respective plane....and a gunner?   Forget it!]
Unfortunately the war was by then coming to the close and the head brass decided no new pilots were needed.
Ending the war with a DFC with 2 oak leafs [each oak leaf is another award of the same medal]
The Air-medal with 4 oaks and numerous ribbons and medals. Not a purple heart among them..Imagine!!
[I imagine he walked lopsided with all that brass hanging off his chest]

After the war a 21 year old Veteran of war met a feisty little tornado of all of 16...Even combat experience never prepared him for the fiery tempest that was June Delores Harris.  Daughter of a direct Mayflower descendant and former whaling ship fleet owners.

Knowing when the heart's battle was lost, He surrendered his name to her and she became June D Nelson.
For the rest of his life, His heart was hers even after her passing.

Meanwhile for reasons I was never told,when the Army and the Air force became two separate branches...He chose Army.
Peacetime didn't last long.
Off to Korea.

Now here in the narrative things get a little sparser,yet by no means less impressive.
This is truly all I know about that time.
It was unbearably cold and miserable.
Perhaps that's why he never discussed it.
Two things I Do know..He faced a machine gun embankment on foot, the bullets shot off his ear flaps on both sides,the spacing of the bullets was just wide enough to miss his face!
During a very intense battle he ran up the hill and rescued two wounded GI's carrying both at the same time, put one down momentarily, drew his service pistol and shot the North Korean trying to shoot him. He calmly picked up the GI and continued on to the M.A.S.H unit.

Dad +2   North Korea-1
Check and Mate!!
The other is my personal favorite for obvious reasons.
He was the first motorized conveyance to cross the 38th parallel under fire.
ON A Harley!!
WLA 45 liberator to be precise.

I swear the man needed a wheelbarrow just to carry his balls.

After Korea he raised 7 kids while working for the Army on Nike sites.  [Titan nuclear missiles]
Highest classification.
Two story's from that era
The first
Sears had introduced the first home garage door openers during this time.
Every morning near 7am and at 5 pm...The bases missile doors would open and alarms would go off.
The base would go on high alert..this was during the Cuban missile crisis.
The silo doors and the garage door openers were on the same frequency!!

They used to bring the missiles on to the secret bases disguised as milk tanker trucks.
The base commander held drills every morning stressing to GI and family alike
Never discuss our base or purpose here!!
Later at the local country store a little girl began screaming at the passage of a milk truck "The missiles are here the missiles are here!!"
It was the commanders 8 year old daughter.....;]

Dad retired from the military in 1968.
Started a successfull television repair business.
Became the local commodore of the Taunton Yacht club.
In his mid 70's he chased down a car thief, made him lay on the ground till the police could catch up all without laying a hand on him just by force of voice and will.
In the mid 1980's he needed surgery. They still sent an MP to stand by in case he spoke while under anesthesia. I have often wondered what top secret information he knew that was still relevant 20 years  later.
Still needed that wheelbarrow!!

Shortly after my mom's passing in 2003 he never went home again.
He stayed at the nursing home till it was his time.
Left us 1 day before valentines to be with her.
We survivors are completely at peace with it.
Damn he earned it!
He did all this...
And raised one Crazy Biker writer kid who thinks a hundred miles an hour in a pack of 50 is...Just cruising.
What can I say?  he started the daring shit first!!