Please join author Mark Cronk Farrell and me, Wednesday, April 13, for a discussion of her latest book, “Close-Up on War.” It’s the amazing story of Catherine Leroy, who documented the war in Vietnam through compelling photos.
Military spouses are experts at saying goodbye. Separation is a fact of life, and no one knew this better than the men and women featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”
During World War II, these couples’ farewells were fraught with fear. There would be no emails. No texts. No FaceTime with the family. Letters and scant phone calls or occasional telegrams had to suffice.
But, oh, the reunions! Most of the 36 couples profiled in “War Bonds,” vividly remembered and described the moment they saw their spouses when they finally came home.
In the past six weeks, three of those brides experienced their final reunions with their husbands. This time they won’t have to say goodbye again.
Melba Jeanne Barton died Nov. 30. She and Don were married 67 years before he died in 2013. That eight-year separation marks the longest time they’d spent apart.
She’d met Don at a Grange dance two months after he’d returned from flying B-29s in the Pacific theater. He’d endured a horrific loss when the plane he piloted was hit in battle, and his young navigator was killed. Decades after the experience his eyes still filled with tears when he spoke of it.
“He was a nice kid – a real nice kid,” he’d said.
You might think Melba Jeanne would be immediately smitten by the dashing pilot. After all, he shared her Christian faith, and he was a great dancer. But Don was a farmer, and Melba Jeanne swore she’d never marry a farmer.
“Feeding chickens and milking cows – none of that stuff appealed to me,” she said.
But Don’s patient persistence and promises that she’d never have to do farm chores won her hand and her heart.
They raised three daughters on their family farm. And Melba Jeanne discovered the best benefit to being a farmer’s wife.
“On the farm, your husband is never far away. We’ve always done everything together,” she’d said.
Bonnie Shaw died on Dec. 5. She met her husband, Harvey at Central Valley High School when he was home on leave and visiting his siblings.
Despite his uniform, Harvey was just a boy himself. “I got stupid and quit school right in the middle of my sophomore year,” he recalled. “I just didn’t think. A few months later, I was in the Navy.”
He said goodbye to his family and set sail on the USS Kwajalein, but Bonnie didn’t forget about him. He returned home in 1946, and when Bonnie and her boyfriend broke up, Harvey wasted no time.
“When we finally got together, we just really fell in love,” she recalled.
And just like sailing the Pacific, their courtship wasn’t without bumps. Bonnie was a devout Catholic and Harvey was not. Unbeknownst to her, he began taking instruction at St. John Vianney, and they wed there in August 1950.
They spent 64 years together. Harvey died in 2014, not long before “War Bonds” was published.
When I’d called Bonnie shortly before his death she said. “He’s not doing very well, but he asks me to read him your column, and every time I do, he smiles.”
We both cried a bit then.
Bonnie gave Harvey nightly back rubs and the last words they whispered before falling asleep were “I love you.”
“Harvey is my heart,” she said.
Lastly, Betty Ratzman died Dec. 26.
To know Betty was to love her. A prolific writer and avid letter-writer, Betty’s fierce intelligence and sharp wit delighted all who knew her. I treasure the letters I received from her.
In fact, she won her husband’s heart through the mail.
They’d met on a blind date in 1943, and when Dean Ratzman shipped out with the Navy, she told him not to get his hopes up.
He ignored her warning and treasured both her photo and the letters she wrote to him while he was at sea.
“You can find so much more about someone in letters,” he’d said.
They married in 1946 and spent 73 years together until Dean died in 2019.
Fit and active, the couple attended many “War Bonds” events, gladly meeting folks who marveled at their lasting love.
The last time I spoke with Betty shortly after Dean’s death, she wanted to know all about my sons and my cats. Then her quavery voice broke a bit.
“Oh, I miss Dean. I miss him so much,” she said.
I miss Betty, and Bonnie and Melba Jeanne.
The “War Bonds” brides are at the heart of what made our country great. They endured separations and rationing. They tackled nontraditional jobs and learned new skills, to keep our country going during the war. They gave their husbands something to fight for and a reason to come home.
While I celebrate each couple’s heavenly reunion, I can’t help but think our world is diminished by their absence. I know my little corner of it is.
Things you forget when it’s been 20 years since you’ve had a toddler in the house: they like to climb into things.
Two weeks ago, we traveled to Ohio to visit our 23-month-old twin grandsons Adam and Nick. (Well, we visited their parents and big sister, too.)
As usual, we rented a small Airbnb home, so we could care for the twins each day and give their parents a break.
One afternoon, Adam was busily playing with a wooden dinosaur puzzle, but Nick was nowhere to be seen. I heard a sound in the kitchen and quietly sneaked into the room to see what he was up to–but I didn’t see him. Then I noticed the dryer door was ajar, and as I watched it slowly swung open.
“Nick!” I called.
Sure enough, he poked his head of the dryer and grinned. Thankfully, he was unable to secure the door.
I texted our son a photo and said, “We’re bringing him home freshly dried.”
With their second birthday looming next month, the World’s Most Beautiful Boys are busier and faster than ever. They’re nonstop perpetual motion machines, just like their father was at this age.
On the first full day of our visit, the temps in Newark, Ohio, soared to 85 degrees. Our rental featured a lovely fenced backyard, so Derek bought the boys a T-ball set, and we spent lots of time playing outside.
This brings me to something else I’d forgotten about toddlers: they put everything in their mouths–including handfuls of dirt. We found they’d drop the dirt when offered a more healthful option, like frozen fruit bars.
We enjoyed several firsts with the twins, including eating outdoors at the neighborhood Dairy Queen, and a visit to a park with baby swings and big kid slides. The boys enjoyed the swings and the smaller slides, but it didn’t take long until Adam was scampering up the ladder to the tallest slide.
Derek and I no longer scamper, so with their sister Farrah’s help, we rounded them up and headed for home before my hair turned any grayer.
They enjoyed their first visit to a pet store, pressing their noses against the fish tanks, and chattering back at the birds. Sadly, it was nap time for the kittens. It’s probably just as well that they were asleep, because I’m not allowed to have any more cats, and I don’t think unauthorized pet purchases would endear me to the twins’ parents.
Jumbo-size crayons and sketch pads proved a safer purchase, but one that still required vigilant supervision. (See toddlers put everything in their mouths note above.)
Despite their amazing energy and boundless curiosity, both boys still enjoy cuddling and being read to, which makes this Nana’s heart soar. It makes Papa Derek happy too because if one of the boys nods off while cuddling, Papa can nap right along.
We packed in all the adventure and affection we could because we won’t be able to visit again until spring. By then Adam and Nick will be well into the Terrific Twos (there is nothing terrible about my grandsons) and we can’t wait to see what excitement and escapades their second year will hold.
Because that’s one thing I haven’t forgotten about toddlers – they soak up love and return it effusively – provided you can catch them.
I am absolutely not going to tell you how many years ago I took English 101.
For one thing, I’m not good at math – something my college transcript verifies. For another thing, it was a really long time ago. How long ago? Well, let’s just say all of my essays were handwritten. In cursive. In pen. No, not with quill and ink.
Memories of that class were triggered when our youngest son headed out the door to Eastern Washington University last week. He’s not taking 101 – he’s teaching it.
Sam is in the final year of his graduate degree and is a composition instructor in the English Graduate Student Assistantship Program. His 22nd birthday was Friday, but he’s already teaching a class of 24 students.
He’s relishing his new role, and I’m sure his students will benefit from his enthusiasm. For many of them, English 101 will be just another required class to get out of the way, but perhaps for some the class will trigger a desire to learn more about writing.
That’s exactly what happened to me at Spokane Falls Community College.
At 18, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. The career aptitude tests I took my senior year of high school pointed me toward fashion merchandising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way to say retail sales clerk, but I could be wrong.
Dad said college would be a better place to discover my aptitudes and paid for my first quarter at SFCC. I’d been the editor of our school newspaper and co-editor of the yearbook, so English classes didn’t scare me. I was far more terrified of classes involving math – a justified fear as evidenced in the above-mentioned transcripts.
I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember the name of my English 101 instructor. I do remember he was also the tennis coach and often wore his tennis whites to class. Maybe fashion merchandising should have been my thing, after all.
Yet, he’s the one who lit the spark of interest – who first made me wonder if perhaps writing was something I could actually be good at. To be sure, 101 is the most basic of college classes. Students typically learn the different stages of writing: gathering material, drafting ideas, revising drafts, editing and proofreading.
Sitting on my desk is one of the first essays I wrote for that class. The title? “From Duckling to Swan,” in which I related my middle school to high school transformation.
Honestly, reading it now is cringe-inducing, but I’ve saved it all these years because of the comment the instructor wrote in pencil on the title page.
“An essay like this can keep you afloat in the pond of 101.”
When that paper landed on my desk, after he first read it to the class, it was an a-ha moment for me. I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to do. I want to write and I want people to read what I’ve written.”
And here we are.
Now, it’s Sam’s turn to make a difference.
Who knows? Maybe someday a writer will sit down to pen a newspaper column or write a book, and remember an English 101 class at EWU, and the instructor who encouraged her to believe that she had a way with words. And perhaps that teacher’s name will be Sam Hval.
In my previous column, I wondered if a love of literacy was hardwired in our family DNA. All four of my sons are book lovers like me. I invited readers to share their bookish memories, and it seems that many of you also caught the reading bug young and have no desire to be cured.
Christy Himmelright of the Tri-Cities wrote “I have all the Little Golden Books that my parents bought and read to me. My very favorite was ‘All Aboard!’ about a train trip from home to see Grandma. The protagonist was a girl, and that was almost impossible to find in any adventure story. Also, it appeared that she was an only child (as I am), so identifying with her happened on a very personal level.”
Like me, Himmelright eagerly anticipated trips to the library.
“The best time was summer vacation when I could go to our little town library and check out the maximum number of books that I could read in two weeks. It seems that I was trudging back there often before the two weeks were up and loading up again with the next selection. I also participated in the summer reading contests, and clearly remember the ‘trail’ that wound through the Reading Forest. It started at the checkout desk and meandered along the top of the walls that showed above the box shelves. To go each time I went into the library and find my marker as it moved along the trail was a thrill that I still feel in my long-ago child’s heart.”
Her lifelong love of the written word endures.
“To this day, I have at least two or three books at my living room chair-side, and one on my nightstand for bedtime relaxation,” she wrote. “I cannot imagine life without books, especially the real ones of paper and binding and covers.”
Patricia Garvin of Spokane recalled the magical moment when words came alive for her.
“In 1948, I was in the first grade. We students had a workbook in which there was a story; we were to remove the pages, which folded on dotted lines, into a small booklet. I vividly recall sitting next to my mother and reading the story to her. I still see the line drawings and remember reading to her, ‘…and down the hill came Wee Woman.’ She was as delighted as I!”
Beverly Gibb of Spokane still has a copy of the first book she remembers her mother reading to her.
“My first reading experience was Mom reading me ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ We both loved Piglet the best,” she wrote. “My favorite books were ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ I’m guessing your boys didn’t read those!”
She guessed correctly. My sons didn’t embrace Anne, but on Christmas morning a couple of years ago, my oldest gave me the complete “Anne of Green Gables” collection. He knows how to delight his mama.
Sometimes literature love leads to book-custody issues. That’s what happened to Bernadette Powers of Helena.
She recalled parents joining the Weekly Readers Book Club, which delivered books directly to their door.
“I was in hog heaven getting books in the mail. I still have most of them including my all-time favorite, ‘Half Magic’ by Edward Eager,” she wrote. “The story is delightful and the illustrations are amazing. It also became a favorite of my son, Gannon. He appropriated it when he went off to college. When I went to visit him I appropriated it back. We’ve been stealing it back and forth ever since. He moved from Seattle to California a few years ago. There’s a small part of me that suspects he made the move so it would be harder for me to steal my book.”
Joan Becker, who grew up in Spokane, wrote of her eagerness to start first grade, so she could learn to read. Her best friend was a year older and would read comics to her as long as they were getting along, but if they disagreed? No more comics for Joan.
When she could decipher words by herself, the material the school provided proved disappointing.
“Dick and Jane stories comprised the love and hate relationship of others selecting my reading agenda,” she wrote. “After Dick and Jane made their debut, their interactions were way too repetitive to be captivating. I couldn’t wait to purchase my own comic books and go to the library.”
All who responded still retain their passion for the written word.
“As my 90th birthday approaches, I remember as a 9- or 10- year- old growing up in Capitol Hill in Seattle, going on the bus by myself downtown to the library. In those days there were no branch libraries, and it also seemed OK for a little girl to go alone on the bus,” wrote Muriel Rubens. “My parents read to me as I was growing up, as did my two older brothers and sister. I learned to read at an early age, and I loved it and haven’t stopped since,”
As I write, my suitcase sits open beside me. I’m packing for a trip to Ohio to see my twin grandsons, aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.”
My husband glanced at the mound of stuff I intend to pack. Board books for the boys and a paperback for their big sister lay scattered among clothes. My own stack of reading material teetered nearby.
“You’re never going to fit all that in your suitcase,” he said.
He may be right.
However, one thing is certain, even if I have to wear the same outfit every day for a week; the books are coming with me.
“Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss opens across Alex’s lap. He beams because he’s the designated reader. Ethan clutches 6-week-old Sam. Ethan smiles because he’s the chosen baby-holder. With neither baby nor book to hold, Zach sits glumly chin in hand, pondering his new role as middle child.
As far as I can tell, it’s the earliest picture with all four of our sons together – and of course, someone is holding a book.
Lest you worry about Zach, another snapshot shows he’s finally achieved story-reader status. A toddler Sam leans against him as Zach reads, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Bookish moms tend to have bookish kids, which led to unforeseen consequences. More on that later.
Perhaps a love of reading is genetic, imprinted in our DNA. All I know is my parents were readers and my siblings are readers. As soon as we could print our names we all got library cards.
I still remember the thrilling moment when I realized I could read. I huddled in the children’s area of the South Hill Library with a picture book in my lap. Suddenly, the letters became words. I was reading! I was reading “Fun with Dick and Jane!” I haven’t been without a book nearby since.
Few things are as magical as picking up a good book and finding yourself transported to another world, another time, another life.
From the moment I knew I was expecting, I read to my unborn children. I wasn’t hoping for a baby Einstein, I just wanted them to learn the rhythm and flow of language.
Cloth books and board books filled our nursery – as indispensable as the stacks of diapers and wipes on the changing table.
Bedtime rituals always included stories, songs and prayers – each offering a different experience of the wonder of words.
As the boys grew, storytime at the Shadle and later Indian Trail libraries became a weekly outing we all eagerly anticipated. Soon my sons could sound out words, choose books by themselves, and discover favorite authors and series independently.
Even as the three oldest approached adolescence and outgrew the bedtime ritual, I’d frequently read aloud to them after dinner. When Sam discovered Patricia Polacco books and brought home “Pink and Say” from the school library, I read it to the family. The book is based on a true story of two teenage boys, one Black and one white, who fought during the Civil War. Every single one of us cried at the ending – even the teenagers.
That’s the power of reading aloud – it offers a shared experience that television and movies cannot replicate.
Often the boys would read to me, especially Ethan and Sam. In fact, Sam 21, and I recently read “A Monster Calls” aloud together as he prepared a lesson plan on the book for a college class. He loves literature so much; he’s halfway through earning a master’s degree in English at EWU.
All of our adult sons are readers, which resulted in the aforementioned consequences – they tell me about books they’ve enjoyed and loan them to me. Now, a stack of their recommendations teeters next to my pile of library books.
When I mentioned I wanted to read “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell, Ethan said, “I have it. You can borrow it.”
Zach read a book about modern media he thought I’d enjoy and brought it over. Derek started reading it before I got to it.
Sam buys books like the printed page might grow obsolete. My son-stack grew when he added another book by Patrick Ness, the author of “A Monster Calls,” and a book of short stories by Ted Chiang.
With twin toddler sons, Alex doesn’t have much time to read, but he loved Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” so I’m currently 100 pages into the 849-page volume.
I couldn’t have imagined all those Dr. Seuss books ago, that my grown-up sons would aid and abet my reading addiction, but at this rate my to-read stack won’t shrink any time soon. And that’s a consequence I’m happily enjoying.
My white, satin gown billowed around me. Its high collar and scoop neckline trimmed in lace, with a dozen satin-covered buttons down the back, and more along the sleeves. Yards of tulle swirled from the Juliet cap that anchored my veil.
It was perfect for a late March wedding, and even better I found the Jessica McClintock gown at Frederick & Nelson where I worked, so I got to use my employee discount.
If there’s one day in every woman’s life where she feels absolutely beautiful – it’s her wedding day. Alas, like Cinderella, midnight comes for all of us, and our beautiful gowns become memories.
Some women carefully pack away their dresses to save for future generations, some donate them to programs like Angel Gowns, and the more practical among us, sell them.
After I had my third son, I simply couldn’t imagine why that gown was still in my closet. We were always strapped for cash, so I took it to a consignment store and brought home $75 when it sold. The veil I kept. I reasoned that perhaps veils weren’t as trendy as dresses, and maybe I’d have a daughter-in-law who’d want to wear it.
In my previous column, I invited readers to share their wedding gown stories, and share they did.
“I still have my wedding dress from 1990,” said Lyn Mills. “I’m saving it in hopes that my daughter or one of my relatives will want to wear it as is or remake it for their wedding some day.”
Donna Scripture’s two daughters, Joan and Mary, wore the gown she purchased at the Bon Marche in 1956.
“Mary is short, but she wanted to wear it, so my neighbor, Pat, took the whole gown apart, made the alterations and put it back together,” Scripture said.
Beth Viren wrote, “I hand-sewed my wedding dress back in 1974. I was a senior at Whitworth College and was living in a dorm. The pattern was a very complicated Vogue pattern with full skirt and a train, made of crepe backed ivory satin, and had 36 tucks in the front and back of the bodice with fabric covered buttons, sheer fluffy sleeves with satin cuffs.”
When she made a mistake, her grandmother came to the rescue from Seattle and helped her finish the gown.
Viren and her husband recently downsized, and she came across her gown. She called Marcella Davis, owner of Marcella’s Bridal.
“She said that she actually takes old wedding dresses and hangs on to them,” Viren wrote. “She says that whenever she has a customer who comes in looking for their own special dress, and she knows ‘they may need a little extra attention,’ she goes to her stash of dresses. I loved that idea, and she assured me she would find the perfect person to be able to wear my dress again.”
Tamara Dees has a special plan for her gown.
“My wedding gown will be used to line my mother’s coffin. My mother is pleased, and I am honored,” she wrote.
Sandra Zikiye-Jones wore a lace dress that had been made in England.
“It had an attached train of ruffles, and the sleeves were long and pointed over my hands.”
When Eileen Mabee married in 1972, she wore the gown her mother wore in 1937.
“The dress was made by a friend, Julia Tobias, who was just beginning to design clothes in Omaha, Nebraska,” Mabee wrote. “Julia went on to become a sought-after couture designer in Denver and had her own boutique. Her dresses are in Denver fashion museums. I still have the dress, and I’m sure it will stay in the family.”
Barbara Stimers also had an original design.
In 1970, she went bridal shopping with her parents in Toronto.
“All the dresses were so fancy, and my dad thought they were too expensive,” she recalled.
Seeing she couldn’t find what she wanted, the two ladies who owned the shop stepped in. They ask her what she liked and quickly sketched up a design.
The result? An empire waist gown of white and off-white linen with knotted fabric buttons on the back and the sleeve cuffs.
“I borrowed my sister’s long veil and wore daisies in my hair,” Stimers said. “I still have my dress.”
Isabelle Green’s original wedding gown was lost before she could wear it.
“The Spokesman-Review reported a fire at Arthur’s Bridal Store in downtown Spokane in early 1956. I read the headline at my dorm in Pullman on the WSU campus,” she wrote.
Her wedding dress was in the shop and was lost in the fire.
“They allowed me to choose any gown I wanted to replace it, and since my wedding was not until July of 1956, I had plenty of time to recover. To my knowledge not one customer was without a gown on their special day. The store flew in gowns from all over and made sure every wedding went on without delay,” Green said.
Whether we’ve kept them, sold them, or donated them, memories of our wedding gowns don’t dull or fade like the fabric they were made of.
Instead, they remind us of that magical day when we felt like royalty, and happily ever after seemed guaranteed.
Peggy Mangiaracina and RoxAnn Walker are still accepting dresses for the Angel Gown program. They take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.
If you’d like to donate your gown please email email@example.com
I like reliable routines, familiar faces, and grocery stores that don’t rearrange their aisles every few months.
I’ve kept the same husband for 36 years, still live in the house we bought in 1993, and use a paper planner and a wall calendar with cute kitten photos to track my days.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Then my email broke, and I couldn’t fix it.
It was a catastrophic computer event that I couldn’t blame on my kids, since I’m the only user of the device.
I’ve used the same email program since before my youngest son was born. My current email address is only my second. (My first was an AOL account. Yes, that’s how old I am.)
If I just used email as an old-fashioned way to stay in touch with folks, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I use it to track every single story and project on my to-do list.
My newspaper articles are assigned and filed via email, and I schedule interviews and bill clients through it. Without it, I might as well be banging away on a Smith Corona, stuffing envelopes and looking for stamps.
Tech support (my husband) resuscitated the program a couple of times. I’d start the day bright with hope, only to have it fail repeatedly. When you have more than a dozen people waiting for you to schedule their pandemic project story, you really don’t want to lose their names, addresses and the descriptions of their projects.
“The problem is you have way more email than Juno is designed for, and the company hasn’t updated their program in forever,” Derek said. “It’s just no longer sustainable.”
“You mean I can’t use dchval@juno anymore? What will happen to the hundreds of emails in my folders?”
Derek told me not to panic until he did some research. Meanwhile, I panicked anyway and frantically backed up several years of mail. OK, more than several. My earliest saved message is from 2009. But. I really need that note.
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” Derek announced the following day. “There’s a program I can buy that will allow me to save your Juno email, and you can still use that address.”
“That’s wonderful!” I said throwing my arms around him. “What’s the bad news?”
“You’re going to have to learn how to use Outlook,” he said.
Outlook is a personal information manager software system from Microsoft. Friends and professional contacts have urged me to use it for years, but I’ve never seen the need. My trusty paper planner and antiquated email provider served me well, until now.
Knowing my propensity to ask, “Is it fixed, yet?” repeatedly whenever he works on my computer, Derek wisely chose a time when I’d be away from my home office for the day.
When I returned, he was working in the backyard.
“Oh, no!” I said. “Is my problem unfixable?”
“Nope. I finished hours ago. Your email is up and running, and I don’t think you lost a thing.”
You see why I keep him? He’s an absolute hero. His heroics, however, only go so far.
“Sam can show you how to use Outlook,” he said.
Our future-college-professor son patiently showed me how to configure my address book, how to send and receive mail, and where to find my folders. That’s when we discovered one of the largest folders had duplicated contents, and another folder was a jumble of old and new contacts and projects, but most important, everything was there.
Obviously, I’ve been saving way too many emails, so now a couple of times a day I poke through a folder and delete items. Sometimes it turns into quite a stroll down memory lane, as I read encouraging notes from former editors and warm letters from readers. But I am resolute in my purging, even though Derek said I no longer have to worry about my email crashing.
I even learned a new trick. I can now categorize my emails and tasks with pretty, little colored flags. Though I’m still figuring out this new-to-me program, I already wonder why I ever balked at using it.
In fact, you could say my Outlook is getting brighter every day.
Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available locally at Auntie’s Bookstore, Barnes & Noble locations and on Amazon.
On a chilly November afternoon, I said goodbye to another veteran featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”
James Loer died on Oct. 17. His wife, Helen, preceded him in death four years earlier.
Just as I’d done at her service, I read their chapter “From Sailor to Preacher” at his funeral.
Theirs was a simple story of plain people who worked hard and served every community they lived in with quiet devotion. As James said in our first interview, “I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be romantic!”
Indeed, romantic might be too flowery a word to describe their lifelong bond. They married in 1948 in a small ceremony at the home of their pastor while James was attending Bible school.
He’d felt called to the ministry after surviving several harrowing skirmishes when he served in the Navy during World War II. The 13 battle stars on the cap he always wore told more of story than James liked to discuss.
During his funeral, the pastor, used a flag, a hammer, a Bible, and a seed to tell James’ story. The flag for the country he loved, the hammer for the work he did as a carpenter, the Bible for the God he served and the seed that represented his farmer’s heart, as well as all that he’d sown into lives during his many years as a pastor.
At 96, James Billy Loer had lived a full, rich life, and longed to be reunited with his bride.
And then, on the first day of the New Year, another “War Bonds” reunion took place.
Zelma Garinger joined her beloved husband of 65 years, David, who passed away in 2014, before “War Bonds” was published.
Unlike James Loer, David Garinger was an avowed romantic.
In fact, this is how he described the first time he kissed Zelma on Valentine’s Day 1947.
“I had my arm around Zelma, sitting close. I smelled her sweetness. Her dark shining hair and sparkling blue eyes worked their magic on me. Our lips met for the very first time … it seemed so right. Truly she was my Valentine.”
David had served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and after returning home and marrying Zelma, he became a pastor, and later a master carpenter and contractor. He loved art, music, poetry and most of all, Zelma. Each morning, he’d deliver a cup of coffee to her bedside.
The years without him had been long. Zelma had chronic respiratory issues and suffered with chronic back pain, but she still made it to a reading of “War Bonds” at the South Hill Library in 2015.
After Zelma’s death, her daughter, Janice, wrote me a beautiful letter, sharing memories of her mom.
Zelma had returned to college and earned a teaching degree when Becky, her youngest daughter was little.
Janice wrote, “During hard times teaching children of migrant workers in California’s Central Valley, she shared with us that all her efforts were worth it if she could make a difference in the life of even one child. She was always more than just their teacher. She prayed for them and quietly reached out when there was need. Many books and supplies were personally purchased to enrich her students.
We vividly remember a tiny first-grader who was rescued many nights from her alcoholic mother, then put to bed in our parents’ home, so she could attend school the next day.”
Reading Janice’s memories of Zelma and hearing the pastor speak of James Loer’s life of service at his funeral, brought home just how much we lose as a society when another member of the Greatest Generation leaves us.
The lives they led filled with hard work, hope, courage and sacrifice are simply irreplaceable. We would do well to honor their memories by following the examples they set.
I think the inscription on James’ headstone beautifully sums up both he and Zelma’s lives.