War Bonds

The Bomber Pilot’s Secret

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Constance (Connie) and Wilson (Bill) Conaway on right

The first time I interviewed Bill and Connie Conaway, Bill didn’t talk much about serving overseas as a B-17 pilot during WWll, but his eyes lit up when he talked about the planes.

He recalled every aircraft he flew and who trained him on it.

But on a subsequent interview he told stories of harrowing missions over Germany, of how he nearly froze when a piece of shrapnel pierced his flight suit as he soared miles above the ground.

And then he told the story that has haunted him for 70 years.

His radio operator, Lynn, a good friend, was killed on a mission.

“The night before we left, we all had dinner together, and his wife and little baby came– that was the last time she saw him.”

He sighed, shaking his head.

“The airplane floor was covered with his blood,” he said, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. “I tried to get in touch with his wife for many, many years. I wanted to tell Lynn’s daughter about her dad.”

He was never able to find her when he returned to the States.

Bill Conaway died January 11.

His widow, Connie who served in the WAVES called to tell me the news. He died just days before their 71st anniversary.

She’s never forgotten how fortunate they’ve been. Many B-17 pilots never returned.  She said, “I’ve told him many times, ‘I’m lucky to have you, honey.'”

And I’m lucky that I was able to include their story in War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation. 

But mostly I’m grateful that this gruff pilot, turned school teacher, turned artist, trusted me with his secret.

During an interview he leaned forward in his chair, glanced at Connie and said, “I’ll tell you a secret; I love her more today than I ever have.”

CONAWAY LOVE

War Bonds

Good Cooking Fueled 70 Years of Wedded Bliss

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Logging in the Olympic Peninsula is hard, hungry work, and hearty meals provide essential tree-felling fuel. If those meals are cooked by a pretty girl, well, that added inspiration can give a young man something to dream about while he works.

At least that was James Hollandsworth’s experience. He’d taken a job felling trees in 1945 and quickly noticed the camp cook.

He recalled thinking, “There’s a gal that when she gets old enough, I might see if I could entice her to marry me, ’cuz I know she can cook.”

Melba Hollandsworth was just 16 at the time. Born in a log cabin, near Osburn, Idaho, she quit school in the sixth grade, plagued by health issues caused by the nearby smelter.

As the oldest of seven from a large extended family, in addition to cooking at the logging camp, Melba traveled from relative to relative, helping out when a new baby was born or when someone was ill.

James’ family knew hers, and he’d see her occasionally at church in Spokane Valley when she was visiting.

“I probably had eyes for him, too,” she admitted.

It would have been hard to miss him, since he and his brother played guitar and sang special numbers at the church.

“When I found out she’d turned 18, I decided to ask her out,” James said.

He called on her at her Aunt Cora’s home and took her for a drive. However, her aunt was concerned that he wasn’t moving quickly enough.

“Aunt Cora knew I thought a lot of Melba,” recalled James. “She told me, you’d better get serious if you want Melba because she’s going to leave the area.”

Indeed, she moved to Kalispell to help another family member, so James drove to Montana to see her.

“She wasn’t expecting me,” he said, smiling. “You don’t want ’em to know you’re coming.”

Melba liked him well enough to ask him to buy her a guitar.

She laughed.

“I got the guitar, but I had to learn to play it.”

On another visit, James said, “Let’s go look at rings.”

Melba agreed to marry him, but with one stipulation.

“I didn’t want kids right away,” she said. “I wanted time to get more acquainted – we didn’t really have a courtship.”

On Dec. 20, 1947, the two married at a relative’s home in north Spokane. There was a lot of snow that winter and family members from Kalispell had a hard time getting off Tea Kettle Mountain to go to the wedding.

“So, they got a logging truck and put a wooden shack on the back of it and made a makeshift camper,” James said, chuckling.

There was no time for a honeymoon as James was due back at work at MorrisonKnudsen Monday morning, but their first breakfast as husband and wife has never been forgotten.

James took his bride out for hamburgers at a diner in Spokane Valley.

“That was a new wrinkle for me,” Melba said, shaking her head. “I’m used to breakfast. I didn’t know what to order because I wasn’t used to restaurants.”

James grinned.

“She was upset, but we lived through it.”

Soon, they bought their first home on East 12th Avenue in the Perry District. The house cost $5,000, and James earned $1 per hour.

Their home came fully furnished.

“I bought it from a widower who was going to live with his son and said all he wanted to take with him was a suitcase,” James said. “He sold me all the furnishings for $500.”

Melba was thrilled.

“It had everything,” she said. “All we needed were groceries.”

They lived there until they bought their present Spokane Valley home in 1955.

Work kept James busy, and Melba was ready to start a family. She’d wanted to wait to have children but had no way of knowing they’d have to wait 11 long years.

“It was baffling to wait so long,” she said. “We saw doctors, had tests. So many people had babies, but I didn’t.”

Finally, in December 1958, their daughter, Cindy, arrived. The proud parents took her everywhere from bowling leagues to backpacking trips.

James loved nothing more than discovering new lakes and places to fish.

“I took a map and laid out all the lakes north of Sandpoint to the Canadian border,” he said. “I wanted to see the country. Each week we went to a different lake. Lots of times there were no roads or trails, so we just bushwhacked.”

And often his wife and daughter went along.

“I wasn’t a very good hiker, but I liked camping,” Melba said.

She enjoyed fishing and marveled at James’ skill.

“He had a feeling about fish – a special touch,” she said.

The irony was he wouldn’t eat fish – couldn’t even stand the smell of fish on his fingers.

He shrugged.

“I got poisoned by canned salmon when I was a kid.”

James worked for MorrisonKnudsen for 20 years and for N.A. Degerstrom for 25, before retiring in 1989.

The first thing they did was buy a motor home and hit the road, crossing the country from Mexico to Alaska. For many years, they traveled thousands of miles, stopping to hike, fish or visit friends and relatives.

Their adventures were curtailed when James, then 85, suffered a heart attack at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He’d been on the trip with a friend and felt some discomfort but still drove home.

“Melba called the doctor, and the next day I had five bypasses,” he said.

They recently celebrated their 70th anniversary, and Melba, 88, offered this bit of advice to couples: “Learn to go with the flow,” she said. “Learn about each others’ interests.”

For example, when she couldn’t do the hikes James wanted to do, she encouraged his love of photography.

“I enjoyed his pictures when he came back.”

James, 93, said, “She never puts up much of a fuss. She’s got a lot of patience.”

His advice to future husbands?

Grinning at Melba, he said, “Check and see if she cooks.”

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War Bonds

The Face that Graced the Book Cover

She never thought her face would be on a book cover.

That a snapshot taken on her honeymoon would become the face of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation. After all, the marriage and the honeymoon might never have happened if Mary Grayhek hadn’t said to heck with vanity, tied a scarf over her hair set in pin curls, and agreed to a blind date.

But at the insistence of her friend, in 1946, Mary agreed to a double date with a handsome Marine. The date with Roy Grayhek changed her life.  Six weeks later, they wed in the Naval Chapel in Bremerton, WA.

The photo snapped of Roy and Mary standing on a piece of driftwood in the Puget Sound, became the cover of book filled with stories of people who married during, or shortly after World War Two.

 

War Bonds

The Grayheks enjoyed 68 years of wedded bliss before Roy’s death in 2014.
Sadly, he passed away before the book’s release. But Mary was able to enjoy  seeing their faces on the cover. Even more importantly, she got to see the book in the hands of her great-granddaughter Grace, and her soldier husband, Ryan, shortly before he was deployed.

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Mary Grayhek died December 20, surrounded by her family.Grayhek wedding low res

I’m quite confident that Roy was the first one to greet her, and that he hasn’t taken his arm from around her shoulders. And that they picked up their story right where they left off– with happily ever after.

 

 

Columns, War Bonds

Their Stories are Now a Part of Mine

As I sat down at my desk to write this week’s column, an email notification popped up on my screen. I opened it to read of Audrey Bixby’s upcoming funeral.

I’d interviewed Audrey and her husband, Dick, several years ago for my Love Story series, and included their story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

The timing of the email stunned me. I’d already planned to write about the loss of so many of the people featured in “War Bonds.”

Seventy-two. That’s how many individuals made the final cut of the book.

Twenty-four. That’s how many people died before “War Bonds” made it into print.

Twenty. That’s how many goodbyes I’ve had to say since its 2015 publication.

A colleague shrugged when I bemoaned yet another loss.

“What did you expect when all your subjects are World War ll veterans over 80?” he’d asked.

He has a point.

It’s not that I expected them to live forever; it’s just that I’ve been unprepared for how much each loss affects me.

In the past few months, in addition to Audrey, I’ve said farewell to Jack Rogers, Dick Eastburg, Barbara Anderson and Myrt Powers.

It seems fitting to honor them today on the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Jack Rogers wasn’t at Pearl Harbor, but he enlisted in the Army in 1943, when he was just 19. He had a hard time believing we were at war against Japan.

“I grew up with a bunch of Japanese kids,” he said in “War Bonds.”

Before being shipped out to the Pacific, he traveled to California to see a Japanese friend from high school, only to find his friend and his family had been confined in an internment camp.

I met Jack many years ago when he taught art at Northwest Christian School. He taught all four of my kids, and each one remembers him well.

Eleven years ago, I wrote an article about his art career. Since then, I revisited him in print many times. A story about his 71-year marriage to Fran, a feature about how following a debilitating stroke, he still continued to give back – painting tailgates on Personal Energy Transporters through Inland Northwest PET Project.

And I wrote about one of his final art shows at Spokane Art Supply. That’s where I saw him last. He and Fran sat side by side, as friends, fans and former students perused his paintings, buying a piece of Jack to take home and remember him by.

My own piece of Rogers’ art watches over me as I write. It’s a whimsical print of a terrier that Fran sent as a thank you note, following the funeral.

Next to it is a photo of Louis Anderson and his flight crew taken in 1944, just before they shipped out to Europe.

The last time I saw Louis and Barbara at their retirement center apartment, she insisted I take home a memento – a water glass from Air Force One. She was so proud of her late grandson who served as President Obama’s pilot.

She also kept me grounded in real life. Every time I left their place she’d say, “Do you need to use the restroom? Are you sure?”

Audrey Bixby was strictly down-to-earth as well. When I interviewed her and Dick, he kept me in stitches with jokes and sly puns. While we laughed, Audrey feigned exasperation and then told her own funny stories.

When Dick enumerated her wonderful qualities, he said, “She’s an awfully nice person and she laughs at my jokes!”

Dick died five years ago. I like to think that now they’re laughing together again.

Dale Eastburg passed away last month. He and his wife, Eva, had been married 75 years. When last I spoke to them, they were still going to the gym every week!

They’d been married just a short time before he was sent to China as part of the famed Flying Tigers. The thought of saying goodbye to his bride proved unbearable to Dale, so he didn’t. He slipped out of their apartment while she slept.

I hope this time Dale was able to say goodbye.

And today, I think of darling Myrt Powers. I never thought I’d describe a Marine as darling, but that exactly describes this tiny dynamo.

Though already employed as a teacher, she enlisted in the Marines following the attack on Pearl Harbor, because so many of her students told her they were worried about their fathers who were going off to war.

“I wanted to take care of my students’ dads,” she explained in “War Bonds.”

She met Walt Powers, a sailor stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara. They were married 71 years at the time of her death.

I last saw Myrt two years ago, in Hawaii, of all places.

It was 8:15 in the morning at the Hale Koa Hotel, an Armed Forces Recreation Center resort on Waikiki. My husband and I were preparing to make our first pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor, and stopped for coffee before the tour bus picked us up.

Myrt was grabbing a cup while waiting for Walt to finish his regular swim at the hotel pool.

“Hello, honey,” she said, reaching up to embrace me.

It was the best hug I’ve ever received from a Marine, and sadly it was the last one from Myrt.

Today, while the world remembers the more than 2,000 lives lost at Pearl Harbor, I remember five souls who endured the trauma of a world war. The lives they led in its aftermath, the families they raised, the marriages they cherished, bear witness to the resiliency of the human spirit.

While I’m sad at their passing, I’m so very glad that their stories are now a part of mine.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

War Bonds

Slinging Books and Shopping Small

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Take a group of authors. Give them name badges. Turn them loose in a bookstore. That’s the recipe for Indies First held each year on Small Business Saturday.

The event brings together authors, readers, and publishers in support of independent bookstores. Authors and local celebrities volunteer at events across the country, and publishers offer special terms on books and exclusives.

I had a blast as usual at Auntie’s Bookstore. Chatting with readers, helping them find great gift ideas and catching up with these great authors is always fun.

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Sam Ligon, Kate Lebo, Cindy Hval, Jack Nisbet

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Stephanie Oakes, Cindy Hval, Sharma Shields

One Spokesman Review reader said she came in just to see Jack Nisbet and me, but she walked out with Shop Small shopping bag filled with books. That’s the danger and delight of hanging out in a bookstore!
Another reader stopped by to make sure I was alright. My Thanksgiving column about sometimes finding it hard to be grateful, prompted her concern.

At the end of my shift I rewarded myself with a copy of the delightful anthology Pie & Whiskey: Writers under the Influence of Butter & Booze. My husband and I are reading it aloud every night before bed. It’s a hoot. Honestly, Sam Ligon’s whiskey cocktail recipes are my favorite part. Some drink recipes call for things like a soul, a pistol, a Bible and a sword, but you can still make the drinks without them.

Indies First offers a great way to get customers into independent bookstores, but it’s even more important to support local businesses and Shop Small all year long.

After all, Santa does!

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War Bonds

Every Time We Say Goodbye

72.

That’s how many individuals made the final cut of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

24.

That’s how many people died before the book went to print.

19.

That’s how many goodbyes I’ve had to say since War Bonds 2015 publication.

In the past month, Barbara Anderson and Dale Eastburg passed away.

Barbara’s loss hit me especially hard. The Anderson’s story is featured in chapter 28 “Keeping Time.” They  met in 1945 when Louis came into her father’s jewelry store to get his watch repaired. When War Bonds was published, he still wore the watch and it still kept time.

The Love Lesson Barbara shared at the end of the chapter resonates.

“You can’t take back bad words. We’ve never said one thing we’ve had to take back.”

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This photo was taken 11/16/16, the last time I saw Barbara. She wanted more signed copies of the book to send to a family that was grieving the loss of a wife/mom/grandma.

She always thought of others. When I left she insisted I on giving me a water glass from Air Force One. Her late grandson had served as pilot for President Obama.

She also always asked if I needed to use the restroom before I left!

Her spirit and generosity are simply irreplaceable and I worry how Louie will do without his bride.

Dale and Eva Eastburg had been married for 75 years when he died earlier this month. When last I spoke with them, they were still going to the gym regularly!

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The title of their chapter seems especially poignant today. It’s titled “Hard to Say Goodbye.”

And it is. It really is.

Columns

Moving Mom

The For Sale sign swung wildly in the blustery October wind, and though I’d known it was coming, the sign startled me.

I pulled over in front of what used to be my house and let the memories wash over me.

Growing up in a military family, I moved a lot. Nine houses in 16 years, until we finally returned to Spokane to stay.

This house represented permanence to my parents, who’d grown weary of years of moving. It welcomed my best friends and high school sweethearts. My first day of college photo was taken on its front steps.

On my wedding day, I woke in my twin bed, in my blue bedroom with the switch plate that reads “Cindy’s Room.” The switch plate is still there, though it hasn’t been my room for 31 years.

A few years later, a photo taken in the entryway shows my dad proudly holding my firstborn son – his namesake, Ethan Thomas. It was Ethan’s first visit to what was now known as Grandma’s house.

Dad is wearing a sportcoat and tie, so he must be home for lunch. After he retired from the Air Force, he went to work for the Department of Social and Health Services, and his office was within walking distance – a huge selling point when they bought the house.

By the time our sons Alex and Zach were born, Dad had retired, and my husband and I had bought a home nearby. Dad delighted in dropping in to “check on the babies.” I always thought he meant my sons, but chances are he meant me, too.

When he died 22 years ago, my mom remained in their home – happy to know I was close. And when after several years of widowhood, our last son arrived, she was especially glad she’d stayed in the neighborhood.

Grandma’s house became a rite of passage. When boys anxious for independence wanted to venture from my nest, unsupervised – it was to her house they went. Sometime after the magic age of 10, I’d let them walk the six blocks to her house. This was long before every kid had a cellphone, so the kid had to first call Grandma to let her know he was on the way, then immediately call me when he arrived, and then call me again when he left.

Freedom had a laborious cost back in the day.

As Mom aged, the split-level design of the house proved daunting, and one spring she took a tumble down the stairs, breaking her ankle.

Still she wouldn’t move. Wouldn’t hear of it. This was her home – the place she and Dad ceased their wanderings, and besides, I lived just a few blocks away.

We worried that when the time finally came for her to move, she wouldn’t be able to help us choose her new home. And that’s just what happened.

This summer her mental and physical health failed at an alarming rate. Suddenly, my siblings and I had to make major decisions with no input from Mom.

Thankfully, my brother David and his wife, Becky, had retired to Spokane several years ago. They were able to find Mom a nice apartment in an assisted living facility, arrange for movers and an estate sale, and last week they sold the house.

Mom is 86, and doing better than she was this summer, but she’s still confused about what happened to her home, to her things.

Her new residence is just two blocks from her old one, so the landscape of her neighborhood is familiar. Her grandsons visit more frequently, now that she doesn’t have to come down any stairs to open the door. And when they visit they talk about the happiness and love they always found at Grandma’s house. The location may have changed, but the love hasn’t.

I pull away from the house, and I don’t think I’ll drive by again for a while.

It’s someone else’s turn to make memories on Standard Street. My own are locked safely in my heart, and there isn’t a house anywhere big enough to contain them.


Columns, War Bonds

Who Needs Prince Charming?

I didn’t really think he’d show up on a white horse. I’ve never been a great rider and city streets aren’t welcoming to skittish steeds.

Instead, my Prince Charming borrowed his father’s Ford Tempo for our first date. “I’m in the middle of restoring a ’67 Mustang,” he explained.

Thirty-one years later, he’s still in the middle of restoring that same ’67 Mustang. I no longer sing “Someday My Prince Will Come;” instead I mutter, “Someday my prince will be done – with something. Anything!”

After three decades of marriage I’ve had ample time to rethink my original dreams of Prince Charming.

My prince has never waltzed me around glittering ballrooms, and I’m not in the habit of losing any shoes. But sometimes he sneaks into the kitchen while I’m cooking, takes my hand, and spins me into a slow dance across the dining room floor.

“There they go again,” one of our sons will say, groaning with embarrassment.

As if dining room dancing wasn’t enough, several years ago, Derek decided to add guitar-playing to his romantic resume.

“I’m going to learn to play ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ for your birthday,” he announced.

My birthday came and went. As did Valentine’s Day, our anniversary and Christmas.

Finally, I schlepped the two guitars and the amp he’d purchased downstairs, and shoved them in a closet. His musical ardor may have dimmed, but his passion for me has yet to wane.

I know this, because several times a month he’ll text me: Date night?

He makes reservations at one of our favorite restaurants. And we don’t stare at our phones over dinner – we talk about anything and everything. We’ve yet to run out of words.

It turns out my prince didn’t have a castle to offer me, but that’s OK . I’ve heard the upkeep on palaces is brutal. And I’ve never been a damsel in distress in need of rescue.

In fact, the demur, soft-spoken girl in white satin he married, grew up into a confident woman with opinions that often differ from his, and a newspaper column in which to express them.

Instead of being threatened, Derek applauded and encouraged my evolution. Willingly, he picked up the slack at home when my work took me out of town – or more often inside my head.

Writers are rarely easy to live with, especially when a new project swallows every waking thought and even haunts our dreams. But he is uncomplaining, knowing that my glazed eyes will eventually light on him, recognition will dawn, and I will invariably smile.

He hasn’t ruled a kingdom. His birthright is more plastic spork than silver spoon, but for over 20 years he’s run a successful small business. His reputation for integrity remains sterling, even in tough economic times.

When our children grew, and rebellion brewed with teens eager to topple the home regime, he handled those painful transitions with grace, dignity and infinite patience. Watching him parent our sons made me fall in love with him all over again.

Time has changed us. My prince has lost some hair, gained some weight, lost that weight and gained some wrinkles. And I’ve done the same, except my hair has grayed instead of thinned.

His unfinished projects still drive me crazy. The Mustang rusts in our driveway; the guitars gather dust in the closet, and the long-promised home office remains elusive. I never know what he’ll start next, but I’m confident it probably won’t be completed.

And just when my frustration reaches its zenith, I catch his eye across a crowded room (all of our rooms are crowded, now) and my heart skips a beat.

He holds out his hand to me. I take it and he pulls me into an embrace that still takes my breath away.

We sway together, and he hums in my ear. “Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.”

I don’t need Prince Charming. Or a ballroom. I don’t really even need the tiara he bought me.

I just need this man.

And I’m profoundly grateful that our marriage is still an unfinished project.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

War Bonds

Shop Small With Me!

Mark  your calendars for Indies First, November 25 at Auntie’s Bookstore.

Check out the array of amazing authors who will serve as volunteer booksellers!  I’ll be on duty from 1 Pm- 3 PM and would love to help you find literary treasures to fill your Christmas wish lists.

Support a fabulous Indie bookstore, buy great books and chat with the people who write them.
What could be more fun?

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War Bonds

Death Diminishes War Bonds Roster

Sometimes I run out of words. A dire problem for a writer, but gut-wrenching loss will do that to you.

Within the span of a few weeks, two precious people featured  in War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation have passed away.

First my beloved Marine, Myrt Powers, died. The story of her marriage to sailor, Walt Powers, is featured in chapter 30– and is unusual because both she and her husband served in World War ll. This couple were also featured on the television show Northwest Profiles and shared their story at a local veterans support group, following the book’s publication.

I last saw Myrt in March 2016 when my husband and I ran into her waiting in line for coffee in Hawaii! She and her husband wintered on Oahu for many years.

Feisty, upbeat and absolutely adorable, Myrt is everything I want to be when I grow up. My heart aches for Walt and for all of us who knew and loved her. Though she was tiny, her absence leaves a huge hole.

14090_890795544292407_8952799764996575077_n[1]Cindy Hval with Myrt and Walt Powers, 2015.

And then last week, Jack Rogers died. A lifelong, prolific artist, Rogers taught all four of my sons during his tenure as art teacher at Northwest Christian School.

The story of his courtship and enduring marriage to his wife, Fran, is featured in chapter 20 of War Bonds.

He was still painting up until the last week of his life as he decorated wooden tailgates for Personal Energy Transporters for the PET Project.

In November, I was privileged to cover one of his last art shows.

“I was given a gift and I want to share it,” he said.

And here’s where words fail.

How can I possibly convey the depth of my admiration and love for these people? How do I sum up the gratitude I feel for having been a small part of their lives and for being entrusted to share their stories with the world?

I can’t.

But I can say I will miss them and treasure the memories of the hours spent with Myrt Powers and Jack Rogers.

I hope that I’ve given readers of War Bonds a snapshot of how they made the post World War ll world, a place of hope.

Rest in peace, beloveds, for you have surely earned it.

 

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Jack and Fran Rogers, with Cindy Hval, 2016.