Columns

Missing Milo

He joined our family on a beautiful spring evening. Nine years later, he left us on a cold November morning.

None of us have gotten used to the silence his absence left behind.

Milo James, a svelte tuxedo cat, was our family’s first pet – unless you count sea monkeys and goldfish.

We’d intended to adopt an older female cat. Preferably a white, fluffy, princess-y type feline, because I’d grown tired of being the only girl in our house.

But a hyperactive ball of dusty gray fluff caught my eye at the pet adoption event. He was literally bouncing off the walls.

“My goodness!” I said. “This little guy needs Ritalin.”

He jumped. He hopped. He spun in circles. In short, he was just like the rest of the boys in my house.

“No,” Derek said. “Not that one.”

I dutifully looked at the other cats, but I couldn’t help wondering if all Milo’s frantic activity was just a desperate plea for attention.

“I want to hold him,” I said.

“Not a good idea,” Derek replied.

But a store employee unlocked Milo’s cage. I picked him up, fully expecting him to squirm, or scratch, or climb up my hair, but instead he laid his head on my shoulder and sighed.

“Let’s go pick out a bed for our new cat,” Derek told the boys.

That playful kitten grew into a sleek, bossy cat who quickly took charge of the household. He was a creature of order and habit. He expected breakfast to be on time, at the same time every morning, and the ruckus he raised if it wasn’t, was impossible to sleep through.

When it was bedtime, all I had to say was, “Night night, Milo,” and he ran downstairs to the boy’s room he’d chosen as his own.

He never slept in that fancy cat bed. Not once. Why would he when the other beds in the house were bigger and contained warm humans to snuggle with?

Milo appointed himself the household greeter. His was the first face each of us saw when we returned from work or school.

Milo James (2)

But he did have some less charming habits.

He was a committed and dedicated swiper, and he focused his attention on my desk. Anything left unsecured was fair game. Most mornings I come down to my desk and find my notebooks, calendar, pens, post-it notes and mouse on the floor.

Sam would catch him in the act and yell, “Milo! Leave Mom’s desk alone!”

Milo would gaze at him, unblinking, and proceed to knock everything to the floor.

He was also a prodigious and sloppy sneezer. Few things are more disgusting than stepping on a spot of cat snot in your bare feet first thing in the morning.

For someone with sneezing issues, he was mightily offended if anyone in his vicinity did the same. A sneeze from one of us prompted a loud yowling lecture, followed by an annoyed exit.

He didn’t like change of any kind. Re-arranging the furniture elicited anxious mutterings, so imagine his reaction seven years ago when we brought home a tiny tabby kitten named Thor.

Milo sulked for days. He hid under our bed and refused to come out, until hunger finally made slink downstairs.

Thor became his devoted, annoying acolyte, and Milo eventually tolerated his presence.

Two weeks ago Milo got sick. Really sick. I rushed him to the vet and was told his bladder was completely blocked. Urinary problems are common in boy cats who only eat dry food, and Milo turned up his nose at wet food or treats. He was a stubborn creature of habit.

His illness resulted in a four-night stay at the Pet Emergency Hospital. He seemed to rally, and we brought him home on a Monday evening.

He made his rounds. Cuddled with each of us, and spent the night on the couch curled up with Thor. But in the morning he was worse. Much worse. He hid under Zach’s bed or in his laundry basket. He refused to eat.

A miserable week passed, with daily trips to the vet. It was too much for Milo, who hated any kind of disruption to his schedule.

He grew silent. We grew sad.

And one evening the four of us made the choice to let him go. It was an agonizing decision, but Milo let us know he was done. He was sick. He was tired. He wanted to go.

So, on a Friday morning we gathered around him in the vet’s office. We held him. Kissed him. Told him how much we loved him.

He laid his head in my hand as the vet gave him the first injection. My face was the last thing he saw and the last thing he heard was my voice telling him what a good boy he was.

Turns out Milo didn’t have nine lives. He only had one. And we are forever grateful that he spent it with us.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

War Bonds

It Never Gets Easier

It never gets easier.
The notes from friends. From family. From readers.

“Dear Cindy, We just wanted you to know….”

And I learn another beloved person featured in War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation has died.

Recently, two lovely War Bonds brides passed away within a month of each other.

Christine Jasley died on September 16th. She was anxious to be reunited with her husband, John, who died in October of last year.

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Christine and John Jasley, 1944

Their story is told in Chapter 4 “Have a Little Faith.” A friend wrote, “Their marriage was truly a blueprint for all of us to follow.”

Then last week I learned of the death of Helen Loer.

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Helen Miller Loer

On Saturday I will be at her Memorial Service and will read Chapter 7 “From Sailor to Preacher.” Her husband James, that sailor/preacher will be sitting in the front row, and my heart aches for him. The Loers had been married 68 years.

Our world is diminished with each loss, but I’m so very thankful that their stories remain.

 

Columns

Saying goodbye to Betty

Today’s Spokeman Review column.

Betty Schott (seated) wears a lei at a ceremony in 2014 to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I loved to listen to her talk.

Though soft-spoken, Betty Schott, 98, had a sharp mind and an even sharper sense of humor. She smiled easily, laughed often, and called me “honey.”

But when her husband of 76 years died in May 2014, her smile faded and the quips didn’t come as quickly.

Adjusting to life without her beloved wearied her.

On Sunday, Betty died, 80 years and one day from the anniversary of her first date with Warren Schott.

I met the Schotts in 2007 when I interviewed them for my Love Story series. It was the start of a friendship that spanned eight years and immeasurably enriched my life.

From the beginning, a no-nonsense Warren assured me their story was no romantic tale. In fact, all those years ago, when a friend offered to set him up on a blind date with Betty, Warren scoffed, “Don’t do me any favors.”

He was a young sailor, not in the least interested in finding true love. But on July 4, 1935, love found him in the form of a beautiful, petite North Central High School graduate named Betty Forest.

They were married April 2, 1938, at the Wee Kirk O’ the Heather chapel at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

When I attended their 75th anniversary celebration, Betty quipped, “Well, we got married in a cemetery and honeymooned in Death Valley, so we got all that out of the way!”

But as Pearl Harbor survivors, the Schotts saw more than their share of death.

Warren had been sent to the Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor shortly after their marriage. Betty was determined to join him and worked until she earned her passage. She arrived on Ford Island in 1939 and they settled into a tiny apartment near Battleship Row.

Their bedroom overlooked the island’s runway, so they were accustomed to noise, but the sounds that woke them on Dec. 7, 1941, were unlike any they’d heard before.

Betty pulled on her robe and looked out the bathroom window. “Warren!” she called, “there’s smoke and fire at the end of the runway.”

Warren went to another window and spotted a plane flying low overhead. “I saw the red balls on the wings of the plane,” he said. “I watched that plane torpedo the USS Utah. I said, ‘Betty, we’re at war!’ ”

While Betty filled fire extinguishers with other civilians in a supply warehouse, Warren had the grim job of pulling the dead and injured from the harbor. The men he pulled out of the water were covered in oil. Afterward, Betty discovered, “They got rid of every towel in my house trying to help clean them up. Finally they took down my kitchen curtains and used them.”

Over the years, they talked about everything, but on one topic Warren remained silent. “He never talked about the people he pulled out of the oily water that morning,” Betty said. “Never.”

It was often painful for them to share their memories. “Slamming a door for days after the attack would make you jump,” Betty said, recalling the terrible noise and confusion they experienced.

But the Schotts felt it was their duty to tell their story and to honor those who died that day.

Though they didn’t think their 76-year marriage was anything remarkable, they were tickled that their story was included in “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”

When I visited with Betty in December while working on a story about the 73rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I returned some photos she’d let me use for the book.

She reached up and patted my cheek with her soft, timeworn hand. “I’m so proud of you, honey,” she said. And it felt like I’d received a blessing from my grandmother.

What I remember most was my last visit to her home – the home Warren had built, the home they’d shared for 65 years.

The plaque I’d seen years earlier still hung in the kitchen. It read, “Happiness is being married to your best friend.”

Warren’s death had left her adrift. She missed him so much, and she swore sometimes she could still see him sitting in his chair. She’d blink or turn her head and he’d be gone, but his presence was so real to her, his voice so compelling. Her own voice quavered when she said, “Every night at 11 p.m., he’d say, ‘Honey, now it’s time to go to bed.’ ”

That’s why I would not be at all surprised if on Sunday morning, Betty heard him whisper, “Honey, now it’s time to come on home.”

And of course she went to him. How could she not? She said, “He’s been my best friend for 77 years.”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

War Bonds

Saying goodbye is the hardest part

When you write a book about WWll veterans who are in their 80’s and 90’s you know your time with them is limited, but it doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

Betty Schott died on July 5. She and her husband, Warren, survived Pearl Harbor together and their marriage spanned 76 years.

Betty 2Warren and Betty Schott appearing in the Armed Forces Lilac Parade in Spokane, May 2010.

In this week’s Spokesman Review column I say goodbye to Betty, one of the sweetest, wisest, kindest women I’ve ever known.

Her last words to me were, “I’m so proud of you, honey.”

You can read the column here.  Or here.