Columns

Mystery, Murder and Mayhem on the Columbia

We’d barely finished our appetizers when Jimmy “the Gyp” got bashed in the back of the head. I clutched my champagne glass as Crusher, the Don’s bodyguard, rushed past our table.

Turns out that was just the first fatality of many aboard ship.

“I told you business trips are more exciting when you bring me,” I said to my husband.

He tipped his fedora.

“Everything is more exciting when you’re along,” Derek replied.

61467137_2353232694715344_1174338371913252864_n

Last month he mentioned he had to go to Yakima and Tri-Cities to see some customers, and was considering spending a day in Walla Walla if I would join him.

What I heard was, “Want to go on an epic adventure with me? I’ll be traveling to the Palm Springs of Washington and then to the site of a decommissioned nuclear production facility. We could add an overnight in wine country, if you want.”

So, of course, I agreed.

Thanks to WiFi I can work from anywhere, and if anywhere includes a chaise lounge beside a pool, so much the better.

Our overnight in Yakima was quick, but we knew we’d be spending a couple days in the Tri-Cities. That’s when I remembered some friends had texted us about the fun they had aboard a murder mystery cruise on the Columbia River.

We found the Water2Wine website and booked a pair of tickets. Our purchase included a 2 1/2-hour cruise on the Columbia, complimentary glasses of champagne, a four-course dinner, and a murder mystery presented by the Desert Dahlias theater group.

On a sparkling summer evening, we boarded the 96-foot Chrysalis luxury yacht. Programs listing the cast of characters for “Mafia Murders” waited at our table. We were instructed to interact with the cast, ask questions and perhaps even solve the mystery. Many of the guests wore vintage 1920s-style clothing, which added to the fun.

As plots go, this one was as thin as the paper the program was printed on. A “Babyface” Don, a jealous older brother, a hijacked liquor shipment, a moll, a troubled sister, a violent bodyguard, a mafia accountant and his twin brother, and a long-suffering Italian auntie.

Oh yeah, and lots of murder and mayhem.

Deft servers delivered food and drink while the melodrama evolved around us. The mighty Columbia provided a beautiful backdrop.

Between courses, we spent some time on deck, enjoying the warm evening on the water.

A commotion broke out behind us as we returned to our table. Crusher, the bodyguard, collapsed, his throat slit.

Surprisingly, nothing whets the appetite like a dead body on the floor behind you. However, as Derek sliced into his perfectly prepared steak, the Sneak approached him.

“You there. Youse look like a big guy. We need a bodyguard, see. Crusher, he got whacked, and we can’t leave the Don unprotected.”

Derek, obliging, flexed his biceps.

“Yeah, not bad. Stand up. What would you do if I had a gun in this hand, here?”

My husband’s 24-year military career did include some hand-to-hand combat instruction, so he rather expertly “disarmed” the Sneak, all the while grinning at me.

61670561_2353320391373241_2878121184925319168_n

While he could strip an imaginary gun from the hand of an assailant, he couldn’t prevent what happened next.

As dessert was served, Babyface drank a poisoned cocktail and collapsed at our feet. Before Derek could be berated, or beheaded for his lapse in duty, shots were fired and the Sneak fell in a crumpled heap.

“No offense, honey, but I think it’s best if you stay in the industrial tooling business,” I said, patting Derek’s arm.

He grinned and dug into his strawberry-topped cake.

As to whodunit? I’m not one to spoil a mystery. You’ll have to book your own cruise to find the answer.

The sun set as the Chrysalis sailed toward the dock.

“I think I should take you on all my business trips,” Derek said, putting his arm around me.

And who am I to argue with a former mafia bodyguard?

Advertisements
All Write, War Bonds

New War Bonds Review on Goodreads

I’m so appreciative of readers who take the time to share their thoughts about War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation on sites like Goodreads or Amazon.

Mar 14, 2019 Mel rated it really liked it

Each chapter of this book is based on a couple; how they met, how they became engaged, married, experience in WWII, and how they’ve made their marriages last 60-70 years.
With each couple photos are shown in black and white, and a song that means something to them. I started listening to the songs while reading about the couple.
pg.203 The weight of the explosives made an already tricky landing more difficult, and as they made their approach, Robbie knew they were in trouble. “Without warning th
Each chapter of this book is based on a couple; how they met, how they became engaged, married, experience in WWII, and how they’ve made their marriages last 60-70 years.
With each couple photos are shown in black and white, and a song that means something to them. I started listening to the songs while reading about the couple.
pg.203 The weight of the explosives made an already tricky landing more difficult, and as they made their approach, Robbie knew they were in trouble. “Without warning the plane lurched and trembled. Like a goose hit in the wing by a volley of shot, we plummeted into the Pacific with terrifying finality.”
The plane smashed into the water, shattering on impact. Cascades of water tossed him about like limp seaweed…..
Some gruesome details are shared, but not many. Obviously some of the men had PTSD, something that wasn’t really known about or properly dealt with back then.
pg. 207 Tom says, “That’s where I kissed her for the first time. The wind came up and blew my hat off. Down it went, into the sand pit. She’s a powerful kisser to blow my hat right off!”

In the Afterward, the author tries to define what is so special about these couples. She says she found several qualities the couples shared: friendship, respect and commitment.

The couples definitely had a mettle that couples today do not seem to have. We currently, sadly, live in a throw away society and that seems to go for relationships as well; not just marriages, but long lasting friendships. Something that also stuck out to me in this book, was the strong familial relationships, which I think also reflected in the strong marriages. Also, the women didn’t freely give themselves away, if you know what I mean.

I highly recommend this book.

War Bonds

When Opposites Attract

She was an only child. He was one of seven.

He was a Catholic. She was a Protestant.

She joined the Air Force. He joined the Navy.

He’s an extrovert. She’s an introvert.

The adage “opposites attract” certainly applies to Becky and Harry Flanigan.

They met as children growing up in the same neighborhood in New Albany, Indiana. But Becky had no intention of dating Harry, two years her junior, let alone marrying him.

Harry, however, had other ideas.

In their Kendall Yards apartment, he grinned as he recalled his first sight of Becky. His speech has been impaired by a stroke, but he communicates with hand gestures and short sentences.

“I was 4 years old when I met her. I was 11 when I knew I wanted to marry her,” he said.

It seems when he was 4, a button popped off his snow pants, and Becky’s mother sewed it back on for him. That’s how they met.

At 11, he was stricken by polio and from his bed near the living room window; he watched Becky and his older brother walk to school each day.

“I told Mom I was going to marry her,” he said.

But marriage would have to wait.

After high school, Becky went to nursing school at Ball State University. When an Air Force recruiter came to talk to the soon-to-graduate nurses, she and three friends signed up, and were soon sent to Minot, North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Harry, who hoped to be a doctor, attended St. Louis University until he ran out of funds. After working for the Army Corps of Engineers for a couple years, he enlisted in the Navy.

In 1966, he was attached to the Marine Corps unit in Chu Lai, Vietnam. He and his fellow corpsmen sent up and ran the field hospital there. He doesn’t talk about his experiences in Chu Lai.

When asked if he lost friends during the war, he hung his head and buried his face in his hands.

Becky said, “He brought home a machete and once I asked him where he got it. He said, ‘You don’t want to know.’”

One of the first things he did after returning home was to call Becky and ask her for a date.

“I said yes,” she recalled. “Then I told my mother, ‘What have I done?’ I’m older than he is. I’m taller than he is. And now he knows I was sitting home alone on a Saturday night.’”

It was March 25, 1967, and when Harry picked her up, she was relieved and surprised to find he’d grown.

“He was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, the last time I’d seen him,” she said.

Her mother waited up for her, and when Becky returned she told her mom she’d had a nice time, but wasn’t interested in seeing him again. Harry planned a career in medicine, and she definitely didn’t want to marry a doctor.

The next day he brought her an Easter card.

“He was charming as all get out,” Becky said, smiling.

He must have been, because they got engaged on April 16.

Coming from a large family had its disadvantages – namely little sisters.

“I had no idea he was going to propose,” Becky said. “But we stopped by his house and his little sister said, ‘Do you like your ring?’”

There went the surprise.

The boisterous Flanigans were a bit overwhelming.

“He invited me to a family party, and there were 100 people there,” she recalled. “I wanted to run away.”

She didn’t, and they married Aug. 12.

“His mother told people at our reception, we wouldn’t last six months,” Becky said.

Then she grinned.

“She did eventually apologize, but it took her 30 years.

Harry enrolled at Indiana University, but was disappointed when he wasn’t admitted to medical school. Even though his grades were excellent, he was told the university had no interest in retraining him from his military experience.

He studied business instead and took a job with Union Carbide after graduating in 1970.

Becky gave birth to their daughter, Amy, in 1971, and the family embarked in a series of moves across the country as Harry rose in rank and responsibility within the corporation.

Tragedy struck while they were living in California. Harry, age 46, suffered a stroke. His carotid artery had dissected and life as they knew it changed forever.

The stroke affected his speech and partially paralyzed his right side.

“The last thing he said to us was ‘I’m sorry,’” she recalled.

His prognosis was grim, but Becky said, “He felt since he beat polio, he could beat this.”

Harry, a driven, Type A, workaholic, channeled all of his energy into recovery, making it his full-time job. He learned to walk, to drive and to care for himself, though speech remained an issue.

But despite his amazing strides, he couldn’t resume his career.

“The worst day of his life wasn’t the day of his stroke, but the day they retired him,” Becky said. “He loved his job, the people, the travel. …”

Harry nodded.

Their daughter was attending law school at Gonzaga University, so they decided to move to Spokane. They’ve never looked back, because soon they had three grandchildren to dote on, including a grandson who is now attending the United States Air Force Academy.

When he could speak more clearly, Harry told Becky, “I think the stroke is the best thing that happened to me. It slowed me down, brought me to a stop and allowed me to appreciate my family.”

With his left hand, Harry, 75, gestured upward.

“My grandkids and Amy lift me up,” he said.

As to his wife of 50 years, well, he’s always believed marrying her was his destiny.

He curled his left arm into a muscle-flexing pose.

“She’s strong,” he said.

Becky, 77, said, “People ask me if I’d do it again and I say, ‘Yes, in a heartbeat.’”

When asked why, her eyes filled with tears.

“I guess it’s just true love,” she said.

“Yes,” Harry said, nodding. “Yes.”

28279531_1691479704223983_1015308065099536062_n

 


War Bonds

Good Cooking Fueled 70 Years of Wedded Bliss

26196120_1649405191764768_4694252748791861013_n[2]

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.”

26231627_1649405268431427_1621373818153809780_n[1]

War Bonds

This Young Love Didn’t Grow Old

25591901_1630383190333635_5262889521772883972_n[1].jpg

When a California girl with pierced ears met a black sheep boy in tiny Reardan, Washington, sparks flew. Sixty-eight years later, the fire still burns for Betty and Larry Plummer.

“She was a loner and so was I,” recalled Larry.

Though he said he missed more days of school than he attended, he did manage to escort Betty to the junior-senior prom.

“He was panting at the door to take me,” Betty said. “I was one of the first freshmen to go.”

Larry didn’t have enough credits to graduate, and found work in a nearby sawmill. He was sure of just one thing – he wanted to marry Betty.

“I only had one girlfriend. I couldn’t afford any others,” he joked.

At 17 and 18, they knew finding someone to marry them would be difficult, so they decided to elope to Reno.

They made it to Winnemucca, Nevada, where they stopped for gas.

“A guy at the service station told us to wake up the town clerk, so we did,” Larry said. “He gave us a marriage license for $2, and went with us to the justice of the peace. I gave him a $5 tip. The whole trip cost us about $42.”

He only earned $1 an hour at the sawmill.

The clerk asked them how old they were. Several times. That’s when Larry realized they were still too young to marry in Nevada. So they lied about their ages, and on Sept. 4, 1949, they tied the knot.

For their 60th anniversary, their children sent them on a surprise trip to Reno – with a stop in Winnemucca, of course.

In 1949, when the teens returned home, Betty’s mother told her, “Well, you made your bed, you lay in it.”

Their first home had no running water and was small enough to fit in their present Spokane Valley living room.

Larry was in the Naval Reserves, and they’d been married just over a year when he was called up. It was November 1950, and Betty traveled to San Diego to see him before he was sent overseas.

“I stayed at the Harvard Hotel,” she recalled. “I couldn’t afford to eat at the hotel, so I turned the electric iron upside down in a drawer and made soup on it.”

After her husband left for Korea, she returned home and stayed with her mom.

Following his discharge in September 1952, the couple moved to Spokane, where Larry worked at St. Luke’s Hospital as a house attendant in the psych ward.

One evening, as he made his rounds, he saw a box near the nurse’s dorm. He bent over, opened it and discovered a baby inside.

The newspapers dubbed her “Baby X.”

“You should have brought her home,” said Betty, as Larry told the story.

“I thought about it,” he admitted. “But we had our first baby on the way.”

Baby X was adopted by a local family, and many years later, she found the Plummers, and visited their home to thank Larry for rescuing her.

They welcomed their own baby girl, Rhonda, in 1955, followed by Rebecca in 1957. Daughter Ruth completed the family in 1958, and also got her father in the newspaper, again.

By this time, Larry was working the graveyard shift at Eastern State Hospital. Betty called to tell him the baby was on the way. He rushed home, but didn’t make it in time to get her to the hospital.

“Her water broke, and I delivered the baby on the front lawn,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been present at a birth.

“One time I got on the elevator with a pregnant woman at St. Luke’s,” he recalled. “There were two of us when I got on – three of us when I got off.”

Larry worked several jobs while attending Eastern Washington University. The boy, who didn’t get a high school diploma, earned an accounting degree from the university.

“It took me six years to finish,” he said.

After graduating, he worked for the IRS for seven years, managed a medical clinic for eight, and then worked for Spokane Public Schools for 17 years.

Meanwhile, in addition to raising their three daughters, for many years Betty was a foster mom to newborns.

“I kept them until they got adopted,” she said. “One baby stayed for three months. Then they came and got him at Christmas. That’s when we stopped.”

When she mentioned that she’d like to go to beauty school, Larry came home and told her he’d enrolled her.

Betty did hair for awhile, but then took a job in housekeeping at Providence Sacred Heart, where she worked for 18 years, before retiring as a supervisor in 1998.

It wasn’t all work in the Plummer household. Larry bought a 1957 school bus and retrofitted it as a camper – complete with kitchen and bath. They loaded up the girls and took off for Montana, Colorado and even Disneyland.

“Buying that bus was the best thing I ever did,” he said.

As they talked about their life together, Betty frequently stopped to kiss Larry’s head, or rub his shoulder. She recalled how over the years, he’d walk in the door after working a graveyard shift and ask, “Baby, what can I do for you?”

When she worked at Providence Sacred Heart, he’d stop at downtown store to buy her a gardenia – her favorite flower.

And he kept busy, even after retiring from the school district. For 15 years he worked at the Coeur d’Alene Casino as a ticket seller, finally retiring at 83.

He smiled at Betty.

“The last 68 years have been the happiest,” he said.

She nodded; puzzled that so many marriages don’t last as long.

“Nobody works at it,” she said. “Something goes wrong and people look for someone else.”

She shrugged.

“We just assumed we’d be here together and here we are,” said Betty, 85. “He’s the best man that ever was. I think we’d do it again.”

Larry, 86, agreed, with one caveat.

“I might not have waited so long,” he said.

25550522_1630383277000293_2225425647765710929_n[1]

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

Celebrating 70 years of a marriage that is “so much more than friendship”

Barbara and Ray Lewis have a lot of reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving – 70 of them, to be exact.

The couple married Nov. 23, 1947, so in addition to the traditional turkey day feast, they’ll be celebrating 70 years of wedded bliss.

She was born in Texas, he in Ohio, but they met in Indiana, and 3 1/2 months later, they married.

Barbara was traveling with a group of students who were going door to door inviting people to special church services. It just so happened that the services were being held at the church Ray attended in Fort Wayne.

“He made a point of meeting all the girls,” Barbara, 94, said, smiling.

Ray, 92, was finishing up his engineering degree at Indiana Tech and had indeed met all the girls in the traveling group, with one exception. An exception he rectified as quickly as possible.

“He saw me because I was wearing a big black hat,” she said.

Ray doesn’t recall the hat, but he does remember approaching her and saying, “I believe your name is Barbara.”

He’d done some reconnaissance.

When he discovered Barbara was staying with a couple who’d asked him to photograph their newborn son, Ray an avid amateur photographer, decided now would be the perfect time to take that photo – even though the child was now a year old.

The family asked him to stay for dinner, and he didn’t hesitate. He also invited Barbara on a triple date the next night.

“There wasn’t much to do in Fort Wayne in those days,” recalled Barbara. “We went to the drugstore and had a soda and then walked to the park where they had a lighted fountain. We watched the colors change.”

She still has a postcard featuring the park and the fountain.

The next day, his sister, Mary, came to visit. She was dating Ray’s roommate, Ted. Eventually Mary and Ted would wed as well.

They arranged a double date.

“Ray thought that gave him an excuse to sit by me in church Sunday morning,” Barbara said.

The church meetings concluded, and it was time to say goodbye. Ray went to the station with her.

“Barbara had to be the last one out of town,” Ray said.

That was fine with him.

“I wasn’t ready to turn loose of her just yet,” he admitted.

In fact, he made her promise to write to him. She agreed on the condition that he would write back.

As the train began to pull away, he stood outside her window and used his finger to trace the words “please write!” in the dust.

Back home in Texas, Barbara checked her mailbox every day.

“If there wasn’t a letter, I let him have it,” she said.

But Ray was taking his finals and the pressure of the letter-writing got to him.

“I got tired of that kind of romance,” he said.

So, when Barbara told him that she and her parents were moving to Erie, Pennsylvania, to help establish a church, Ray was delighted. Erie wasn’t far from his Ohio hometown. He quickly hopped on bus to visit her. Well, she did most of the visiting.

“She did all the conversation, just like she does now,” he said, grinning.

They both got jobs at General Electric, and one September evening Ray borrowed her father’s car and took her to see Lake Erie.

“It was a moonlit night, and the waves were breaking over the shore,” Barbara recalled.

It was the perfect place for a proposal. When she said yes, Ray went straight home to borrow money from his mother to buy an engagement ring.

They married on a Sunday night, just after evening service in the middle of a snowstorm.

She wore a dress and headpiece made by her mother and the preacher’s wife, and they caught the last train of the evening to Cleveland for their honeymoon.

While there, a duck nearly derailed their happy future.

They went roller-skating, and the rink was giving away live ducks and turkeys.

“Wouldn’t you know it – my name got called for a duck,” Barbara said.

Now, she happened to love ducks and even had pet ducks while growing up on her Texas farm. They resolved to ship the duck home.

“It was going to be our first possession,” she said.

Alas, there were no shipping crates to be found, and they finally had to sell the duck for a dollar to a guy at the Express Station. He said his family would be having duck for dinner the next day.

“That broke my heart,” Barbara said.

She shot a glance at her husband.

“I’ve never forgiven him!”

But they both chuckled at the memory.

That sense of humor got them through many moves in the next seven decades. Ray was a mechanical engineer for oil refineries, and they lived in 13 states and four Canadian provinces.

“Every place we were sent, I decided that’s where we’d retire,” Ray said. “I’m happy anywhere I am.”

His happiness grew along with their family. Daughter Linna was born in 1950, followed by Kent in 1952, Leslie in 1954, Laurie in 1959 and Lorinda in 1964.

Since they lived in so many snowy places, the family developed a passion for skiing. Great skiing opportunities led their son to move to Spokane, and 11 years ago when Ray finally retired, the couple joined him.

“I retired many different times, but they kept asking me back,” he said.

When it comes to advice for those who wish to achieve their own happily-ever-after, Barbara proved practical, Ray philosophical.

“Always make the bed together as soon as you get out of it,” Barbara said. “Making the bed takes five minutes instead of 10, and it’s very effective in introducing your husband to household chores.”

Ray said, “Don’t think about it (marriage) in terms of 70 years – think of it in terms of one year at a time, and go with the flow.”

Then he grinned.

“I’m still finding problems with her,” he teased.

Barbara smiled, acknowledging that Ray is her friend “most of the time,” but then grew serious.

“Marriage is so much more than friendship,” she said.

She looked at Ray.

“He’s one of the best men who ever lived.”

23621408_1591013590937262_1513994905519849698_n[1]


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.”

.facebook_1510783440734

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!

009

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

And it is. It really is.

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.

23131848_1580341082004513_2624145754997905891_n[2]

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

70 Years of Adventure

20708109_1498992003472755_632359020316113008_n[1]John and Amy Roberson

Amy and John Roberson grew up in the same small community of Woodland, Washington, on farms about 2 miles apart. They attended the same school grades K-12, yet it took a world war to bring the couple together.

That’s not to say Amy went unnoticed by John.

“I had my eye on her,” he said. “She was very attractive.”

In their Greenacres home, Amy shushed him.

“Now, now,” she said, smiling.

But neither of them can recall a single conversation between them until they met again in 1945 in Washington, D.C., where both were serving in the Navy.

John had been accepted to the V-12 Navy College Training Program in 1943. The program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the Navy during World War II.

He thought the Navy would be a great fit for him.

“I loved the water,” he said. “I built my own boat on the Columbia River.”

It came as quite a surprise when the first place the Navy sent him was to the University of Kansas.

He shrugged.

“I studied engineering at the University of Kansas.”

Amy had to wait until she was 20 to enlist.

“My uncle was in the Navy in World War I,” she said. “I wanted to join the Navy, too.”

After basic training, she was sent to the U.S. capital to study decoding. Meanwhile, John was stationed nearby, in Norfolk, Virginia.

A mail carrier in Woodland kept track of the local youths in the service. He discovered there were eight Woodland youths in the Washington, D.C., area where his daughter was stationed, and he connected them.

They all got together and had a great time talking about home, and that’s when Amy truly noticed John.

“John asked me for a date,” she recalled. “We were supposed to meet at the movie theater. It was pouring rain, and I showed up with drippy hair.”

Wet hair didn’t deter him from asking for another date.

Soon John left for what would be the only cruise of his Navy stint.

“My sea duty consisted of taking a ship from San Diego to Charleston (South Carolina),” he said.

They stayed in touch and both returned to Woodland when they were discharged in 1946.

“We both qualified for the GI Bill, and I told him I was going to WSU,” Amy recalled. “John said, ‘I think I will, too.’ ”

They got engaged in April 1947 and returned home in August for their wedding.

Amy made her wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses from parachute silk.

“I got a whole bolt for $10, so we all wore white,” she said.

On Aug. 17, 1947, they were married at the Presbyterian church in Woodland. They honeymooned in British Columbia and then returned to WSU where John received a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 1948.

Amy, too, would eventually earn a degree in home economics, but first busy years ensued.

Son, Roger, arrived in 1950, followed by twins David and Janice in 1951.

The young family moved numerous times as John pursued a master’s degree, followed by a doctorate.

“It was hectic,” Amy said.

She recalled many late nights and early mornings when John would place Janice across his knees and jiggle her to sleep while he studied.

He taught at WSU, and their children were active in Camp Fire and Boy Scouts.

In 1963, they moved to Thailand when John accepted a teaching position with the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering.

Two years later the family set out to visit the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and the POW Memorial. As they crossed the bridge used by pedestrians, carts and bicycles, a train approached.

Roger and David took refuge on a pedestrian platform on one side of the bridge while Amy, Janice and John perched on the other side. As the train drew near, John reached out to help a Thai man on bicycle with a large metal ice cream box balanced on the back. As the train passed it hit the metal box which knocked the bicycle into the three of them. Amy, Janice and John were thrown against the bridge railing which broke, sending them plunging into the dry riverbed beneath.

“We hit hard,” John recalled.

Their sons scrambled to help.

“The first aid training they received in Scouts really paid off,” Amy said.

The boys cautioned the locals not to move them, checked for bleeding and signs of concussion and summoned an ambulance.

“I do think they saved our lives or at least made our injuries less severe,” said Amy.

As it was their injuries were substantial. All three suffered numerous broken bones. Janice recovered first, but her parents were in for a long hospital stay.

“We shared a tiny hospital room for 90 days and 90 nights,” Amy recalled. Then she grinned. “And we came out as friends.”

The severity of John’s injuries curtailed their stay in Thailand and the family returned to Pullman, where more surgery awaited. He was bedridden for months as his battered body healed. Amy took care of him and their three teenagers while her own broken bones mended.

Eventually, he resumed his teaching career at WSU and authored two textbooks: “Engineering Fluid Mechanics,” with Clayton Crowe and “Hydraulic Engineering.” Both books are still in print and used in universities here and abroad.

“Without Amy’s typing, editing and encouraging, the books may never have been completed,” he said.

For several years Amy taught ESL classes in Pullman for wives of foreign students.

Their adventures continued when John retired in 1980. They enjoyed more than 50 Elderhostel trips and visited 45 countries and all 50 states.

As they celebrate their 70th anniversary Thursday, the Robersons, both 92, marvel at the way the years have flown.

“She’s been a tremendous partner – we’re good friends,” said John. “I could not have been luckier.”

Amy smiled at him.

“I learn new things about him every day.”