Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Life Without Father, Day Six

It is day six of my husband Dave being gone from our household, but I hope not from our lives. Day six of our "commuter marriage." I feel the emptiness he leaves and wonder at all of the families who historically bid farewell to father, not hearing from them for months, or years, or ever.  In comparison I am lucky. This magic box keeps us connected via the Internet with email and our cell phones, a Dick Tracy novelty when I was growing up, send the sounds of home 1,500 miles.

Before he left Dave said that a household is like a machine and each person a gear. He knew that his departure would throw a kink in the works. Our lives together have been divided along traditional lines because that’s where our talents lay. There is some overlapping, but for the most part I haven’t done yard work making sure the yard waste bin was filled every two weeks and I don’t climb up to change garage florescent lights. I think Dave has been a pretty important gear in our household machine. I’m not looking forward to buying and storing pellets this fall!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Life Without Father on Fathers Day

Today is Fathers Day and the third day of Dave being gone. He awoke today in Barstow and called me before he was out of bed. He had the Fathers Day cards we had slipped into his brief case before he left, one from my mother, one from my daughter Amy, and of course, one from me. Even though I knew what each one said, he read them to me over the phone. Although Dave has no biological children for more than two decades he’s been father and friend to mine.

It takes a special sort of man to take on a huge household where most of the children are already half grown. Maybe part of his success is that in many ways, Dave is a big kid himself. Another factor is that he’s the second child of a family of seven boys. As if that wasn’t enough my mother-in-law ran a day care in the family home. Dave had training for having a big family.

Dave has never attempted to usurp my children’s biological fathers, but in Amy’s case he has—which is mostly the fault of hers—and he spoils her. I have remained friends with my exes for the sake of my children so we’ve had some family celebrations that could be viewed as odd to an outsider. We’ve actually had dinners when both were present. One evening when we were having a party and Amy’s dad was at our house she came to me asking where her dad was. I told her I thought he was in the dining room talking to someone. No, she said, she meant her real dad, Dave.

Dave has taken the boys to concerts and baseball games and is the favorite with their children. At our farewell dinner for him, we put Linda next to GranDave because she fit nicely into a little spot in the booth. Not to be outdone, her little sister Lydia demanded a spot there, where she stood on the bench and leaned her head on GranDaves shoulder. One of Dave’s biggest sorrows about leaving was missing out on seeing the little kids on a regular basis. GranDave is fun. How many grandfathers have a skating birthday party? Maybe I will call him and have them practice their music for them.

When Amy found out that Dave was leaving she came to me in tears. Just that morning I had been trying to figure out how to make my special needs daughter understand why he was going back to work (she had looked forward to having him retire) and why he wouldn’t be living at home for longer than she can understand. Dave said that he hadn’t told her so she must have just overheard enough conversation to figure it out. I had waited too long. It was not a conversation I had looked forward to because she’s known for being emotional. A favorite teacher died and she cried for three days.

Since Seattle Flight Service closed and Dave has been around the house he and Amy, frequently along with our daughter-in-law and grandson, have been going to the $2 movie at our local theater on Monday mornings and then getting Subway sandwiches. Last night I told her that I would leave money with Ana tomorrow so she could take them all out. No, Amy said; just bring her a sandwich after school. For her it is not about going to the movie. It is about going out with Dad. It may be a long while before she gets to do that and today, as he drives into a new chapter of his life and we figure out what ours without him will look like, we are thanking him for being a wonderful presence in our lives for 22 years and counting.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Life Without Father

Urinalysis, check.  Ten minute physical with the flight surgeon (cost:$110), check. Form I-90 completed, check. Dave has jumped through all of the hoops Lockheed Martin required to come to work in Prescott, AZ, 1,400 miles, making us a part of the 3.5 million Americans living a “commuter marriage.”  It is hardly comforting and a sad commentary on the state of the economy and the housing crisis.

After two and a half years, since Lockheed closed Seattle Flight Service, Dave will have to be “retrained.”  He wonders if there have been improvements to their computer program they began using after they took over from the FAA.  He wonders how many people he will know there (at least two from his Bakersfield days in the 1980s) and how he will like the winters.  I wonder how we shall do without him.  I am aware that there are many, many spouses of military personnel who have to live without their partners and at least the desert Dave is going to is not in Afghanistan, but I think I am entitled to feel sorry for myself.

Dave has serviced all of our elderly vehicles (don’t ask the cost), made arrangements to stay with a friend until he can get his own place, and packed.  Like a dog going to the vet, he says he wants to take something that smells like me.  Can he smell my heart?

Last night we had our farewell dinner with the children who live nearby and one of his brothers.  Yesterday he went to see his nearly-90-year-old mother and his 92 year old father.  This afternoon we had lunch with my daughter Amy.  A 21.75 year chapter in our marriage as we both recreate our lives together, but apart, is closing not knowing when or where we will meet again.  I am sure we will be glad when this particular chapter of our lives is over, but wonder at what will be written on the intervening pages.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Last night Dave and I went on a date and had dinner alone at a restaurant. The tumult of our large household has become less pleasant than usual and with only a few days left it seemed a good idea. The merlot didn’t hurt either. Although we are products of the 1960s, in many ways our household is divided along traditional lines. Dave takes care of the yard, the vehicles, and the things that need fixing. I take care of the shopping, laundry, and most of the cooking. It just works well that way. Dave waxed a little philosophically last night over his shrimp cocktail saying that a household is like a machine and everyone is a gear. I pointed out that he was a pretty important gear and us little gears will have to take up the slack.

Dave was supposed to have taken his physical with the flight surgeon in Seattle today, but in his rush to get his ducks in a row for this move to Prescott, he missed a duck which was a form the government requires completed before the flight surgeon does the physical. They offered him an appointment in July. Personally I would have been happy with more time to get used to his going and a week or two with him at our summer home on the coast, but he tracked down another flight surgeon (actually closer to home—Tacoma) so he has another shot at it tomorrow.

His trip North was not for naught. He was able to go and see parents. His father had a pacemaker implanted this morning and his mother is going in for a tune-up over the weekend so he had his goodbyes with them. At the ages of nearly 90 and 92 he knows that it was his last visit with them for a long time, perhaps ever. This is exactly why Amy and I are not going with him. Where Dave has six brothers to see to the needs of their parents, I am a committee of one with my nearly 90 year old mother. She relies far too heavily on my regular presence in her life to keep her independent.

We discussed what to pack. He will initially be living with a friend who also works for Lockheed so just some sheets, towels, and some summer clothing will get him by. He will take his television and computer, too. We talked about writing. He claims he will. When we were courting—long distance—before computers, texting, etc, he was BAD about writing. He claimed he couldn’t think of anything to write. We will see.

Dave’s changed the oil in the truck, had a diagnostic done on my car with work to be done on it tomorrow while we go to his physical and a dental appointments. He’s trying so hard to take care of us before he goes.

Despite the fact that he still hasn’t had his physical and okay from the flight surgeon we are having a family dinner at a restaurant this evening. If we are not saying goodbye to him, we are certainly saying goodbye for several weeks to my son and his family who will be off to Brazil at the end of this month. Our house will surely be a tomb then. At that point it will be time to head to the beach.

Postscript--the KING5 news this evening claimed that there are 3.5 million married Americans living apart due to the economy and housing crisis.  It is a club I would rather not join.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Of Two Minds

Here it is, Sunday night and we’ve had the weekend to think about what Dave should do.  Should he leave hearth and home to live and work in Prescott, AZ for a year and a half (or less if he gets unhappy) or stay here and look for a job that makes a fourth of what Lockheed Martin would pay him as a briefer. Damn the recession anyway.

Friday Dave went and had a drug test.  First thing tomorrow morning he will be calling Lockheed to find out how to set up a physical with a flight surgeon.  He’s had a thorough physical with our Group Health doctor, but the flight surgeon thing is an aeronautical thing.  My father worked for Boeing and his physicals were with the flight surgeon, too. 

He’s talked to one of his friends at Prescott Flight Service, and whom he’s known his since his LAX days, and apparently Lockheed Martin is trying to entice him into NOT retiring with more money so there’s a chance that Dave might be well paid.  Apparently the young folks Lockheed first hired at reduced salaries after taking over from the FAA are hanging around just long enough to get on with the FAA (don’t blame them) so maybe Lockheed has learned a few things in the last seven years. There is also a possibility that he can live with another friend who has a couple of empty bedrooms.  That would really be cost effective!

We are still up in the air about his going.  It is hard to detach one’s emotions and look objectively at the situation.  Part of me would like to lie down at the end of the driveway so he couldn’t leave on Friday, but I would hate for us to move to our “retirement” home and have it mortgaged.  It was paid for once and I’d like to have it paid off again.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Making Cents of the Economy

The economy was booming, our house, bought in 1990 during the height of the Pugest Sound sales boom, had increased in value substantially.

The recession and realestate collapse hasn't been particularly good to our family. We were already living as an extended family, my son and his wife having moved in when he went to graduate school and expecting a baby. That was nearly nine years ago. My husband, Dave, hasn't worked in two and a half years now and although he has retirement income that would be ample if our son could afford to move his family into a place of their own and if we could sell our home in Gig Harbor and move to our home at the ocean. Instead we have been struggling to make ends meet with rent from my son, Dave's retirement and my rather insubstantial salary as a school district classified employee. Now Dave has a chance at a job, but it will mean splitting up the family.
In 2006 Dave retired from the FAA as a controller/briefer and went to work for Lockheed Martin which took over the operation of the FAA’s flight services all over the country. Due to automation we knew that part of Lockheed’s plan was to close many of the stations, but the workers at Seattle Flight Service, where Dave had worked since 1989, were assured that Seattle would be a "legacy site." Prior to that Dave had been at other flight services in Bellingham, Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
We prepared for the influx of money his retirement (the equivalent of half of his salary) would bring while he continued to work for Lockheed. We wanted to be smart and not spend that money. Raising a large family we’d never had a great deal of disposable income and we wanted to be smart.
The economy was booming, our house, bought at the height of the Puget Sound buying frenzy in 1990, had increased in value considerably so in addition to funneling Dave’s retirement checks into mutual funds, we were convinced to pull out our sixteen years of equity to "make our money work for us." And although Dave and his compatriots were not particularly pleased with the way Lockheed was running flight service (Dave called me from Prescott, AZ where he’d gone for training on the new software program they’d cobbled together, sounding like a kid calling from summer camp wanting mom to come get him.) life went on pretty much as it had for sixteen years.
Then the perfect storm happened. I need not remind you what happened in the fall of 2008. Scary, but we’d be okay. Dave’s plan was to work until he was 63 or 65 which would give us a nice chunk of money with which to buy a 5th wheel and begin traveling with my daughter Amy. In late 2009 Lockheed announced that they would be closing Seattle Flight Service. Although the employees unionized (much to the disgust of Lockheed) and attempted to make the company make good on their promise not to close the Seattle station, it was for naught and in January 2009 Seattle Flight Station closed. Employees were offered positions at one of the three truly legacy sites located in AZ, TX and VA. With aging parents and a son and his family living with us, that wasn’t in the cards.
It sits there still, just as it was, with the potential of reopening and for a while Dave nurtured a fantasy of Lockheed seeing the error of its ways. He’d be ready to come back. Lockheed did attempt to get him to come back—repeatedly. Certified letters arrived from time to time, but our situation hadn’t changed and having Dave go to work elsewhere while Amy and I remained in Gig Harbor hardly seemed feasible. Dave had unemployment and was enjoying not making the 45 mile commute between Seattle and Gig Harbor. Tighten the belts, we thought, the economy will rebound. Ha!
Yesterday a our daughter-in-law signed for a certified letter from Lockheed Martin offering Dave a job. The catch is it would be in Prescott, AZ. It is not the first such offer he has had and which we dismissed as being out of the question. We have elderly parents in Washington and I am an only child. At least Dave has six brothers to help their parents. We thought it was just not feasible to set Dave up in an apartment in Prescott and keep our household here going. But I've been asking for an answer to our financial problem and this seems like it might be the answer the universe is offering. We looked at apartment rentals in Prescott and discovered that compared to his potential salary, he could live rather cheaply there and replenish some of what's been drain from our coffers.
It is not as if we are poverty stricken (as a single mother I've been there and done that and know how to make a penny scream), but the timing of the realestate collapse and the economy going south could not have been timed worse for us. If Dave decides to make this move and can get his ducks in a row by the 18th, it will buy us some time. Time for the economy to improve enough that maybe people will start buying houses in our area again and won't mind paying a $4 toll in the bargain. Time for my son and his wife to find a home nearer to his work and less dependent on us. Dave has to talk to our financial advisor to see if it is feasible, get a drug test and physical and fill out the packet of paperwork Lockheed sent with the job offer.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hanging Frank

Down came the painting my father did...I don't think he'd mind.

We did a little redecorating in our Gig Harbor living room.  We’ve hung the self-portrait my son Frank did and gave to me for Mother’s Day.  Because he painted it at Clover Park High School where he’s the art teacher as part of a self-portrait unit we hadn’t known about it until the high school had an art festival.  I was stunned by how accurate the picture was.  It reached out and grabbed my heart and I asked him if I could pay to get a print made. 

Imagine my surprise when I returned from celebrating Mother’s Day with my mother to find the painting propped on my pillow.  Tears came to my eyes and I was touched that Frank & his wife Ana were letting me be the custodian of the picture.  Naturally it will go back to them someday, but in the meantime it has been sealed, framed, and digitally scanned so I can get copies made.  My mother is first in line for that!

So today down came a painting Conrad Frieze, my father, did for my mother of my grandparents’ beach house in Seaview.  I don’t think my father would mind.  We are only moving the picture from over the fireplace to another wall.  Frank inherited his artistic talent from his Papa and honed it from early in his life.  An aeronautical engineer, my father didn’t begin his painting life until he was in his 40s.  Frank picked up a pencil when he was two and has never put it down. 

Once when Frank was a little guy he went to spend a week or so with Papa at Sandy Point.  Frank was never without paper in hand.  He did a drawing for Papa of a model of a PBY that hung from the den ceiling.  What impressed my father was that Frank drew the PBY from the top—every accurately—even though he could only see it from the bottom and side.  I know my father would be proud of Frank’s talent and glad that he’s passing it on to students.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stitching the Family Together
Recently I stopped by my aunt’s house on my way to the coast.  She was working on a quilt.  Actually, she’s quilting a top that was made by my great-grandmother and she’s quilting it by hand.  She said that my grandmother had never been able to find a name for the pattern her mother made in this top.  I think we should call it “Josie’s Garden.”  Maybe someone will recognize it and solve the mystery.

I admire quilters.  I come from a family of them.  Besides my great-grandmother, both of my grandmothers quilted and two of my aunt's.  They pieced by hand in tiny little stiches that have stood the test of time. I got really interested when I was about 19.  At 20 I became a mother and never did more than piece and quilt a doll quilt for my daughter.

When my first two grandchildren were born I was working for a teacher who quilts for relaxation.  She uses a machine as do most modern quilters and she sends her tops out to be quilted.  Her quilts are works of art and she created one for me “to take naps with the babies under.”  And I have.

My grandmother told me that according to tradition whatever you dream of the first time you sleep under a new quilt will come true.  I’ve only had one shot at that and I didn’t remember my dream.  I wonder what it was.

Personally, althought the arty quilts are breath-taking, I prefer the old homey quilts that tell a story of a mother or a daughter's dress that may have originally been a flower sack or maybe papa's shirt.  My grandmother could tell me where every fabric came from in the quilts she and her mother made.  Gosh I miss her!

I have a top that Great-Grandma Josie made (as well as a couple of finished quilts).  It’s a twin bed Sun Bonnet Girl.  I need to get busy and quilt it so my granddaughter can have it.  Question is, which granddaughter?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Incredible Victory, Incredible Journey

Today is the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Midway that lasted from June 4th to 6th, 1942.  Coming less than six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor it was important not only strategically, but psychologically.

Forewarned of the Japanese plan of attack, PBY Navy airplanes were used to scout the open sea for the Japanese Navy. During the early hours of 4 June 1942 four PBY 5As torpedoed the Japanese oiler Maru.  Among the four aircraft carriers sunk that day was the Hiryu and aboard was an ensign named Mandai. Ordered to abandon ship Mandai ended up in the water just in time before the Hiryu was scuttled by the Makigumo.  He swam for his life, made it to a life boat. 

Overhead a PBY circled the life boat; its gunner trained his machine gun on the boat until the survivors were picked up by the American ship USS Ballard.  When the PBY returned to base the gunner, my father, Conrad R. Frieze, received a package that turned out to be the cap device of Ensign Mandai and a note thanking “the young gunner” for not shooting him.  It was a noble gesture that impressed my twenty year old father.

The war ended three years later.  My father completed his education at Oregon State, became an aeronautical engineer and went to work for the Boeing Company.  The purchase of Walter Lord’s Incredible Victory, the Battle of Midway in the 1970s brought my father to an incredible discovery.  My father recognized Ensign Mandai in a picture in Lord’s book.  Now he had a name. 

Because my father’s job now took him all over the world, including to Japan, he was able to track down Ensign Mandai who was by then Retired Admiral Mandai.  With the very willing help of the Boeing Company a meeting with the life boat survivors was arranged in Tokyo during one of my father’s visits there.  It became a media event.  One of the survivors refused to attend the meeting, but the tall even by American standards Admiral Mandai was among those in attendance and when my father offered to return the cap device Mandai had sent to him all those years before he declined to take it, saying that it was my father’s war trophy.

Time and experience seeing the world had cooled the anger and hatred that the attack on Pearl Harbor had flamed in my father on December 7th when he and his brother Dick had fought back at Kaneohe NAS. Admiral Mandai and my father became friends, trading visits with their wives in Japan and Seattle.  It was heartening to have this proof that we are all just people.