4.3 THROUGH the YEARS

 

This story is not supposed to be a biography. It is about events and circumstances that shaped my life and the lives of our family. At the time of this writing, there are fifty years of them. Roughly divided into three “eras”.

 

4.3.1 PRE-PAUL

 

1953; Got engaged in Feb. Bought a house in May, (Maybe June or July) in Ferguson, Mo. Prepped and furnished same. Got Married Sept. 12. (busy year).

 

1955; Steve was born, Jan 15. My Mom smothered him with love. Called daily to ask, “how’s my Steven”. Mom died in August. (The best of times and the worst of times)

 

Steven John was a happy baby, easy to take care of. Joan nursed him at first. Once when she was away for a while and Steve was hungry, I gave him his first taste of homogenized milk and he didn’t seem to know the difference. I think he resented the responsibility of being the first born, but he was very good at teasing the younger ones, especially Terry. You would hear Steve mumbling, then Terry would say “no, it is not”. Steve was somewhat “hyper” in pre-school days and in the primary grades. Later he was diagnosed with Attention Deficiency Disorder, (ADD). It hadn’t been discovered, (or invented) when he was in school. Steve was always a “worry wart”. Like his mother, he would fuss and worry about how he would behave when something was going to occur. (Like a needle to his spinal cord). But, like his mother, he would handle it bravely and professionally.

 

Steve was a personification of Peter Pan. He refused to “grow up”. He saw no reason to stop watching ants, caterpillars and turtles just because he was an adult. He would have been a typical “hippie” if he had been born a few years earlier. AS it is, he is a would-be socialist, peace marcher and a protester against almost everything I am in favor of.. His politics and social beliefs are diametrically opposed to mine. (See A-bomb episode, later).

 

Steve took 10 years at K U and Wichita State, with time out for “party time 101”, to get his degree in Journalism. He loved journalism, even published his own newspaper at times, but finally decided that there is no money and less security in being a journalist. He then spent several years, part time, getting his certificate as a teacher. He has always had good rapport

   with children, partly because he refused to grow up himself. He is presently tutoring “disturbed” middle school children and enjoying it. More about his married life later.

 

1957: Terry was born April 24. Joan’s mom, Ruth died seven weeks later, not before seeing Terry and pronouncing “there’s your waterloo”. She died peacefully of heart failure in a hospital with Joan at her side. We miss her still and regret that our boys didn’t get to know her. My brother Bill married Gloria about a week later. Another busy year.

 

Terrance Raymond was born on April 24. His birthday is one week after mine. He was a delicate, “pretty” baby with transparent skin. He was born on his due date. He had to be brought on because Joan was overweight and retaining water. He was “high strung” as an infant, partly because Joan was stressed due to her mother’s illness and death. He was a fussy eater from infancy thru teen age years. (We would tell him, “You can’t get up from the table until you eat “this much”. He would sit there till bed time). Terry was the only one of the six who would fall asleep in the car on the way home from an event.

 

Terry loved to hunt, fish and camp out. After we moved to Kansas he became a bit fanatic about it. He would “borrow” small items such as a shovel or sledge hammer and forget to bring them back. Weeks later I would look for them in vain. He could catch fish where “there were no fish” and come home and lie to his brothers about where he caught them, so they couldn’t catch any of “his” fish.

 

We had one special rule about Terry. Never ever tell him exactly what not to do. A typical example follows.  When Paul got burned at the age of two, Joan lectured the other boys about what a terrible thing a burn is and why they should never play with fire all the boys seemed impressed. Next morning, Terry got up early, put on his bathrobe and went out on the driveway with some newspapers and some matches to find out how dangerous it was.

 

Terry was our most rebellious teenager, partly because of loyalty to unworthy friends and partly due to drugs. We had someone in high school for ten years at Goddard and up to three at one time, so we were well acquainted with the principals, etc. at the high school, but terry was the most “popular”. Teenage Terry had shoulder length hair and would shower for forty minute if we would let him. With eight people and 30 gallons of hot water that was not possible. Fortunately, I had a valve which could shut off the hot water. That really got his attention.

We almost lost him to a drug overdose and he spent his eighteenth birthday in jail. But after that he calmed down a lot, partly, perhaps, because he met and later married Barbara French. More about this later.

 

Terry has loved fishing, hunting and nature studies all his life. He is an accomplished artist and craftsman. He spent several years working at Lear and Boeing doing plain and fancy carpentry, and loathing it. When they moved to Oregon in 1999, Terry went to school and graduated in 2002 with a degree in fish biology at the age of 45. Now he counts fish, explores creeks, writes for wildlife magazines, and thinks he has died and gone to heaven.

 

1958; Phillip was born and almost died.

 

Phillip James was born July 31. He was our smallest baby, covered with “white” hair, dimple in the chin, (like his uncle Vernon), looking about as big as a peanut. We called him peanut till, at about age four, he announced that his name is Phillip and he would no longer respond to that name. He had a squeaky little voice as a toddler, which disappeared when he had his tonsils and adenoids removed. He was allergic to milk and drank a soybean product called mulsoy. He often regurgitated that, but it never bothered him much. He also had, (and still has), asthma. When he was about four to six months old, the asthma lead to a bronchial infection our pediatrician, Dr Londe, gave him a penicillin shot and he stopped breathing. Doctor said; “he’s gone”. Then he gave him a shot of an antidote he had on hand, and Phil “came back”. The doctor was so upset he cancelled his appointments for the day and, a few months later, retired from his practice to go into research. Years later he was tested and found not to be allergic to penicillin, but may have been allergic to the procain used as a “ vehicle” to dilute it.

 

Phil started school a year after Terry, and was placed in the “slow” group in first grade. His teacher wondered why, as did we. At first his teacher wondered if he knew how to talk. He did his work perfectly, but never volunteered to answer. He soon caught on. We found out later that Terry’s teacher, Mrs McKean had Terry and didn’t like him (he had the audacity to be an introvert and a boy) so she put his brother, sight unseen, to the other (slow) class. Phil was, and is, unflappable in the face of adversity. When others bemoan the need to take that 1000 mile hike, Phil is taking the first step. If he were one of the three pigs, he would be the one with a brick house. In fact, he built his own house, virtually with his bare hands and no printed plans. He thinks he can do anything, and he’s usually right. Phil was always an organizer and tried to be organized at all times.

 
Phil grew up surrounded by brothers and wound up surrounded by women. His wife, Sherri had three sisters, and one brother. He became “big brother” to the sisters. He and Sherri had three daughters, one of which died at birth. He married young and married a girl even younger. He was not the “smartest” of our sons but he was by far the best student. He won scholarships to college, but dropped out because raising his family had a higher priority. He has worked his way from “mechanic” to supervisor at a local chemical company. He has won the respect of his co-workers and management.  More about his family later.

 

1959; We moved to a new house, and Paul was born. With 3 boys and one on the way, two bedrooms weren’t enough. We got a brand new home built to “our specifications”, in the Spanish Lake area.

 

Paul Joseph was born on December 1. We considered him to be our “prettiest” baby, born with blond hair, fair skin and a round “Charlie Brown” head. He was a pleasant but busy baby, who liked to climb out of his baby bed in the middle of the night, He would hand us his bathrobe belt so we could tie him in. A month after his second birthday, on New Year’s Eve, we went out to dinner, came home and woke the boys up to make noise at midnight. We were using a steam vaporizer in the room he shared with Phil, who was having breathing problems. We forgot to tie Paul in after the celebration and he got out, crawling, and pulled the electric wire out, spilling steam on his arms, legs and body.

 

He had burns over 16 percent of his body, most of them third degree. His diapers and rubber pants protected his vital organs, but his legs and arms peeled like bananas. He was in the hospital for weeks, and we all found out how stubborn Paul could be. Remember, he was in extreme, agonizing pain. He would be nice to the nurses and all when we were away, but when we came he would throw things and yell “Get me out of here”. The doctor called and asked permission to “spank” him during the extremely painful change of dressings. (Nurses said they had never seen the doctor lose his temper before). If Paul had not been stubborn, stand on legs that turned purple and painful, he might not have recovered full use of his legs. The doctor had warned us not to be “soft” on him. He had permanent keloid scars on his arms and legs, where the healing left raised surfaces. When he was about four, riding in our car, a schoolmate asked him what that was on his arm. He replied “none of your damn business”. (We did not use that word in front of the kids).

 

Paul had a lot of “bad luck” in his life, but he never felt sorry for himself. When we went for vacation in the Ozarks, he got sick and had to see a doctor. When we went to the Illinois state fair in Springfield he got sick and spent part of the day in the car. As a senior in High School, he had a case of “pneumo-thorax”, (his lung pulled away from his chest), and it went unnoticed for a while. When he had his accident, his injury came a few millimeters of being non-permanent. The passenger sitting next to him walked away with only a chipped tooth.

 

Paul was very talented. He had a photographic memory. At about age four he would draw dinosaurs and portraits from pictures in the encyclopedia, including lettering, though he couldn’t read or write. If he was drawing a racing car, he might start with the left rear hubcap, then the wheel, then forward and upward without erasing or retracing till the car was complete. He came home from kindergarten one day and announced that they had drawn pictures of the school and his was the best in the class. “Oh, they told you that?” “No, but you should have seen the other pictures, all crooked and some using the wrong colors, not as good as mine.” To no one’s surprise, we got a call from the kindergarten staff asking for permission to “sit on him”.

 

 But he was a tender and loving child, always caring for his little brothers, loving and hugging a lot. He was also somewhat opinionated. Shortly after we moved to Wichita, Joan took the boys to church to confession. What with moving and all, she breathed a sigh of relief and said, “well, I finally got you boys to confession.” A voice from the back seat said, “You didn’t get me. I think it’s a lot of foolishness and I’m not going any more.”

 

When Paul was about thirteen, he picked up his brother Phil’s guitar and started strumming it. He taught himself to play it and his life changed. Music became his passion, his pastime, his hobby, his mistress and the most important single thing in his life. He learned to play “anything with strings.” He played in his high school band, and after graduation, Pratt County Community College wanted to give him a scholarship, but he declined. His senior year in High School, he tried to be independent by renting an apartment in town, but the commute was too much. His freedom after graduation was short lived.

 

1961; Will King died December 18, Joan’s birthday.

 

1962; John was born in June. Isn’t it funny how often one passes on and another is born, as if to take his place. Will king was in declining health ever since Ruth died and I think he was ready to go.

 

John Lowell was born on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day and also Jack Sly’s birthday. He was our biggest baby, at about 7 pounds, 10 ounces, and grew up to be the smallest adult. He was a fussy baby, the only one to use a pacifier. I believe he was our most intelligent child, but the least “smart”. He was an open, friendly child, never without friends, He had the most athletic skills of all our sons. On one of our rare vacations at an Ozarks resort, when he was about 10, he took to the trampoline like an old timer and had other guests amazed at his skill at miniature golf. At school, having grown up in St. Louis, he was a sort of expert in the eyes of his peers. He was (and is) very good at pranks. He sounds so sincere when he says, “Mom, come quick, Chris fell and I think his arm is broken”, that we almost always fall for it. He was always a deep thinker. At about age 9, we heard him tell brother Chris, “Don’t even think about infinity, it will make you crazy.”

 

John is a “quick study”. You only have to explain what you want once, and it will be done promptly, properly and completely. More than one employer has told me what a good worker he is. Doctors, councilors and priests have said he is extremely bright and extremely talented. He can do almost anything; landscaping, apartment maintenance and supervision, construction, computer and software design, music, amateur astronomy. With no training, he taught himself to operate, redesign and repair computers. He tries to explain to me how he proves that the universe is still expanding. If John wasn’t around, our computer would simply be a way to play solitaire, if it was working at all.

 

The “almost” part that John cannot or will not do is take care of himself. (Act responsibly). Diagnosed as probably bi-polar or manic depressive, he refuses to manage his money, plan ahead or look for a “real job with benefits and a stable future. I sometimes refer to him as my 40 year old   teen-ager. He personifies the character played by Jack Nicholson who, when accused of planning some disaster replied: “I never planned anything in my life”. He can be moony and surly at times and sometimes shows poor judgement in his choice of friends, but he usually doesn’t hurt anyone but himself.

 

John is a dreamer with grand plans and incomplete execution. After Paul’s accident, he planned a mural for a wall in Paul’s room. John was always artistic and imaginative. He started outlining mountains, dragons, villages and landscapes. He drew these outlined, to be painted in later, for about three feet of wall, then got distracted, and couldn’t be talked into any further action. We eventually painted over his artwork. (If it’s any consolation, Leonardo da Vinci was the same way. He would get a commission to do a sculpture, get it under way, and lose interest in favor of a more recent project.)

 

John has a good heart, a quick mind, and very little common sense, and little of what the worldly call ambition.

 

1965; Chris was born in July.

 

Christopher Eugene’s birth was semi-planned. I found that out afterward. His mother thought I should have one more chance to have a girl. Her name would have been Christine. Joan did not have an easy pregnancy. She took this on in spite the stress of her anxiety neurosis, burying her parents, bearing and rearing five other boys, trying to keep a “perfect” house and putting up with me.

 

 Chris was such a good baby we don’t remember much about him. He did have physical problems as a baby and toddler. He had to have a growth removed from his back, needed a double hernia operation, and had to have his urinary passage reamed out. When he was about ten, he had to have his teeth straightened because his mouth was too small to accommodate his second teeth. We took Paul at the same time but when the doc told him what he would have to do, being Paul, said “no thanks”. Chris did exactly as he was told and got the job

 

   done ahead of schedule. In the primary grades, Chris was diagnosed with “lazy eye”. The doctor requested that we do some exercises with moving objects with letters marked on them. Together he and I practiced “religiously” and he overcame the problem. Whatever he was asked to do, he did thoroughly.

 

Chris was born an old man. He was serious, shy, quiet, meticulous, business like, did not like excitement, disturbance or crowds. Joan described him as a “momma’s boy”, always hugging and hanging in to her. Then, as he grew older, he became distant to the point that she suspected he didn’t like her anymore. His best friend as a young boy was Frank Kill, another old man. They got along together. He was interested in politics and world affairs., even when small. His oldest brother Steve was the same way. Ten years apart, it amazes us how similar they are as to politics, manner of speaking, gestures, etc. When he was eleven or twelve, before school he would grab the morning paper and reach for the editorial page as I reached for the comics.

 

Chris stayed out of trouble as he grew up. He went to college, but lacked incentive, or focus or something. He never decided what career to pursue. He got a laborer’s (mechanic) job in an assembly plant and did well. He managed his life and his money well. He moved out and got his own apartment and cat. He decided to see life outside Wichita, and, fortunately for him, got a job in St Louis, where he has family to visit with and share holidays, though he still gets back for Christmas. He bought a house in an old neighborhood in south St Louis, where he tends his gardens, mows his lawn, paints his porch and minds his own business.

 

Chris is still quiet and retiring, but he takes no “guff” from anyone. As a teenager he bought

 tires for his car, had a problem with a tire dealer and got no satisfaction. He took them to small claims court and got what he wanted. He operates a computerized metalworking machine where he works and is active in personnel and management problems. He’s always ending up on some committee or other, and doesn’t hesitate to offer his opinion.

 

Chris is very much a “loaner”. He doesn’t make friends easily. He travels a lot, alone, which worries us. He travels extensively, camping out alone, more interested in nature than city sights. He takes professional quality photos of everything from landscapes to mushrooms and insects. He visits with Bill and Shirley and his cousins often and they include him on holidays and special occasions. He seems to be a contented “old maid”.

 

1969; A year of many changes. After 19 years of uninterrupted employment, I got laid off twice in four months. Found an interesting job with Lear Jet in Wichita, Kansas. The day I agreed to move, July 19, Bill’s wife Gloria died. On that somber note, within a month we were all relocated in Wichita. Before we moved, we bought our first new  car since 1950.

 

1970; After 15 months at Lear Jet, I found myself jobless again. Advice to the working man: don’t get laid off between Thanksgiving and New Years day.

 

1971; Finally got a job. In St Louis. Working for Emerson at MacDonnell. Staying with cousin Mary Ellen, (later with aunt Mary), commuting every other weekend, leaving Joan to take care of the house, kids, school, finances, etc. With aerospace in the dumps, we couldn’t give away the house, much less sell it. These 15 months were hard on Joan, myself and the kids. I finally got a job at a small supplier of aircraft components, at a reduced salary.

 

1972; Bill married Shirley Czerniewski, a widow with three teenage children. With Bill’s five, they had a total of eight children, I believe five of them in high school at one time. Where Gloria was short, round and “happy-go-lucky” Shirley is tall, thin and all business. His five kids and her three got along like true brothers and sisters.

 

 

1974; Then there were none. My dad died shortly before Christmas. My dad, Joan’s dad and grandma and grandpa Walsh all died the week before Christmas. That Christmas “vacation” we drove to St. Louis for the funeral. Steve wanted to go, as did his fiancé Mary Ann, so we took both cars. Steve and Mary Ann managed to crash my car, so I borrowed one of Bill’s cars for the drive home, which entailed driving through blizzard conditions in Kansas City with sliding off the road and near-collisions. When I got back to work, the boss’s secretary asked if I had a nice holiday. Like a coward, I said yes. A couple weeks later, I had to drive back and swap cars again.

 

1975; Steve married Mary Ann. It was a tumultuous marriage, which caused much pain and produced nothing good except grandson Ethan.

 

1977; Phil and Sherri were married. Our first grandchild, Brandi, was born.

 

1978; A pivotal year. In January, Joan and I made Marriage Encounter, a weekend to truly understand and appreciate and learn to communicate with each other. It was an overwhelming experience, and, we believe, gave us strength to survive what was ahead. In June, Terry and Barbara were married. In August, Ethan was born. In October, Kristen was born, premature, at just over three pounds. Also, Desiree Otto was born to Phil and Sherri, stillborn.  In September the kids gave us a 25th anniversary party. And on Sept. 20, Paul had his accident.

 

Speaking of children; Much has been said about the brutality of “spanking” these days. I consider spanking a simple ploy such as is used in training mules.

 

A retired “gentleman farmer” went to buy a mule from a lifetime farmer, and asked if the mule was obedient and easy to handle. Assured that it was, he bought the mule, and was unable to coax, threaten, or push the mule onto his truck. Disgustedly, the farmer picked up a heavy wooden fence post and slugged the mule between the eyes with it, after which the mule quietly boarded the truck. The farmer then said to the gentleman, “You don’t understand about mules, do you? The thing about mules is, first, you got to get their attention”.

 

That’s the way it is with kids and spanking. First, you got to get their attention.

 

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