“Come on, California, tell your girl you love her.”
“Give her a kiss from us!”
“Your glasses are fogging over!”
I didn’t even wear glasses in 1972, as I hunched over the only phone in our three-story barracks, while doing boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I had waited two hours for my turn, so everyone in line behind me knew what was up.
|Can you find the mustache?|
It was January 29th and I was speaking to my family back in La Puente, on Fellowship Street, at a prearranged time so that everyone was there. After passing the phone around for quick hellos to my brothers and sisters, I had next been turned over to my then girl-friend, Nancy, thus prompting the comments from the peanut gallery.
At the end of our couple of minutes, the phone went back to my mom.
“Hey, Kiddo, I have some bad news for you, and I’m sorry to have to deliver it like this, but Grandpa passed away the day before yesterday. I would have called you but we already had this call set up, so I…” Her voice trailed off.
“Grandpa died?” I managed, as the tears began to cascade from my eyes.
It got real quiet, real quick in the line stretching out to the door of the dayroom.
"Well, you know when you visited him before you left, he had just had his leg amputated, right?" (complications from diabetes) "After that, he just lost his will to live," she told me. I was not surprised.
Grandpa took my cousin Greg and me, fishing at Legg lake, probably somewhere around 1960. He was not the kind of man to help us bait the hooks, et al, remaining instead in the car reading the newspaper. But he took us, nonetheless. He liked kids, a lot, but by then he would have been in his seventies.
While at the drive-in movies one night, in response to the comment that the movie we were watching (Walt Disney’s "Pollyanna”), was cool, he responded by gesturing over to one side at another car parked off to the left, “True, but the one going on over there is not bad either.”
I would have agreed, possibly, had I been able to see through the fog which obscured exactly what was going on in the car next-door.
I sobbed into the phone, “I can’t come home, Mama, I just can’t. If I do, they will make me start all over again, and I just can’t do that.” I had no intentions of doing basic training twice. It was cold, I was sick three of the ten weeks, and it was lonely.
|They told us Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, was known|
as Little Korea because it got so cold. Then I ended
up in Big Korea for sixteen months. My, it did get cold.
Why spoil a good time?
I am sure Mama was relieved to hear that because she would have had no idea where the money would have come from.
“No one expects you to come home and we know how hard it is for you. Just know you have a lot of support…” and she went on, saying the right things in the right way, and I hung up the phone. I was not ashamed of my tears, in front of this group of army buddies.
“My godfather passed,” was all I said, because my grandfather was also my godfather, and I went back to my seven-man room and wrote a long letter home.
Grandpa Herman Berg was fourteen years old when he boarded a ship bound for the United States, leaving his native home in Germany, and eventually ended up with relatives in St. Louis. He did not speak any English when he made this journey, somewhere around 1902.
I am sure to be corrected by someone who has the original manuscript that he wrote after he had retired. In the 25 page-give or take a few-single-spaced, typed manuscript, Grandpa described his journey and gave his impressions of his new home.
He died in 1972, around age 84, so that means he would have been born in 1888. In any case, the exact year is not crucial, so much as the knowledge that he made this journey because he had family on the other side of the ocean.
Grandpa’s manuscript is a good read and it is apparent that my mother, Pauline, took after him when it came to writing. She herself wrote four manuscripts: the first, on her childhood growing up in the Great Depression; the second on World War II and her family’s role in it; the third about our home on Fellowship St, in SoCal; and the fourth on life up here on Bell Springs Road. All were in excess of a hundred pages long, and her voice is the perfect blend of pragmatism and humor, that was so much a part of her makeup.
Timing being everything, of course, the current situation with the Ban, brings all of this history hurtling up to smack me in the face. A couple of mornings ago, when I unleashed a torrent of anti-tater tot memes, I am sure that besides the trigger that these memes provided, was the knowledge that I was reliving an anniversary of great sadness.
Had my grandfather not made his lonely journey back when he was a fourteen-year-old, or had he not been allowed into the country, I would not be here today.
Damn. My glasses are all fogged up, again.