1. Dear Old Dad Redux
For 11 years, my wife, Anita, our young son, Davy and I shoveled snow at our rural home 14 miles north of Detroit, Michigan. Both spring and fall were glorious seasons with fresh, lush vegetation in the former and gorgeous bright colors in the fall. However, if I had to work a fire-drill government proposal in July, I could easily miss the always too-short Michigan summers. The remainder of the year from about Halloween to mid-April, or even longer, was often an ice-and snow-covered deep freeze unfit for misplaced “Slide-Rule Gypsies” from southern Kansas and their immediate families.
Along the way, we added Kathy, our favorite (and only) daughter; our second son, Mike; Finnegan the mammoth although extremely gentle Saint Bernard dog; and Poncho, the tough yet lovable cat to our little family. Working on highly classified government programs in the defense industry, I averaged more than 60 hours at the office each work week for ten of those years, and the final year was a real barn burner that made my ten-year average above look like a picnic in the park.
Since she was not wired for ice fishing, snow-mobiling or chasing a black golf ball over, around and through the snow drifts like the local gentry are known to do, Anita was often on the ragged edge of cabin fever before each long winter was finally history. She longed for the balmy breezes and “the fine soft days” of the Sunny Southland from which we had previously immigrated. But year after year, that was not to be.
All of which came to a head when our LTV Corporate fathers, who had always been quick to claim an undeserved windfall, decided in their vast wisdom to move the lucrative contracts at our Michigan Division back to our Corporate Headquarters in Dallas, Texas. There, supposedly more-unproductive “functional” engineering personnel from the shrinking A-7 aircraft program could also charge their weekly time cards against our cash-cow Lance Missile System and our budding Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) programs which would eventually morph into a $36 billion bonanza.
Of course, that relocation was okay with us nonEskimos from the Great Plains. However, about half of our 1,200 Michigan employees did not receive an offer to join the mass exodus to “Big D.” Sadly, I was among the uninvited. Work was beginning to be scarce for the “good ol’ boys” already on site at the Dallas base camp of the “Great American Amoeba” where a 40-hour Michigan project was too-often stretched into a month-long strain on our tight program budget. Those Texans did not want “the Michigan Mafia” with their “can do” attitudes to come down south like a hoard of hungry locusts and gobble up what little that was left of their dwindling job security.
Therefore, the cross-country political back stabbings and hatchet jobs increased exponentially. The home boys of “Big D” were ahead by a margin of at least two to one and were looking for a clean sweep. So there I was, a middle manager with seven hungry mouths to feed, and very few prospects for staying among the ranks of the employed in Detroit because the 1977 foreign car plague continued to decimate the American automobile economy.
Those were hard times, and we were in deeper than deep. But then, being the dad and the nominal leader of our brave little family, I was trying to keep that upsetting news to myself while frantically searching for a new meal ticket. Anita still had her hands full with the children, homemaking rain dances, and a too-often phone-in husband who was struggling to stay gainfully employed for as long as possible before the corporate ax would finally fall.
It was gut check time.
By June of 1977, I had sent out an avalanche of cover letters and resumes, made uncounted “Good Buddy” phone calls to managers and even passing acquaintances in high places at various and sundry defense and civilian corporations, knocked on more formerly open, but then rapidly closing interview doors locally than I would care to think about, and had prayed to God and all of his saints for help. With the big exodus back to Dallas scheduled for the month of August 1977, I was, as in my last flight as a military pilot, rapidly running out of air speed, altitude and ideas; all at the same time.
Then, late one evening, long after Anita and the children had retired to bed; I was sitting sideways on the divan in our small front room addressing another stack of resume packets. Suddenly, I had a very cold, eerie, hackle-raising feeling that I was no longer alone in that room. Someone else had intruded unseen. Since I had been facing the hallway to our three bedrooms, I knew for sure that person could not be one of my family. But how could a burglar have broken into our home after I had double locked and bolted both outside doors as was my unwavering habit? And why had I been so incredibly stupid as to put big old Finnegan, our 200-pound St. Bernard home security system, to bed in the basement before I was ready to hit the sack myself? On top of being frightened, I was disgusted with myself for messing up so badly and thereby endangering my family.
With my throat clogging shut, a swelling lump in my chest, and my Ruger Bearcat revolver full of hollow-pointed bullets in our bedroom too far away to be of any comfort, I slowly, apprehensively turned toward the front door to face my fate. “Lord help my wife and kids,” I prayed.
There sat my Dad in our big easy chair by the front door. He was smiling at me and looking really great in his signature black and green checkered “Black Watch” Pendleton brand wool shirt with the worn-out breast pocket from carrying pens and sharpened pencils there for too many years, well-worn levi blue jeans and comfortable, glove-leather-lined, ankle-high Canadian lace-up boots.
Boy, was I ever glad to see Dad, especially since he was not the dreaded wild-eyed, deranged burglar with whom I had expected to do mortal combat. But mostly, I was totally overjoyed to see him after so many years. After all, Dad had died on 28 April 1973, a little more than four years before that night. But at that moment, he looked as solid, healthy and happy as anyone I had ever seen. I remember wanting very much to ask Dad what it was like to be dead. Had he met any of our family and friends in the hereafter? How was the crossover from life to the hereafter? Was there really a white light to follow? Did death hurt or was it okay?
But before I could say anything, Dad said in a very even, clear voice: “Don’t worry, son. Everything is going to be all right.” Then he smiled at me again in kind of a weary, apologetic manner.
Immediately, a very loud, explosion-like BANG resounded in the hall to the bedrooms on my right side. Reflexively, I turned to glance in that direction. Seeing nothing, I quickly looked back to Dad, but he was gone. I know that he was gone because I meticulously searched the house in vain, and washed my face with cold water to make sure that I was wide awake and not dreaming.
Anita and the kids slept through the whole event. I could not believe that the loud noise in the hall had not awakened them; but it did not. Then I had my first adult beverage of the evening. Looking back; who could blame me?
Several days later, Bill Shepard, the Director of Engineering at the LTV Michigan Division and one of the “Good Guys,” stopped me in the hall to ask me if I would consider moving to Dallas to ramrod the MLRS Technical and Executive Summary proposals. Funny thing: when I called Anita on Bill’s phone to ask her opinion, she said and I quote: “I don’t have time to talk to you right now. I’ve got to go pack.”
Although convinced that the incredible paranormal event that night with Dad had a profound effect on our income potential for many years, I could not conjure up the nerve to tell Anita anything about Dad’s after-death visit until early in 1987, nearly ten years later. Naturally, I doubted that she ever had anything even remotely comparable in her rather sheltered life to correlate with such a mind-boggling revelation. So why should she believe such a far-out story even from her husband who had never lied to her or mentioned anything whatsoever about the supernatural or the paranormal?
I really did not want to open that bag of worms at that time.
Soon after I finally did tell her the whole story in 1987 – after all, we took long walks around Veterans’ Park in Arlington, Texas every evening and had no significant secrets beyond youthful faux pas – she and I drove to Mom’s house in Wichita, Kansas, with my sister, Marilyn, from California. There, we joined up with my brother, Nathan, from Missouri to try to repair and clean in one week a house that had been essentially deteriorating from a lack of maintenance for far too many years. That was a huge challenge. In the end, the old house won despite our best efforts.
Several evenings into that project, after a hard day’s work in the summer heat as Mom, Nathan, Marilyn, Anita and I all relaxed over a shared pint of Gentleman Jack popskull and 7-Up mixers in Mom’s front room, I was finally snookered into telling Mom, Marilyn and Nathan about Dad’s post-mortum visit in 1977. But rather than being as skeptical as I had expected, Nathan quietly said that I might as well know about a similar incident that happened about the same time. This one involved our first cousin, Lou, who was a gifted journalist and one of our Dad’s favorite people.
According to Nathan’s story, Lou had always wanted to work for the San Francisco Examiner newspaper, and had finally been hired as a designer/illustrator after a series of resume-building jobs with a gaggle of lesser newspapers. Then, on the morning of Lou’s first day on the job as he was unpacking his cardboard box full of personal equipment like rapidograph pens, color markers, airbrush kits, French curves, templates, triangles, watercolor and wash brushes, assorted munchies and like that – the basic tools of the trade before computers – Dad walked by Lou’s desk on the main aisle and flashed Lou his big happy smile and signature thumb-against-forefinger “everything is okay” salute. Dad then walked away through the aligned desks and cubicles without saying a word.
Knowing that Dad was dead – I am reasonably certain that Lou attended Dad’s funeral, but I cannot remember for sure – Lou was shocked and a bit distraught. Reacting to seeing a dead uncle cavorting through the editorial room is not the ideal way to make a good first impression at a prestigious bastion of the Fourth Estate.
Like Dad often said: “You can’t win ‘em all.”
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