Stories from my Father — Pilots, Pitchers, and Pigs
By Cheryl A. Bates
Several years ago, my father threatened to buy a computer and teach himself how to use it. This was an incredibly ambitious effort for someone who grew up before color and cable TV, cell phones, and computer games. At 80 years old, finally retired from decades of the physical demands of logging in the Pacific Northwest, he has learned to connect with people from all over the world using his computer. Now with more time on his hands, he has begun writing down his memoirs and stories. He has been busy this past winter. After promising me for years that he would share his stories, he sent me his old computer’s hard drive with a collection of stories and memories he had written.
Every now and then during our online chats, he’ll ask about the stories or he’ll say “maybe you can do something with those stories.” I always give an upbeat answer that I will do something, someday. Today, it occurred to me that with this being Father’s Day, I could show how much his sharing means to me by writing about the sharing of his stories with me.
During one of our weekly online chats, my dad was talking about something he read in an AARP magazine that inspired him to write a story about a random act of kindness he experienced as a boy. He shared his story with me by typing it into an email. A few days later, I received a regular mail letter from my dad with a copy of the inspirational story and the following note.
When I was a small boy, 4th or 5th grade, my folks moved to Roswell, New Mexico. During WWII, my step-father was in the Air Force stationed at the B-29 base. He was a line mechanic and could change those engines on the big planes. My mom was working also, usually as a telephone switchboard operator. They never seemed to worry about my brother and me. We amused ourselves pretty much.
I can remember wandering around and exploring many places and things. There was a municipal airport not far from where we lived at the time. One day I happened to be there when the Air Force was using the runways for touch and go landing practice for the military planes. The pilots were so young. Usually just out of college as Second Lieutenants. This day, a tall good looking military man looked at me and said, “You wanna go for ride?” “Wow – of course I would,” I replied. “Okay, wait right here and I will be right back.” Well, needless to say, I was not leaving that spot until he came back. He came back and said, “Let’s go.” Evidently he must have rented this little Piper Club airplane. We took off and circled the town and county. Oh my, I was so excited.
I have often wondered whatever happened to this young man. Sincerely, I hope he made it through the war. I never saw him again but what a nice thing he did for me just out of the blue.
My dad, William Thomas Bates, Sr.
Our weekend telephone calls have been replaced by more frequent yahoo chats throughout the week and an occasional email. Throughout the many years of graduate school, my dad was my number one supporter. There was never a time after a phone call or chat when I didn’t hang up feeling uplifted, inspired, or supported. Even now, he continues to be supportive. He was the first person to comment on my bio for the blog, “Wow…way to go sweetheart, very good. Loving you, Dad.”
In 2008, I finally finished school. Even though my dad had had a rough year with his health and wasn’t particularly comfortable traveling on airplanes, he made it to my graduation.
So proud, tears came to his eyes.
A few years ago while attending a conference in Portland, OR, I slipped out and visited my father for a couple of days. On this visit, in addition to bags of old photos and stuff, he sent me home with an old silver set. He explained that it wasn’t an expensive set but it was special because his mother, wanting to have heirlooms to pass down, managed to purchase it during the depression by making payments, 10 cents a week, until it was bought.
Then, a few months later, I received a small package from my father. Inside was this silver cream pitcher and a note from my dad.
Dear Doctor Cheryl,
This little cup or pitcher probably has no value except that it is filled brim full of my love for you and for its little story. When WW2 ended, we were in Roswell, New Mexico. I think I was 10 or 11 yrs. old. My step-father brought us to Oregon where we settled in Twin Rocks, OR. His brother was in the hog raising business supplying pork for the military and other markets. In those days they fed discarded restaurant waste and had regular slop routes around Salem, OR and other places. Whenever we visited them I got to get up real early and go with cousins, nicknamed Bean and Babe, on the slop routes and they picked up barrels of this waste.
Well, in the slop there were some different items evidently tossed in either intentionally or just negligence. In those days they used a lot of real silverware and heavy duty dishes. My uncle’s wife gave all the relations some of these items after they were cleaned up of course. We had several different things from her. They all got one of these pitchers. Somehow this one found its way back to me. I used it for tooth picks. It might be an heirloom someday. Now you know “The Rest of the Story”…Loving you dearly, Dad. (December, 2009)
I had to substitute this picture for the one I wanted to use here. I have been looking all morning for an old picture my dad sent me of some pigs he was raising. He had written the names of the pigs on the photograph with a ball-point pen.
On this Father’s Day, I am living up to my promise to share his stories to let him know how important he is to me and how much I value his presence in my life.
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