Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lindley Woodford

A week ago last Saturday an era came to a close. You'd think the world would have shook, but there was nary a tremble. My father in-law, Lindley Woodford, passed away.

I met this man at the Kansas City airport 3 days before I married his daughter. Our first encounter included a trip to the Jackson County courthouse in Kansas City where we were granted a waiver on the normal waiting period before being given a marriage license. He drove, I sat in back, and I don't recall much of anything being said.

I proposed to his daughter 3 months previously - you'd think he'd be full of questions and stern fatherly warnings for someone about to marry his erstwhile favorite daughter. He didn't. Instead he pointed out various points of interest while on the way to the courthouse. This was to lay the foundation for our relationship for the next 25 years.

He was a quiet man. Tall, gentle, and a devout Christian. In the truest sense of the word. He was tolerant of all, accepting of most, using his dry humor to test each of us. He liked to drop quiet little bombshells to test the waters of our beliefs. He liked to tease. Being soft-spoken, my (at the time) young daughter would often ask that he repeat himself. He would tell her she was a little girl who could not hear. Fed up with the taunt, she once responded that he was an old man who could not talk. He would repeat that back to her occasionally as she grew up. I think he found it funnier than we did.

With me being in the military, we moved a good bit and visited when we could. He and I shared an interest in military history and this led to many a discussion. His father (and uncles, too, I believe) served in world war one, and he served in world war two. He was a sheet metal mechanic in the Army Air Corps in Africa and Italy, working on various aircraft. He had 3 brothers, all of whom served in the military. He transcribed his father's war diaries and collected the war-time experiences of his brothers, entering them all into Word documents which he then printed, bound, and distributed to various family members. I have my copy stored in my desk.

After the war he worked for the government as an inspector, checking on the production of various war materials. He eventually became a tool and die maker. He met and married Ellen Kennedy in 1948 and they had 8 children. They came in 2 waves with a 10 year break in between the first 5 and last 3. 7 girls, 1 boy. I married Laura, oldest of the younger 3. There are 5 surviving daughters and his one son, 4 of which live in or around Kansas City. Holidays were always celebrated at his house, filled to overflowing with children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren. I don't know what Thanksgiving or Christmas will be like without him to provide the center, our center, the unquestioning focus of the family gatherings.

He was in many ways typical of his generation. He provided for his family and his wife kept their home and raised their kids. There was that clear separation of duties - all things domestic was her responsibility including supper on the table when he arrived home from work. About 11 years or so ago, soon after he retired, his wife Ellen started to have a series of increasingly debilitating strokes. It wasn't long into this that she ceased being able to take care of him. So, he took care of her. It was as if he had done it all of his life. He not only took care of her, but he took to keeping house as if born to it. He had the kitchen remodeled to suit him. He bought every kitchen gadget he encountered. He would ask his daughters for their recipes and would approach them with the same diligence he did when designing a new die. How many minutes at what temperature, how many times and when do you turn it? He made notes and tried his own variations. He tested various cleaning methods and materials, finding those he felt did the best job. He bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner when it came out.

In between these new domestic duties, he nursed his wife. He quietly teased her into doing her mobility exercises. Her strokes slurred her speech and he would pick at her until she would "yell" at him - for once forming her words clearly and correctly where everyone could hear her. He'd kiss her forehead and ask her what she was hollering for. Towards her end, he would sit by her bed, hold her hand and talk to her in his quiet way. He fed her, cleaned her up, shifted her so as to avoid bed sores night and day - all the while silently whistling some tune only he could hear. He never questioned this change in circumstances, but merely did what was necessary. I've not met a man more devoted to his wife than he.

Another thing he did after retiring was discover computers and the internet. He scoured garage sales for cast-off computers. He'd clean them up, reload operating systems and software, and then give them away to his (now grown) children. He was downloading music from Napster before they were shut down. He would make CDs and hand them out. He discovered movie-discs and players as well as eBay at about the same time, buying up old players and refurbishing them. He had contacts all over the U.S. for parts and repair advice. He bought out a local library's entire collection of movie discs. He did nothing by half.

He was always giving things away. When one of his daughters moved back to town, she asked to borrow his lawn mower. He then went, bought him another, and gave her the one she borrowed. When a microwave went on the blink, he "loaned" his out, bought a new one to replace it, giving the loaned one to the borrower. Laura went to help nurse her mother towards the end of her life. He had bought a jeep (a deal too good to pass up), but was unhappy at the stiff suspension. He gave it to my wife when she came home.

Lindley was 86 and full of life last December when he got a cold. The persistent cough would not go away. After about 2 months they x-rayed his chest and found cancer. 4 months later he was dead. He always said he didn't want to linger, laying in bed day after day not able to do anything for himself. When the initial radiation treatment did nothing to prevent the cancer from spreading, he stopped the treatment and decided it was time. He had had a good life and was not of the mind to linger over-long. He didn't. His passing was fast and peaceful.

He lived his live in such a way as others only aspire to. He was the most honest man I knew. His faith was unwavering. He was even-tempered, I never once heard him raise his voice or respond angrily to anyone. He had a ready, if sharp, wit. He had a restless intelligence, always asking questions seeking new answers.

You don't think of these things as extraordinary when they are around you. He was my father in-law for 25 years and while recognizing that he wasn't your run-of-the-mill man, he was just there - Laura's dad. Now that he is gone and there is a void in our lives, I see the truth of who he was in effect he had on others - and on me.

He is now at rest, and such answers as can be had I think he has found.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Here we go again

Well - I'm in Bahrain again. I left home last weekend. Last time I flew direct from Atlanta to Dubai - over 14 hours in the air. argh. (I will have that to look forward to on the way home. argh) This time, however, I flew to Amsterdam, had an 8 hour layover and then flew here. Since I had such a long layover, I was determined to see something. As I was walking between terminals I ran across a tour booth advertising 2 and 3 hour tours. Serendipity struck, I whipped out my credit card and off we went. There were 7 of us in a mini-bus. The tour started at a wooden shoe factory, then out to the country where we saw various windmills and sheep and assorted waterlogged countryside. We drove into Amsterdam and around, then finished up with an hour's cruise through the canals. Despite the overcast, chilly (since I was heading to a hot climate I didn't bring a coat with me, I was in short-sleeves) and wet morning I had a good time and turned what was going to be a long and boring layover into a (seemingly) short and enjoyable one.

(I would've posted pictures, but even though blogger acted as if they uploaded - they didn't. So, here's a link to the set.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tag, I'm it.

The lovely (but deluded) Astrogirl426 from Notes from the Bunker has tagged me (she claims to heart my blog - I think she's been living in the woods too long) and I am to relay 6 random facts about myself. I will attempt to reveal something new about myself, but most of you have been around here long enough to know all most of my secrets.

1. I moved 9 times between birth and 15 years, living in 4 states (MS, CA, GA, TX) and 1 foreign country(Germany). I have moved 7 times since then, living in 4 states (GA, CA, TX, MD) and 1 foreign country (Greece). In and amongst all of that I have visited, driven through, or otherwise took up space in 27 other states, the District of Columbia, and 7 other foreign countries.

2. I got to fly an Air Force T-37 jet trainer.

3. I was born a poor, black child*.

4. I had a part-time job that involved moving equipment from building to building between passes of soviet spy satellites.

5. I have stood on the point from which every distance in France is measured.

6. I ran into Dudley Moore in a McDonald's in Pacific Grove, CA. He was even shorter than he looked in the movies. I ran into Stevie Wonder coming out of an ice cream store in Monterey, CA. I waved but he didn't wave back, the stuck-up b@st@rd.

As usual, I don't tag people. If any of you are game, have at it.

*if you recognize this, you're as old a fart as I am.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

There, but for the grace of God......

I have been reading "Things I Learned About My Dad (in therapy)", a compilation of essays on fatherhood compiled & edited by Heather Armstrong. I was struck particularly strongly by Doug French's essay. I remember several months ago when he went public in his blog about his impending divorce (because of it being mentioned in his essay in the book). It has always been readily apparent to me in reading his blog (and the essay) that he loves his boys very much and really enjoys being a father. Reading the essay re-awoke in me the memories of a time in my marriage when we came close to divorce. Laura had moved out. The kids stayed with me in our home as it was least disruptive of their daily routines - school, etc. Since they stayed with me during the week, they spent the weekends with Laura. During the week I was kept busy with taking care of two elementary school-aged kids, fixing meals, cleaning the house, laundry, working, etc. Then Friday afternoon the kids would be gone, and my weekends were a vast wasteland of nothingness. I had been on business trips before, a week at a time, sometimes two, but that time away affected me nothing like this did. I couldn't believe how much I missed the kids. I'm sure that it was partially due to the knowledge that this was probably going to be permanent. But whatever the reason, there was an ache that I couldn't assuage. I tried to tell myself that this was better for the kids, not having to grow up living in a house where their parents didn't love each other. They would grow up happier, Laura and I would be better parents without the emotional chaos that our marriage had turned into, etc. But there was still the emptiness inside of me, knowing they would be like so many other children having separate sets of parents, vacations divided between homes, everything having to be negotiated.

I had told Laura early in our marriage, during a discussion about how so many couples during (and after) divorce use their kids to torture their exes, that I would never let anyone take my children away from me. It wasn't an ultimatum so much as it was a statement that I would ALWAYS be there for my children, a major force in their lives. At the time I never thought we would get to where we had, living apart and discussing divorce. During that 6 month separation we never fought in front of them, and none of the fights were about them. We always put them first, We both went to school events they were involved with. We both attended their soccer games. We discussed rules for them and disciplinary actions - if they were being punished for something, the punishment applied at both homes. Despite this, it still pained me, knowing the inevitable hurt the kids were going to experience because Laura and I couldn't stay together.

Of course, we did stay together. Laura and I resolved those differences as you all know (I am assuming that no one is reading this post during their first visit to this blog!) as we are still married. But I still carry that hurt around, deep in my memories of that time. It makes me especially sensitive to similar situations when small kids are involved. Doug writes so eloquently of fatherhood and what he is experiencing during this difficult time in his life. I hurt for him, having some small measure of knowledge of what he is experiencing.

I had almost forgot.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Annie get your gun

I don't discuss politics here, nor am I going to start today. But I do want to talk about what I am learning about myself within the context of the new vice-presidential candidate of the Republican party - Ms. Sarah Palin.

I find myself wondering if I am more of a sexist than I thought I was.

I have no problem with a woman in the White House - in either job, president or vice-president. I have no problem with a woman having any job - not even in combat on the battlefield. (I've always felt that women as well as men should have to sign up for the draft - ever since I did when I turned 18. Israel, for instance, has mandatory military service, women included.)

My problem with Sarah Palin originates with the fact that she has a baby with down's syndrome and I can't understand why she would want a job that will take virtually all of her time - away from her baby. That's where the sexist part comes in, because I wouldn't have had a thought about her husband pursuing such a demanding job as governor or vice-president.

I've always prided myself that I consider women as equals. I remember having an essay I wrote arguing for equal rights when I was a junior in high school printed in the local newspaper. I always tried to instill in my daughter as she grew up the attitude that she can do anything she set her mind to. I have never subscribed to the clap-trap that women are the weaker sex and are fundamentally incapable of performing certain jobs. It upsets me that to this day women don't earn the same pay for the same work as men - and therefore have to work harder to get promoted when competing with men for a job.

But I am having a hard time understanding why a mother of a down's syndrome child would choose to work if she didn't have to. I don't know what their finances are, but the Palins don't appear to be poor. Mayors of small towns usually don't draw a large salary but have the same duties as large-town mayors. Nor does Ms. Palin appear to be a career woman who was checking off the "have a child experience" on her life's list - after all, she has 5 children and didn't run for office until after she had had several children. I have no reason to think that her husband can't take care of the baby, and I don't actually know if he isn't already taking full-time care of the child. I don't know anything about who takes care of their baby when she is governing or campaigning for vice-president, which is another reason why I'm uncomfortable with my feelings toward her and her decision to run for vice-president.

I just can't help thinking that her political career is more important to her than being the primary care-giver of that child. This is where I guess my buried sexism is coming out. I am disappointed in myself.

I don't know if she should have given up her governorship to take care of their baby. But I've always had the belief that children should be raised by their parent. In today's economy I realize that is extremely difficult - it usually takes two incomes to survive. Laura and I were lucky in that we were able to afford for her to stay at home until the kids were in school. We certainly couldn't afford to do that now, though. I have always felt that women deserve the same opportunity as men to pursue a career. I have always thought that men were as capable as women to care for infants, so no - I don't think that it is a woman's place to raise the babies while the men work. I just think that the best person to raise a child is its parents. When possible.

So, maybe Mr. Palin (I assume that's his name) is a full-time dad to their down's syndrome baby, freeing Ms. Palin to pursue her political ambitions. Or maybe Ms. Palin feels that she has a unique contribution to make to politics and has therefore a higher calling to answer.

Or maybe I am just failing to truly understand equality for the sexes and that mothers everywhere are proud to see her as their potential vice-president, that she is raising the ceiling for mothers everywhere. All I really do know is that I have a lot of thinking and learning ahead of me in order to not see her as someone who is putting her interests ahead of her baby's. Of all of the discussion I've seen in the media with regard to her being on the Republican ticket, no one has mentioned this in particular.

Please understand that I don't have a problem with working mothers. My problem is with a working mother of a special needs child who appears to have the choice of staying home if she wanted.

I am seriously wanting the unvarnished opinion of everyone who reads this blog. Have I lost my feminist credentials here? (Or maybe had I never had them?)

Monday, August 25, 2008

college days

I meant to write this last Friday as it was prompted by the most recent Poetry Friday challenge. But - I wouldn't want to start a trend by blogging on schedule, or anything. I might garner a few regular readers if I did something like that - which is anathema to my blogstyle of whatever-whenever.


I, like most folks, have done a few things that I probably shouldn't have when I was in college.

My dorm was right across the street from the chapel. Every Sunday morning for about an hour before services the pastor would sit on the front steps of the chapel and play hymns over the loudspeakers. This somewhat annoyed those trying to sleep off a Saturday night's debauchery, myself sometimes included. Well, one Saturday night we returned to our dorms somewhat worse for wear and someone brought up the hymn-playing disruption of our Sunday-morning sleep-in. During the following discussion a plan was formed that, in our inebriated state, we thought would put a stop to these recitals. We sneaked into the church via an unlocked window and pulled the cassette tape that was queued in the public address system. We took it back to the dorm and recorded some rather earthy Frank Zappa over the middle of the tape and returned the tape to the church. Alarms were set so we wouldn't miss the new music and we went to bed. The next morning we straggled out and gathered on the front steps of the dorm and waited. And waited. And waited. We sat there until services started and the music was stopped. No Frank Zappa. We retired to bed disappointed and seeking hang-over remedies.

Three weeks later I was walking to work Sunday morning, having lost the weekend work shift lottery. I was passing the front of the chapel, having just waved to the pastor, when the music hiccuped and Frank Zappa came blaring out in all his inappropriate glory. The pastor look confused, and he must have started to understand what he was hearing because he leapt up and ran inside. A second or two later the music stopped. I almost tripped over myself laughing as I continued to work.

We didn't manage to shut down our Sunday morning concerts, the hymns continued next Sunday on schedule. But I'll bet the windows were locked after that.

Friday, August 15, 2008

when I was a kid.....

When I was growing up, I lived on my bicycle. There was no sitting in front of the TV, Atari hadn't come out yet, nor had PCs, so no video games to play for hours on end. Mom would throw us out of the house and told us to go play. It was good for us (and we were out of her hair). So, we would get on our bikes and take off looking for the other kids who had similarly been unceremoniously thrown out.

We would be gone for hours. We would ride up and down the street seeing who could pop a wheelie the longest. We would build ramps and pretend to be evel knievel, jumping for distance or jumping over each other. (I once jumped 6 kids. we were uncommonly stupid then, and I had scars on my elbows and knees for years to prove it). We would search the ditches for coke bottles and go to the store, redeem them and use the money to buy ourselves a coke.

We would take off to explore neighboring communities, getting ourselves lost and spending the afternoon finding our way back home. During the fall and spring we would ride our bikes to school. We would put sissy bars on them, extend the forks to make choppers, put 6-foot antenna-like poles that had flags on (That would trip us up when trying a rolling dismount). We'd put playing cards on with clothes pins so they'd flap in the spokes and pretend this was the motor and we were riding motorcycles.

Do kids do these things today? I rarely see kids out riding bikes in my neighborhood. My bike was a ticket to independence. When it was taken away for punishment, it HURT! I was trapped - all I could do was stand by and watch the others have fun. I see kids walking down the sidewalk, one or more talking on a cell phone, on their way somewhere. I don't see them on bikes.

It's a shame, really. Within weeks of moving into a new house, I knew the neighborhood like the back of my hand. I met the kids in the neighborhood 'cause they were out riding too. Our moms didn't get together and organize play-dates or stuff like that - we just rode around and found someone else who was outside and played. It seems like these days everything is so tightly organized, all of kids' time is scheduled down to the minute.

Do kids just go outside and play anymore?