In The Spring of Love and War

Henry Campbell and Eileen Driscoll, 1940

As he waited for Dr. Padelford’s class on Browning poetry to commence, my father liked to remember, “I saw this vision enter the room, dressed to the nines.” The vision was my mother. The University of Washington arboretum, nearing completion, was blossoming with co-eds who strolled in their “whooppee socks” (according to “The Daily”) and diaphanous skirts (according to my father). But love wasn’t all that was in the air.

Imagine falling in love knowing the world was about to explode.

Harold LaskiThat winter quarter, Harold J. Laski arrived on campus as the Walker-Ames lecturer. The internationally prominent political economist from the University of London immediately aroused a storm of controversy for his Marxist views. Besides class lectures, he presented a series of seven public lectures to capacity crowds of 3,000. At the last, U.W. students twice attempted to rush the doors after Meany Auditorium had filled. Almost 3,000 were turned away.

War was inevitable, Laski told the crowd, and democracies must fight to stop Fascism. By then, France and Great Britain had recognized Franco’s government in Spain. “It is no accident but inherent in the Fascist state that its practitioners are proficient in the practice of human cruelty,” The Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted him as saying. “Fascism and war are interchangeable terms. The necessity is inherent in the Fascist state. Dictatorships can not live in peace except in an expanding economy. That day has passed in Western Europe.”

A few weeks later, John Gunther, a prominent European correspondent and commentator declared before another near capacity crowd in Meany hall that Hitler, the “Napolean of Europe,” would not be appeased by British policy. “Feeding the tiger will only make him hungrier and stronger.”

Less than a month later, the Nazi’s occupied Czechoslovakia. A column by Gordon Pates in “The Daily” noted, “…Efficiently, swiftly, ruthlessly, (Hitler) has exercised (sic) Czechoslovakia from the body of Europe with all the skill of an accomplished surgeon… By so doing he established his sovereignty over Central Europe, gained economic control of the rich Danubian basin, reduced at least eight, at most ten, small nations to the status of vassals of the Third Reich.”

In three months, Hitler would order the gassing of mentally and physically disabled persons.

My father and mother remained in the U District after they graduated in June. My father remained active on campus, where he studied law. He may have heard or read the fall address of Dr. Lee Paul Sieg, President of the university, who told students, in part:

“What is this war? Why is this war? What can education do in these dark days?

As I see it, this conflict is focussed on a principle that 25 years ago was only in the outer fringe of our consciousness. Other wars have been chiefly wars of aggression or expansion. This war is a war to establish the dignity of man. It may not answer a question, but it sharply sets it forth. And this is the question. Does the individual exist for the state or does the state exist for the individual? But, one might ask, why should one country which places the individual first, go to war with another country which places the state first? … The first country probably disclaims any intention of interfering with the second one. But if it does not interfere, its own life may be in jeopardy. And then what of us in the United States of America, believing as we surely do in the rights of man? What is our stake in this appalling war? Our 3000 miles from the scene of conflict may lull us into a feeling of security, and complete freedom of strife….But our world truly has shrunk in both time and distance…. Neutrality may seem to unthinking minds easy of achievement. But our civilizations are so intricately woven, that genuine neutrality is most difficult, and the danger of our getting into war is by no means a trivial one.

There is a positive way to peace for our country, but it is a hard way, as we shall see….”

My father, “love in bloom,” as he called himself later, had to have been torn as 1939 turned to 1940, 40 to 41: cuddle with my mother, or defend the dignity of man?

From the Timeline of the National WWII Museum


January: Nationalist troops seize Barcelona

February: France and Great Britain recognize the Franco government in Spain.

March 15: Nazis occupy all of Czechoslovakia

May 1: In Germany, gassings of the mentally and physically disabled begins.

May 22: Hitler signs Pact of Steel treaty with Mussolini.

August: Germany and the USSR sign a non-aggression pact.

September 1: German forces invade Poland and WWII begins.

September 3: Britain and France declare war on Germany.

September 5: The U.S. declares its neutrality

September 25: The Luftwaffe bomb Warsaw. 40,000 civilians killed.

November 30: Soviet Union invades Finland; the winter war begins.


March 30: Japan establishes puppet Chinese government in Nanking.

May 9-10: Germany invades Norway and Denmark, then Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.

June 10: Italy declares war on Britain and France.

June 14: German army enters Paris.

July: The Soviet Union absorbs Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

September 7: German Blitz begins against Great Britain.

September 13: Italian forces invade Egypt.

October: Germany enters Romania and Italy invades Greece.

In February 1941, my father joined the 5th Reserve Officers’ Commissioning Corps of the United States Marines.







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“Crooked as Snively”

Visiting the University of Washington special collection on Friday, I was shocked to run across my great grandfather’s name in the old-fashioned card catalogue of regional newspapers:
UW Special Collection card for Snively scrapbook

According to my cousin Louise, Henry Joseph Snively was the inspiration for an old Yakima expression: “crooked as Snively.” H.J., a prominent criminal defense attorney in the early days of Yakima, and a Washington state gubernatorial candidate in 1892, used to pay my father 25 cents to rub his bald pate. There’s a visual I wish I didn’t have.

The yellowing scrapbook contains dozens of articles Great Grandfather carefully clipped and pasted onto pages with rubber cement. Some he must have saved for their legal possibilities — creative arguments and unusual precedents. Others spotlighted him in the era of yellow journalism. Like coverage of the Demerce divorce case, circa 1890:

Demerce divorce case Henry Joseph Snively 1890

“Well, that settles it; I’ll have nothing more to do with that woman,” said George Higgins Demerse, as Justice Rodman imposed a fine of $25 and costs on him for assaulting Belle Demerse, to whom he was married a few months ago. Mrs. Demerse claims to be the relict of David Seamon, whose tragic death occurred in the Caswell building in July-last. Seamon’s former wife who he abandoned some fourteen years ago in Missouri, to skip out with the present Mrs. Demerse, says there has been no divorce; but Mrs. Demerse claims that a divorce was granted in Pennsylvania in 1890, and that she and Seamon were legally married.”

Are you following this? This is reality TV before TV.

“At any rate her relations, marital or otherwise, do not seem to have been happy; for Attorneys Snively and [Fred] Miller are now preparing the papers to free her from her connection with Demerse… ”

The plot thickens:

“Demerse had been drinking steadily for the previous ten days, and on Saturday morning he struck his wife several times in the face and breast, threw the lamp from the center-table onto the stove, and in other ways demolished things. This was too much; and Mrs. Demerse went before Justice Clark and had him arrested on the charge of assault and battery…. [Demerse] asked for a change of venue, and said that he couldn’t get a fair trial in that court — which caused Justice Clark to grant the request for a change of venue, but to commit Demerse to jail for contempt. On Tuesday he was taken before Rodman, pleaded guilty to the charge, and was fined as before mentioned. …(He) is apparently content, for he says he would rather be there than living with his wife.”

Another article, about a horse thieving case, gave me an idea how Snively may have earned his reputation.

Fred Bickle was charged with stealing a horse owned by Dan Goodman. He posted $1,000 bond and was released from jail. Almost immediately, he was charged with stealing horses from William Buchholtz and was due to appear in court (busy guy); bail of $1,500 was set. Snively sued a writ of habeus corpus on the grounds that taking the horses to Oregon — no matter how many owners were involved — was still one offense, and thus should be one charge and not two (with two different bails). The court agreed. Bond was kept at $1,000.

But this was my favorite: “Last Saturday at North Yakima Judge Davidson released the bondsmen of J.K. Edmiston, the absconding Savings Bank swindler, on the ground that Edmiston was not in custody when the bond was executed. The reason given by the court for this outrageous decision is exceedingly weak and flimsy and bears the ear-mark of that shrewd manipulator H.J. Snively, the late attorney for Edmiston and at present the attorney for the bondsmen. That Snively himself had little faith in such a plea before the court is proven by his efforts to induce the commissioners of this county to compromise the case for $500. Failing in this after repeated efforts, Mr. Snively returned to North Yakima and by some hook or crook persuaded the court to make a decision that is lacking in common sense and wholly inconsistent with the facts of the case.”

Ah, the shrewd manipulator. His were the footsteps in which my father was supposed to follow. My father gave up on law school in 1941, when he joined the Marines, and never looked back.

(This bit of history is a byproduct of research I’m doing for my memoir project, The Henry Chronicles. Next stop: Yakima. Special thanks to Sandy at the U.W. Special Collections reference desk for her help in locating the Snively scrapbook.)


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A Ghost Story from the Hoosier Hills

Frank Campbell and Mary Sharp, wedding photo, 1877, Crawford County, Indiana

They used to be big on telling stories in Crawford County, Indiana, where my grandfather was born — down in the Hoosier hills, which, in the 1800s, was a poor and sparsely populated area. Folks in the region were especially fond of ghost stories.

You might say this is one of them.

My father was haunted by the memory of his father. “Why didn’t he want to spend time with me?” he often asked.

Because he was a jerk, I thought to myself. I knew he’d kept a mistress for more than 40 years until my grandmother finally divorced him. Dad always told his father’s story almost exactly the same way. Here’s a version I recorded in 2000:

“He never talked about home. As near as I could pick it up, he was one of seven siblings. They grew up on a dirt poor, hard scrabble Kentucky farm. But he was under a very severe father, which explains some of the harshness with which he treated us. When he was 13, he ran away from home. Went to Chicago. Growing up on that farm, he was a fairly independent guy. He could have fought for himself. He picked up bottles on the street in Chicago, washed them and turned them over to bottlers to make enough money to eat. He was very much living on the street. Somehow he got a job on the floor of the Chicago grain exchange when he was 17. When he was 18 or 19, he caught the eye of one of the traders on the floor who made him his assistant. By the time he was in his 20s, he had made $100,000. That was in the 1890s. When the crash came along, he lost most of what he had, but he saved enough to go to dental school. So he went to dental school in Chicago. After the first year, he was made an assistant to one of the professors, which paid his tuition and board the second year. He left there and went west to Seattle.”

Someone, maybe my grandfather, read a lot of Horatio Alger stories.

He wasn’t born in Kentucky. I don’t think he was poor. I’m not sure he ran away from home, though he may have, but if he did, his mother may have been the cause as much as his father. I’m almost certain he didn’t make a fortune in Chicago, and I know he didn’t go to dental school there.

I started to suspect the story when I was doing some research for a memoir project. My grandfather’s death certificate lists his birthplace as Louisville, KY. In 1940, someone gave the Yakima census takers the same answer. But when my grandfather was two, in 1880, the census listed him as born in Indiana.

The year before my grandfather’s birth, his parents married in Crawford County, though they drove over the state border to get a wedding portrait in nearby Louisville, KY. Frank, my grandfather’s father, had been in the area for some time. After his first wife died, he had four children to care for — two boys and two girls. In 1877, he married Mary Sharp, a widow. She had two children — both girls. Five years after my grandfather was born, another boy came along. They named him Zenor, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

In 1880, whoever talked to the census taker said Frank’s occupation was “bricklayer.” They also affirmed that he was “maimed, crippled or bedridden.”

Seven children and the father couldn’t work.

Two months before my grandfather was born, in 1878, Frank applied for a license in Jennings township to sell liquor in “Mary Sharp’s property.” An E.M. Tracewell filed a “remonstrance” against Frank on the grounds he was not a fit person, since he had violated the liquor law before. The town commissioners listened to testimony from 18 people, after which Frank withdrew his application. When he reapplied, the Board refused him the license due to a petition Tracewell had submitted with 44 signatories. At the time, fewer than 1,000 people lived in the area, but the temperance forces were active.

A year later, William H. Dean filed an application to sell whisky. E.M. Tracewell filed another remonstrance, but Dean prevailed. His saloon — to be located in “Mary Sharp’s room” — was approved. Who, I wonder, was the brains behind the original scheme, and the end run around E.M. Tracewell?

Dean’s attorney’s was W.T. Zenor. Was it Mary or Frank who chose to name their youngest after him?

By the 1900 census, Frank ‘s occupation was listed as “farmer.” Perhaps the temperance movement finally put such a damper on the business that he figured he needed a more dependable source of income.

Admiral said he ran away from the farm when he was 13, in 1890. Was he escaping his father’s cruelty, or his mother’s? Were eight mouths one too many? Was he longing for an education, but forced to work the farm?

School, in those days, cost money, about $2 per term. The four oldest children were listed as attending school at the time of the 1880 census, which suggests Frank and Mary had both the money and the inclination to educate their children. In 1900, when Zenor was 16, he was listed as “at school” — probably one of the state’s “Normal” schools, which offered a broader curriculum and a better teacher-student ratio.  Around the time Admiral might have attended, Normal schools cost $6.00 per term plus $2.25 for boarding .

Let’s get back to the question of cruelty. In Frank and Mary’s wedding portrait, neither one of them look like people you’d want to cross — but of the two, Mary looks less pleasant. Beady eyes (like Admiral’s), downturned lips.

What about Mary? In 1880, whoever answered the census questions said that she was 33 and Frank was 38. In 1900, she is listed as born in 1846 to Frank’s 1840, although the census taker was told she was 63 and he was 60.

On every census, Mary was listed as being unable to read or write. Apparently, she couldn’t do arithmetic either. To recap, by this juncture she has claimed to be five years younger than Frank, six years younger, and three years older. At the time of the 1920 census, he is listed as 82 and she is 73. Now she is nine years younger. The Cedar Hill cemetery in Jennings, Indiana, lists her as born in 1847 and Frank in 1837. She enters posterity as younger by a nice round decade.

Mary would hardly have been the first woman to fudge her age.

Admiral’s half-sisters, photographed around 1915, obviously prospered. They sat for formal portraits in expensive gowns. One, my father remembered, eventually lived in La Jolla.

Maybe Admiral didn’t run away at all. Maybe Frank and Mary paid for his secondary education and supported him through dental school.

More things about my grandfather’s story that don’t add up:

He was listed as a junior at the Ohio College of Dental Surgery for the 1898-99 term. The program indicates he graduated previously from the Louisville College of Dentistry. If his specialty training took two years, and he spent one or two years training in Louisville, he may have started toward dentistry in 1896. When he was 19.

His was a great story — washing bottles, working his way up to stock trading, amassing $100,00 and losing it all in the panic of 1893 — but he’d have to have accomplished all that by the time he was 15.

He did begin practice in Seattle, probably in 1900, where he worked for the Florence Dental Parlor. After a year, he arrived in Yakima and set up practice.

He soon had everything he wanted — a growing practice and a lady friend. Everything except the upper-middle class respectability that goes with the Horatio Alger myth. So he courted my grandmother, Jessie, the daughter of one of the most successful men in town. By telling her he’d run away from home and pulled himself up by his bootstraps, there was no family to correct the record. Perhaps Jessie’s father appreciated his gumption, since he, too, had come west to make his fortune.

But I still don’t know why my father’s father didn’t spend time with his sons.

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Kudos for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer… in 1887

Editorial cartoon credit:

Editorial cartoon credit:

Doing some research for a memoir about my father, who grew up in Yakima, I waded through microfiche of old — very old — newspapers. When Washington was still a territory, women had the vote. It may have won statehood, but women lost… until 1910 when the state constitution was amended to grant voting rights to women. The Yakima Republic ran this editorial piece on February 17, 1887, during one of many unsuccessful suffrage pushes:

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says ‘it has recently been charged with being in league with the devil. It will now probably be charged with being in league with the Democratic party. The first accusation was bad enough, but the second would be unbearable.’ And this, because it had the nerve and independence to express its views upon woman suffrage, as a question of public policy. When the press is sought to be throttled because of independence and utterance of its convictions, by those who do not happen to agree with such convictions of public policy, it shows a narrow and illiberal spirit, and, if it yields to an attempt to bulldoze it for opinions [sic] sake, it losses [sic] its influence and becomes a mere weather cock, turned by every varying breeze. An intelligent press is a public teacher, and its mission, like the pulpit, is to mould public opinion for the best interest of the greatest number of society, and of a higher civilization. This should be done, not by bluster, by threats, by command nor by ridicule but by addressing the reason, and presenting the advantages and disadvantages of a measure sought to be adopted, modified or abrogated, to the judgment of the public. Ours is a Republican form of government, which guarantees the free utterance of convictions, whether of speech or of the press, and they who seek to silence or stifle them by any species of restraint, because they are not in accord with their own, exhibit a dogmatism partaking of tyrany [sic]. The Republic admires the independent utterance of convictions, whether in accord with them or not.

Source: Washington State Library

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My Grandmother’s Legacy of Suffering

Quip in The Yakima Republic, 1887

Quip in The Yakima Republic, 1887

I’ve come to realize my grandmother had an enormous impact on my life, though not in the way you’d expect. Born in 1885, Jessie Harrison Snively Campbell was raised to promulgate the standards of her patrician ancestors, who traced their footprint in the New World back to the 1600s. Late in his life, my father admitted my grandmother didn’t approve of me. I was too outspoken and (thus) headed for trouble.

I’ve spent the week sleuthing about my grandmother, background for a memoir I’m writing about my father. In my self-indulgent fantasy, I wanted to demonstrate that she believed in the value of women in the same way that I do: that they are just as intelligent, have at least as much to offer society as men; that they have the right to fulfill their ambitions, to being heard, to earning a wage commensurate with their talents. In other words, I was examining my grandmother’s life through a feminist lens.

When I discovered that my grandmother’s mother, Elizabeth Harrison Martin Snively, helped found the Women’s Club of Yakima in the late nineteenth century, I thought I was on to something. Women’s clubs were one of the primary tactics used by the suffrage movement, and the Yakima club was affiliated with the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs, which played an important role in the movement. In 1919, the year that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was approved, Yakima’s women’s club presented a program — “history in the making” — on Elizabeth B. Phelps, who had served as vice president of the National Woman Suffrage Association when it was founded.

In my great grandmother’s 1937 obituary, it was noted that the Yakima women’s club started as an afternoon card club, but it was decided that women could play cards in the evening and use the meetings to “increase their knowledge.” Hmmm. Hardly the stuff of firebrands.

The West did play a critical role in securing the vote for women. In 1910, Washington was the first state in 14 years to modify its state constitution to give women the vote. That momentum propelled the movement in Oregon and then California.

In 1910, my grandmother was 25 and, for another year, still living under her father’s roof. Her father, a prominent attorney, had been the Democratic candidate for governor in 1892. Suffrage must have been discussed at home, but to what extent did my grandmother have an opinion or voice it?

Five days before the election, the Yakima Morning Herald quoted a prominent suffragist as saying, “The way men vote next Tuesday on this matter will depend largely on the light in which they regard their wives. If they consider the women they have married fairly intelligent human beings, capable of thinking for themselves on matters of general interest and welfare, if in a word, they consider them helpmates, equally responsibly with themselves for the success of the homelife and the family prosperity, they will vote ‘yes’ and no question about it.”

The day after the election, November 9, 1910, the Yakima Morning Herald trumpeted election results across the top of the page:

Democrats Gain Control of Five States



The “local option” referred to the prohibition of alcohol.

The lead story began:

“What have you heard?”

“The entire east has gone democratic.”

“To h__l with the entire east. Is she wet or dry here?”

And there is the story of the election day interest in North Yakima Tuesday.

The same paper carried its first story about voting rights four days after the election:


To Demonstrate That Confidence Shown in Them by Men Is Not Misplaced


Activity in Legislation Will Probably Work Itself Out Along Lines Affecting Welfare of Children and Home

Here, finally, were the results: the change to the state constitution was approved by a two-to-one margin, a landslide.

This was what caught my eye:

“There had been little suffrage agitation here, practically none of the women’s organizations… coming out pronouncedly for it, though there were individual suffragists in their ranks… [M]ore men voted for suffrage than against; this, too, when in many cases the men asked their wives how they would vote and were told to vote against it.”

I could imagine my great grandmother and grandmother among the women protesting that women needn’t vote.

I grew more offended as I read on:

“…[T]he vote on the suffrage amendment reflects greater credit on the fair-mindedness of the men than on the public spirit of the women. At one or two club meetings held since the returns were in, it was hard to discover whether the women were pleased or not. There is still talk, and among intelligent women, too, of the duty of the home, and the unwomanliness of going to the polling places.”

And then came the veiled threat:

“If the women go to extremes of impractical reform, the men will soon feel that the confidence was misplaced. If they take the matter rationally and quietly, making their points slowly and intelligently, they will not only get what they are after, but the admiration and support of their fellow voters as well. In matters pertaining to the welfare of the children and the home, in measures for the sanitation and beautifying of the cities, and in the cleanliness and freedom from adulteration of the food supply, they are pretty sure to meet little opposition, and these are the lines along which the women will naturally work. It isn’t likely they will be out after the offices.”

As long as women remained obsequious, stuck to “women’s issues,” and didn’t steal opportunities for public office from men, things would be dandy.

So why do I credit my grandmother for shaping my life? My grandmother stayed with my grandfather for over four decades before she finally divorced him. From the very beginning of their marriage, he maintained a second household with his mistress. He bullied his sons and my grandmother. According to my cousin, my uncle begged her to leave. Divorce wasn’t impossible even when she married; four were reported in the paper on her wedding day. In 1910, one woman won the “immense verdict” of $16,000 against her in-laws for alienation of her former husband’s affections. The plaintiff alleged they turned her husband against her.

I don’t know if my father ever spoke to his mother directly about her marital situation. What I do know is what he did when raising his own daughter. He made sure I had marketable job skills so that I would never be trapped in a loveless marriage.

The unhappy couple in 1953

The unhappy couple in 1953

Copies of The Yakima Republic/Daily Republic, the Yakima Morning Herald and The Yakima Democrat were accessed on September 15, 2015, at the Washington State Library in Tumwater, Washington.


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Memory and Moment

What makes us remember one particular moment out of the millions that raced past? I should remember the moment I was told my father had a serious heart attack. I was five, and old enough to understand. But so many of my early memories are single images, unconnected to the moments that preceded them and those that followed: looking through the pink chiffon of my mother’s evening dress, sucking a sugary droplet from a honeysuckle blossom, watching the tall swells through a porthole on an ocean crossing.

Most of the moments I remember aren’t decisive instants, neither augur nor anchor. From them I imagine: I was a scaredy-cat; I was a whiner; I was a tomboy. I imagine my father, too. He’s been dead for over two years. When I write, I meet him again for the first time.

No one can confirm who my father was. The people who might have had better answers — his brothers, his friends, his Marine Corps brothers, my mother — are all dead. Even if they were alive and could return to the periods that escape me, I’m not sure their account would be closer to the truth. Not even my brothers can confirm or deny my account because their relationship was son to father. I’m the only one who knew my father as I did.

The images are pushpins that hold up my stories. The story of how I wanted to feel close to him. The story of how I did. They’re not much, but maybe they’re enough.



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Silent Drill

marine barracks change of command 1958

My father, at right, receiving temporary command of Marine Barracks, July 1958

On nights when my father was in his party mood, I begged him to do the Silent Drill. He was still too weak to go back to work in that year following his heart attack, but I liked to pretend he still wore his Marine Corps blues.

He began by standing in the archway of the dining room in our new Seattle home: stick straight, eyes forward, the tip of an umbrella resting on the floor by his right toe. Then he stepped forward, landing on his heel. He was walking, just walking, but the steps didn’t look human, slowed to half speed. He rapped the umbrella next to his foot and lifted it to his left shoulder, where his left hand caught it with a smack and pushed it to the right. As he marched, he slapped his thigh.

This percussion was the drill’s only accompaniment: the slap on the thigh, the catch on the shaft, the rap of the tip. It reminded me of the ta-ta-tee-tee-tah chant that my first grade teacher used to introduce rhythm. The steps themselves were silent, like a cat padding down the hall.

The best part came near the end: roundhouse twirls, once, twice, three times around, performed with the right hand, then with the left, over the head, in front of the body, and for the finale, a toss in the air. There my father gave up. An umbrella was too light compared to the drill rifle he was used to.

I didn’t remember the Silent Drill Platoon, the highlight of the Marine Barracks’ Evening Parade. The first time I saw it, when I visited the Capitol to arrange my father’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery in 2013, I began to understand what I’d witnessed 50 years before.

The Barracks is the spiritual home of the Marine Corps, its oldest post. Its site was chosen for its location “within marching distance of the Capitol” in 1801 by the second USMC Commandant and President Thomas Jefferson. Early in the twentieth century, the first ceremonial parades were organized to boost the post’s military preparedness. Ten years after WWII, the twentieth Commandant recognized the Barracks’ new strategic importance — fighting for the continued existence of the Marine Corps. He called the Parade his “muscle” and used it to entertain elected officials and influential guests.

The Evening Parade was established during the summer of 1957. I was born on June 15 of that year. My father came aboard as the Barracks’ Executive Officer in August. In October, the Commandant asked Lt. Gen. Victor “Brute” Krulak to respond to this question: “Why does the U.S. need a Marine Corps?” Gen. Krulak had first addressed this question in 1946, he told the Commandant, when the USMC had last faced elimination. Playing devil’s advocate, he and a group of officers acknowledged that the Marines have no “mystical competence.” The Marines’ distinction, they concluded, lay in the country’s grassroots belief that when trouble comes, the Marines will be ready to do something useful, at once.

When the Commandant asked Gen. Krulak his question in 1957, the Marines were once again threatened by Washington’s amnesia. Nearly forgotten was the Corps’ feat during the first battle of the Korean war. The Marines’ fighting force had been reduced to six battalions and 12 aircraft squadrons by the end of the 1940s, and the Secretary of Defense had declared his intent to further cut the Marines and transfer its remains to the Army and Air Force. Then on June 25, 1950, the North Koreans invaded the south with a force of 75,000 soldiers. Within three weeks, the Marines pieced together an air-ground force of 30,000 and improvised a landing, despite tidal swells that were amplified by two typhoons prior to D-Day. The battle for Inchon, which lasted four days, was a decisive victory. Through Inchon and every other battle to which the Marines had been called, Gen. Krulak believed the USMC had earned the support of the American people. But between conflicts, the Marines foresaw the need to remind decision-makers of its value through traditions like the Evening Parade.

The memory of my father’s slow cadence seized me that first time I saw the Evening Parade.  When my father executed his gliding steps — each knee rising to regulation height, each stride stretching to regulation length — it was a solo performance, mesmerizing and weird. At the Barracks, it was like watching him multiplied in a house of mirrors, marching alongside an invisible legion.


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The Clueless Bride

The happy couple - wearing a 1906 wedding dress and tux in 100+ degree heat!

I had no idea what I was doing when I married my husband, 33 years ago, at almost this exact time. Oh, I thought I did, in the way 25 year olds think they have everything figured out. I remember how I felt the morning of my wedding. After a restless night, I woke up next to Ellen, my best friend, who would stand up for me later. I had expected to sleep deeply, as I had done so many times before, when Ellen and I talked deep into the night. But I was nervous. And that was silly, I thought. I was in love and marrying a good guy and I knew what I was getting in to. Being anxious about the ceremony — that was silly, too. In our hearts Todd and I were already married.

I could write a book about what I didn’t know. Practical things like: how to sleep with a 6’3″ person in a water bed; where to look for missing things when you live with someone who likes things neat.

None of the practical things mattered. I quickly learned to search the drawer closest to where I last saw a missing item, even if it made no sense to put it there. We got rid of the water bed after a year of rough seas. Those early lessons were mere anecdotes.

It took years, decades, to understand the big themes. How hard a man will work to preserve a marriage. How unconditionally loving he is of his children. How there for family — mine and his. How supportive of friends. How committed to faith through service. How responsible to people he does business with.

When I was 25, I glimpsed these qualities but, without context, without experience, didn’t know what I was seeing. Is he perfect? No, but he’s pretty damned special. I’ve now lived with him longer than I lived without him. Clueless no longer, I know what I’ve got.


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The Sunset Years

Eileen reach for Henry at a family wedding in 1996

Reaching for Henry at a family wedding in 1996

A little heartbreaker on my way back from workout this morning. A familiar elfin woman strolled down the street, her hands clasped behind her back. Should I ask her? Until a few weeks ago, she’d always been with her husband. The two looked like the movie trope about the sunset years, in which the elderly couple walks hand in hand, smiling. And something about her reminded me of my mother. They were a neighborhood fixture, along with the woman who walks her two horses, the young parents with the double-wide stroller and two wiemaraners, and the walking-talking lawyer, always on a moving conference call. But the couple was my favorite. I imagined my mother and father into their shoes, living their last years together.

I decided to ask.

She shook her head and said, “He passed away.”

I didn’t know what to say. I mumbled that I’d always enjoyed seeing them out together and had noticed his absence. I felt it now, and was sorry for her loss.

“He was brave to the end,” she said, with her faint German accent. Her smile was still there, politely friendly to this inquiring stranger. Her eyes watered.

I remembered sitting with my father on the couch in my parents’ living room the day after my mother died. My mother was everywhere and nowhere. The living room had been redecorated with the help of an interior designer, but the scheme was all her. She chose light gold for the walls, carpet and drapes to compensate for the days the clouds hid the mountains and the landscape turned gray. She hated the dark. Of course there were pops of red, her signature color: true-red cherry blossoms on the Japanese screen, pink-red cranberry glass on the window sill, wine-red velvet on my grandmother’s chair. Next to the couch were the leather-topped end tables for which she constantly admonished us to use a coaster; one had a cigarette burn. I couldn’t imagine her having caused it, even after a glass of wine. She gave up smoking a few times but never kicked the habit. In fourth grade, I conducted my first communications campaign, barraging her with block-lettered “ads” bearing the P.S., “I don’t want you to die!” In the end, smoking killed her, but dementia robbed us of her before that.

I didn’t know how my father would live without her. They were one until death split them asunder.

But in grief there was still memory. At least he still had her image, the moments bad and good. Toward the end, my father said he could no longer remember my mother’s face. That struck me as cruel on God’s part. How could she go missing?

The old couple, walking down the street, always holding hands, allowed me to construct an image of my parents together. A pretend game that gave them back to me, just for a minute. The couple never knew. I never said a word until today. When the woman turned to me, inside the protection of my car, her grief was naked. I hope I let her know that it mattered, that a stranger noticed her beautiful partner was missing. I hope his memory never will be.

Writer’s note: I’ve been silent while working hard on manuscripts for my Bennington College Master’s in Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. Graduation in June 2016, fingers crossed! Most of what I’m writing doesn’t quite fit the voice of “The Henry Chronicles” but periodically you’ll find me back here! It’s now been two-and-a-half years since my father died. Sometimes it seems longer ago, and sometimes like a few weeks ago. I continue to learn from him even now.


Filed under #grief, #memory

Atoms of the Soul

Dad sleeping

I dug this little piece out for a friend who is beginning a writing project. Pick an image, I told her. This is one of the first bits I wrote almost year ago with that same prompt. For some reason, the piece ended up on the cutting room floor. Maybe I’ll bring it back:

I think I’m done actively grieving, and then I open my eyes. On top of my white king-sized pillow is a smaller one in a rose-colored pillowcase. When I open my eyes in the morning, lying on my side, it’s what I see first. A rose-colored world.

My husband says it barely qualifies as a pillow. It’s a suggestion, a flattened wisp. If I fluff it out and smooth it with my palm, it rises above the bed less than three inches. Strange when I see it that way. It almost looks normal, a utilitarian object that happens to be enclosed in a mismatched bed linen. Its wonder is its malleability. It can be curled into a ball, or laid softly across my chest like a cat.

I wonder if it began its pillow-life full of stuffing and somehow, as it was carried from one bed to the next, it lost a feather here, a feather there. If its diminishment fell beneath notice.

This is the pillow that cradled my father’s head when he died. I remember it from my mother and father’s house in Tacoma. I remember it – or one just like it – on my mother’s bed when she died. If it is the same pillow, I imagine it was encased, then, in a cover with yellow roses. My mother loved yellow. The pillow followed my father to his assisted living apartment in Seattle, then to my house. He tucked tissues under it each night. By morning, he had compacted it into a tight roll. Toward the end, when he was half-conscious in his recliner, I lifted his head and molded it around his neck.

I cannot let go of the pillow. A superstitious person might feel it is bad luck to keep something that came into such direct contact with death, that in those sloughed off skin cells, now reduced to dust, atoms of the soul remain. When I clutch it to my chest, I cradle the little bit of my father that remains.

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