The Tail Gunner’s Daughter: A Memoir

Chapter Two – Part One

It was one of the last Transatlantic crossings she would make, and it was my first. With the revenue from selling more lake lots, in the summer of 1967 Mom and Dad took our family to Europe on board the RMS Queen Mary, sailing from New York to Portsmouth. Dad was excited about it because he had been on the Queen Mary when it was used as a troop transport vessel during WWII.

“It was October, 1944, and held 15,000 U.S. troops,” he said. “I was fifth bunk high in the library, which they made into sleeping quarters. The swimming pool was covered over and used as a mess hall.”

Dad said that Mickey Rooney had been an entertainer on board, and one day Mr. Rooney was playing blackjack with some other guys.  “A bunch of us G.I.’s moseyed up to the table to watch them. I couldn’t believe it,” Dad said. “Mickey Rooney threw down a twenty and then all the other guys tossed down twenties and all these twenty dollar bills were just lying there on the table. Twenty bucks was a month’s pay to us then.”

We were too young to play poker on the Queen Mary, but my fourteen-year-old sister, Denise, and her new shipmate Frances – I think her name was Frances – entertained themselves swooning over Noel Harrison. The man had no chance for escape, unless he wanted to swim to England. They were on his heals the entire crossing. Of course, Denise had to explain to me that he was a heartthrob actor, singer, and the son of Rex Harrison.

“Who’s Rex Harrison?” I asked.

“You know, the guy in My Fair Lady,” she said, trying to be patient with my ignorance.

Aside from watching Denise stock Noel Harrison, I played cards in a fancy room with Dalene and Mom, and swam in the indoor pool filled with ocean water. The salt stung my throat and burned my eyes.

As long as I live, I’ll always remember the red crazy, paisley carpeting throughout the ship. I’d follow paisley path to the gift shop because the shiny shelves were filled with endless bottles of perfume with my name on them: Tabu, by Dana; Canoe, by Dana.

“Can I have a bottle of that Tabu?” I asked Mom one day. “What’s tabu anyway?”

“It means you can’t have any,” she said.

“But look, it has my name on it,” I said, pointing.

I’ll buy you this bottle of Canoe. It has your name on it too.”

Canoe? I thought. That’s what we paddle around in at the lake. I was eight with a pixie haircut and had no idea what to do with perfume, but Canoe didn’t sound as mysterious and alluring as Tabu.

We landed in England and saw the sights: Stonehenge, which was a weird place full of rocks and boulders piled on top of each other, and Buckingham Palace – with the frozen guards whose fuzzy hats resembled the soldiers’ hats from The Wizard of Oz – a movie I hated because of the mean, flying monkeys, and because David always told me I looked like the wicked witch of the West with her green face and pointy nose.

In a department store, we tried on kilts. Denise emerged from the dressing room and Mom gasped. “That’s too short! She’s only fourteen!” The sales girls raised their eyebrows and whispered to each other when Mom yanked on the skirt trying to cover more leg. It was the sixties, it was England, and mini-skirts were the rage. But not on Ursula’s daughters!

Mom dragged us through different cemeteries in search of her ancestors. She said, “It’s important to know where you come from. Unfortunately, most of my ancestors were run out of England 200 years ago for stealing horses. So they fled to America and founded Harlan County, Kentucky.”

“Why is it so important to know I came from horse thieves?” I wanted to know.

“Because it’s your history!” she exclaimed. I shrugged my shoulders and tip-toed around more tombstones and grave markers. She also informed us that we were descendants of an immigrant who came to America on the Mayflower; John Alden. These things were unimportant to me, but Mom loved her heritage, and many years later she found a Harlan family crest and displayed it proudly in the entryway of her house.

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Our heritage

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As we toured through England, I listened to people talk to my parents. There was something odd about the way they spoke and I pointed out this fact to Mom.

“Mom, the people here talk funny.”

“No, Dana, to them you’re the one who talks funny.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way.

Dad drove in circles trying to find RAF Bury St Edmunds, but we never made it there. “Things sure do change after twenty-odd years,” he said.

Bury St Edmunds was an airfield that opened in September 1942 and was used by the United States Army Air Corps, Eighth Air Force. My Dad, Keith (his given name is Norman, but he always preferred his middle name), was stationed there as a tail gunner in B-17s, or what he and everyone else called the “Flying Fortress.”

Dad flew in several different B-17’s but he remembered flying the most in Ruhr Valley Express, and Miss Lucy-Valves. “The B-17 was called the Flying Fortress,” Dad explained, “Because on one of our missions over Germany that plane took 154 bullet and flak holes in the tail section alone, just missing the tail gun turret by mere inches. Three engines died and our pilot tried to get us back to base, but we had to emergency land at another base just off the English Channel. He was a hell of a pilot though. He landed that plane with one engine. After we came to a stop, the pilot yelled to me through the headset, ‘Hey, Dewey! You still back there?’ The tail section, gas tanks, and three engines had to be replaced. Those bombers were tougher then shit even when they were blasted to Kingdom come. A lesser plane would have crumbled. That’s why it was called the Flying Fortress. Prit’near indestructible.”

Lucy Valves

Miss Lucy-Valves

Dad told us that his pilot, who flew the crew through 35 missions – the average number of missions for a B-17 before it was shot down was fourteen – was twenty-one years old. The co-pilot and my Dad were nineteen. The oldest crew member was twenty-two.

Returning to base from more productive missions, Dad would put his foot up on the rudder cable and mess up the plane’s trim. The pilot compensated for the wobbly trim and after struggling with it a while, finally got the plane flying straight. Then Dad would take his foot off the rudder cable and the plane’s trim would be messed up again. The pilot again trimmed the plane and Dad repeated the process. The pilot figured it out and yelled into the intercom, “Dewey! Are you fuckin’ around with the rudder controls?” Dad said he always got a kick out of doing that because, he thought it was funny, and he liked to hear the pilot swear because he was a Mormon from Provo, Utah.

Dad frequently entertained himself during his service. “Sometimes, when it was calm in the air, I’d get so bored in the tail gun turret that I’d shoot my .45 out the window for fun.” One day their mission was scrubbed during the Battle of the Bulge and again, Dad got bored so around 0900 he and some buddies went out behind the Barracks into St. John’s Forest hunting rabbits in the snow with a Thompson sub-machine gun and some pistols. A guy who stayed behind in the barracks said they made more racket than an actual battle.

Dad was caught with the smoking guns and was demoted from sergeant to private, and he’d just been considered for staff sergeant the day before.

“My pilot tried to get my rank back, but it took a long time.” Dad laughed, and then became serious. “But what really pissed me off was that when we got caught, all the other guys pitched their guns into the bushes. I wasn’t about to give up my weapon, that’d been stupid, so I kept mine and got busted.” Dad continued, “Some other guys I knew of in the war tried to desert to Switzerland and as punishment only had to dig ditches. That really pissed me off. I lost a rank and all I did was shoot at rabbits. And I don’t think I even shot one! Then on payday, I walked up to the payroll guy in the combat section to pick up my money and told him my name was Private Norman K. Dewey.”

“No way!” said the payroll guy. “Privates are non-combat pay. What’s a private doing on a bomber?”

Dad said the guy was completely stunned. “I stood in front of him and laughed, realizing how ridiculous I must have sounded.”

Dad traded with other guys their military-issued chocolate bars for his military-issued cigarettes. “I didn’t smoke, but I’d eat a candy bar before every flight. Then I’d just throw it up I was so nervous,” Dad said. “In fact, I didn’t keep much of anything down.”

No kidding! I thought. Had it been me, I would have crapped my pants too. During the war he was five feet eleven inches tall and weighed a hundred and fifty-five pounds. I’ve seen those tail gun turrets. You have to crawl down a tiny hole and sit in a tiny space with pretzel legs, so it was probably a good thing he yarked every flight.

“Unfortunately,” Dad said, “I either puked up the chocolate bars into my mask, or the updraft would toss it back in my face. The guys called me ‘Puke Face Dewey.’”

Published with permission by NKD

“Puke Face Dewey”

To be continued . . .

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The Tail Gunner’s Daughter: A Memoir

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Seattle from the third floor window of our house on Queen Anne Hill. Circa 1984.

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The sibs: Toad; 2, David; 4, Denise; 8, Dalene; 7

Chapter One

Continued . . .

I wish the earthquake had shaken some smarts into me. I refuse to say I was stupid, but I was a slow learner. For example, one day in first grade I sat at my desk, in another disgusting dress, wearing white boots that I’m sure Mom stole from Goldie Hawn’s locker on the set of Laugh-In. Actually, that show didn’t air until 1968, but you get the point. Anyway, I stared out the window at a rhododendron bush, daydreaming as usual.

Mrs. Nest, a thin, cross woman with puffy blond hair knocking around in her fifties somewhere, stood at the front of the room with her long pointer stick hitting the clock above the blackboard, explaining to the class how to tell time.

“The clock is divided into segments of five minutes each. Five past the hour, ten past the hour, fifteen past the hour, and so forth,” said Mrs. Nest. Then I heard a long stretch of silence followed by a shrill scream.

“Dana!”

I shot upright as if Mrs. Nest had shoved that ridiculous pointer stick up my behind. My eyes bulged with fear at Mrs. Nest who glared back at me and banged her pointer stick to the number five on the clock.

“What time is it when the little hand is pointing to the three and the big hand is pointing to the five?”

I was petrified. But I had to say something! “It’s three minutes past five o’clock,” I muttered.

Laughter erupted in the classroom and I shrank in my seat. Mrs. Nest repeatedly smacked her hands together with such force I thought she would break them.

“Quiet!” she yelled.

“Miss go-go boots doesn’t know how to tell time,” said Jennifer, a smart girl.

Well, that comment sent Mrs. Nest into orbit, and she whacked that girl’s ear with a ruler. All the turmoil and tension made my bladder spasm. And even though I feared that ruler more than anything else, I raised my hand anyway.

“What is it, Dana? Do you have the correct answer?” barked Mrs. Nest.

“I have to go to the bathroom.” The kids laughed again at me.

“You should have gone at recess like everyone else.”

So, I held it in. I held my tongue, too, for fear of getting whacked with that ruler. Later, painting at the art table in the back of the room, I wiggled and crossed my legs, but nothing worked. Which brings me to a joke my father used to tell, over and over again, like he did all his jokes, about his first grade teacher who called on him to recite the alphabet. So he dutifully replied, “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O, . . . Q,R,S,T,U,V,W,X,Y,Z.” The teacher asked, “But Keith, where’s the P?” Little Keith replied, “Runnin’ down my legs.”

And that’s just where mine was, too, and the proof was in the puddle at my feet. Eddie, standing next to me, pointed down at it.

“I spilled my water can,” I said. He grinned, not buying it.

Mrs. Nest saw my puddle of pee and had a hissy fit, bringing all the attention to me once again. “Dana Dewey!” I felt so ashamed of myself.  The janitor had to come and clean it up.

After school I ran for home, holding fast to my unfinished artwork. Several mean kids from my class were running after me laughing their heads off.

“Hey, Dana DOG DEW!” hollered Ricky the Rascal.

“What time is it PEE-PEE pants?” yelled Randy the Ruffian.

The other kids howled and cheered at the bully leaders. I ran faster as salty trails of tears crisscrossed my face. Randy threw spiny horse chestnuts at my head – he was an excellent marksman – the little bastard. I dropped my painting and the bullies trampled it in their boiling pursuit. I ran all the way home, sneaked upstairs to Mom and Dad’s bathroom, sat in a bathtub full of hot bubbles, and scrubbed away the pee and shame. Because I had used all the shampoo, Dad yelled at me and spanked my bare butt. What a pissy day.

The next day, I watched Mrs. Nest yell at Dalene on the playground because I didn’t know how to tell time. After school, Dalene made a clock out of a paper plate and construction paper with hands that moved around a brass fastener. The numbers were bright, large, and fun to look at.

“Dana, do you know how to count by fives?” Dalene asked.

I nodded.

“The clock is divided up into segments of five minutes each; five, ten, fifteen, twenty, and so on until you reach sixty minutes, or one whole hour.” She moved the hands around and explained to me the elements of the clock in one afternoon. She was ten. It’s no coincidence that when she grew up she became a teacher.

I was hopping mad at Mrs. Nest because not only did she humiliate me, but she couldn’t teach me in a week what Dalene taught me in a few hours. Mom told me not to be too hard on Mrs. Nest because she was going through a nasty divorce. I didn’t know what a divorce was, but right then I made up my mind I wasn’t going to go through one of those, especially if it made you crotchety.

To be continued . . .

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The Tail Gunner’s Daughter: A Memoir

Part One: Privilege

Chapter One

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is the Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature – Henry David Thoreau

The Lake

The Lake

 I was drowning, and I had yet to see four years. I strolled along the dock pulling my scraggly piece of wood, its tiny wake fanning out in the water. It was my tugboat, like the ones that towed log booms from the St. Joe River up the lake past the gray cabin.  The splash stabbed my ears like icicles and the frigid water pulled me deep down into darkness. Sinking toward the bottom of the lake, I wondered where I was going, how long I would be there, and could I breathe when I arrived? The cabin moved farther up the cliff and the clouds waved goodbye as they wiggled across the gloomy, March sky.

Thankfully, Jerry Fox, an older kid saw me sinking. He plucked me out of the water and hauled me up the ziggy flight of stairs to the gray cabin where Mom yanked off my sodden clothes and plopped me in the sink. She splashed water all over me from an iron pot warming on the wood stove, suffocating the goose bumps.

Dad, his brother Don, and some friends had built the gray cabin in the late 40s. It was a small, two-story structure covered in weird, giant, composite roofing shingles. The cabin looked like it was in danger of sliding down the cliff and crashing into the lake, but it never did. Wrapped in a towel now, my eyes flashed to the big window where the gray sky was replaced by a spray of deep pinks and blues. The hills and mountains surrounded the lake like a big hug, and the mountains donned their purple felt capes of twilight. Lake Coeur d’Alene was, and still is, so special to us that we’ve always referred to it as “The Lake,” as if it were the only lake on earth.

Before my three older siblings and I were sparkles in Dad’s eyes, the lake became a part of of our bloodline.

“In 1946,” As Dad tells it, “While your Uncle Don and Aunt Lucille were renting a cabin on Lake Chatcolet, they found some property for sale on Lake Coeur d’Alene, and Don wanted to buy the land and bring me in as a partner. I was twenty-two and broke.” Dad shared their brief conversation with me.

“Don, how are we going to buy land when we have no money?” asked Dad.

“I don’t know, but I’ll come up with something,” said Don.

Don mortgaged his house. “In fact,” said Dad, “The house he mortgaged was at 1136 Harrison Street in Moscow.” I was amazed that Dad had remembered the address of his brother’s house from almost 70 years ago, when he always had trouble remembering my name. He’d go down the hierarchy of his kids and toss in the family pets before he got to me – Denise, Dalene, David, Daisy (our Brittany), Doodles (the cat), and finally, Dana. “It might’ve been 1120 Harrison Street,” offered Dad.

Don bought, in Dad’s own words, “Damn close to a mile of virgin lakefront property” from Big Cottonwood Bay, around Reynolds Point and into Little Cottonwood Bay for $3,500. “Then,” continued Dad, “On a foggy morning, with a 33HP Evinrude on a 16’ Birchcraft packed with a bicycle, Don putted twenty miles up the lake to Coeur d’Alene city and bicycled from the dock to the courthouse and bid $50.00 for 20 more acres of lakefront property, from Little Cottonwood bay up toward Gasser Point. Don sparred back and forth with another man until Don beat him with a $400.00 bid. We split all the property, and where the gray cabin sits seems to be almost in the middle.” Dad explained, “I paid Don back in installments and it was a very slick deal.”

Dad continued his story, “When Don and I were splitting the property into lots, three surveyors had to come out because every time a lot was surveyed the measurements weren’t right. The corners didn’t meet,” Dad explained.

“Corners?” I asked. “What do you mean the corners didn’t meet?”

“The county surveyor came out and said, ‘Two plus two equals plus or minus four. You have to leave room for error.’ Then the engineer came out and said, ‘No, two plus two equals four.’ Then the lawyer came out and asked me, ‘What do you want two plus two to equal?’”

I scrunched up my face. “You had to have a surveyor, an engineer, and a lawyer come out to assess the property?”

Dad laughed and said, “Dana, it’s an old joke.” I should have known.

Dad separated his property into 100-foot lots. He and Don saved several lots for themselves and sold their first 100 foot lot for $800.00. Dad and Don held their own contracts and this first contract was $50 down and $50 a month. Dad rented a lot each to some friends: the Kirk, Elmer, and Fox families, so every summer we had many friends with which to play and get into trouble. And Jerry Fox was the one who saved me from drowning during Spring break.

Dad and Don were also business partners in the wholesale company, Spokane Hobby. In 1961 they opened another wholesale warehouse in Seattle, at Fifth and Mercer. Dad and Don decided that Spokane Hobby didn’t sound right so they renamed the company Northwestern Hobby. (Somewhere in the process, Mom and Dad moved us from Spokane to Seattle.) Later the warehouse moved to Westlake and John Street. This building is still vivid in my mind because the first time I climbed up the creaky, wooden stairs I was four or five, and hid in the pleats of Mom’s skirt. She urged me to peek out so I did and I saw grimy windows too high to see out of. I was introduced to the secretary, Shirley, who had bright red curly hair.

The warehouse was loaded with model kits of battle ships, cars, airplanes, electric trains, and Matchbox cars, which were my favorite. At home, David and I would play with the tiny cars and trucks on the front foyer rug which had big squares set in white stripes that provided ready-made streets and city blocks.

The aforementioned home was at 123 Prospect Street on Queen Anne Hill, the home that Mom said she could not live without and told Dad she’d do “anything” if he’d buy it. I’m unsure what she did, and it’s probably none of my business, if you know what I mean, but he took out a $30,000.00 mortgage for a monstrous, four story house with six bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an old toilet in a tiny crooked room down by the rumbling furnace that supplied hot water to the steam heaters throughout the house. There were stairs everywhere. Steep, narrow, Bates Motel scary stairs up to the third floor, and another steep, narrow “servant’s” staircase from the kitchen to the second floor. The bonus feature of the house was the front staircase with a polished wood banister that ended in a swirly curl. We slid on that banister every time we needed to go downstairs, and even when we didn’t. And I, being the smallest, landed on my rump a lot. Mom had ears like a bat and yelled from the kitchen, “Get off the banister!”

From the living room windows, with Mt. Rainier and Puget Sound in the near distance, we watched the birth of the Space Needle for the 1962 World’s Fair. It would be the first world’s fair since WW II, and it was during the height of the Cold War and the space race; hence the name “Space Needle.”

During the Fair, Mom and Dad ran the house as an illegal bed-and-breakfast, renting out the basement decorated wall-to-wall with army cots. The house was full of people: out-of-town Scout troops, friends and relatives, and hobby dealers and reps that Dad knew from his line of work.

From the mad money they made during the World’s Fair, Mom and Dad built a swimming pool in the yard. The process left piles of dirt everywhere and for weeks it was David’s and my play station. We plowed through the mountains of dirt on our knees driving our Matchbox cars and Tonka dump trucks.

Out of the mess a small water park emerged. I was mesmerized by the sparkling blue water, and I thought I was looking down into the sky. For days I stood on the cement sidelines watching everyone swim and splash around while Mom tried coaxing me in. She had been a lifeguard and swam like a mermaid. Since I had nearly drowned before, I was scared to get into the pool, no matter how pretty it was.

“Don’t you want to come in, Toad? I’ll help you swim,” Mom said. I looked at her outstretched arms, the rubber swim cap squeezing her skull, the nose plugs pinching two nostrils into one, and shook my head. This went on for several days. I sat on the edge and observed Mom swim smooth laps, alternating each one with the back, side, breast, and crawl strokes.

One day, having seen enough, I stepped on the first stair. Then the next, and the next, and then my tip-toes touched the bottom of the pool and I was up to my neck in water. I stood still for a minute while Mom watched me as my feet slipped off the bottom of the pool. Later, sitting around the dinner table, Mom got excited and blurted out, “I just watched her as she got in the pool, not wanting to say anything in case it scared her away, and the next thing I knew she was doing a perfect breast stroke!” Clearly, Mom was impressed, the only one impressed. My siblings could not care less. They could all swim. “Dana’s the kind of kid who does things when she’s good and ready and not before,” Mom concluded. I was the only one listening to her.

Every June Mom drove us kids to the lake for the entire summer. It took all day to get across Washington. Hour after hour I’d sit in the car with my face pressed against the window. I was so bored I’d transport my body outside. I rode bare back on a chestnut mare galloping on the changing landscape, from the mountains of the Cascade Range to the cliffs of the Columbia River gorge and into the desert heat of Moses Lake, leading Mom’s car by a nose. My horse raced so fast that my eyes watered and my bangs flew straight up.

Hours later we’d be on the county road outside Worley, Idaho, where we’d all yell, “I see the yellow road!” The yellow road had been carved into the side of the hill by Dad and Don and was the only way into the cabin. Mom always let Daisy out to run the last couple of miles. It took several more hours to unload the car and settle into the gray cabin. It could have gone faster, but David and I always wasted time running amok.

After a week of exploring in the woods and getting dirty, it was laundry day. Mom revved up the wringer washing machine out back. We took turns placing the clothes through the squeezing rollers and watching the soapy water gush out as the clothes emerged flat and dehydrated. We’d get to do it all over again with the rinse water. How could laundry be fun? One time, a little green tree frog was hopping around the washing machine and I hollered, “Oh, isn’t it cute? Is that a toad? Is that what my nickname stands for?”

“No. That’s a frog,” Mom said. Later, David found a hideous, dark green toad covered in warts and told me that that’s what I was named after. I’d rather be called Frog.

Washing

Wash Day with Mom, David, Ray Fox, and Toad

Dad drove to the lake on weekends, hung out with us, didn’t shave, chopped wood and fixed things. He would pile us all in the boat and drive the twenty miles to Coeur d’Alene City for the Diamond Cup Unlimited Hydroplane races. Tied up to a log boom, we watched the piston-powered V-12 Allison or Rolls-Royce Merlin engines roar around in circles. My ears ring just thinking about it. The sun roasted our skin and it sizzled when we jumped in the lake to cool off. The Kirk, Elmer, and Fox families also tied their boats up to the log boom and it was a robust party. One year, Dave Kirk’s brother Stewart had anchored his tugboat by the log booms, so Dad tied up to the tugboat. We jumped into the lake from the cabin roof, which also gave us a higher perch to watch the race.

One summer, to avoid paying the log boom tie-up fee, Dad and a friend attached a small outboard motor to a dock and started driving that up to Coeur d’Alene, but the dock kept going in big circles and they ended up in Harrison, the exact opposite direction of Coeur d’Alene.

Hot summers of bike riding, boating, chasing snakes, frogs and toads, skiing, and playing kick-the-can at night ended, and school began again in rainy Seattle. On April 29, 1965, having recently turned six, I decided I was old enough to walk the mile or so to school by myself without my trio of bossy siblings. I woke up, rummaged through my closet full of frilly dresses, which I despised, yanked one off the hanger and jerked it over my head. In 1965 girls were prohibited from wearing pants at John Hay Elementary School. Maybe it was in all of Seattle, who knows, but it was a stupid rule. I tiptoed down the staircase into the large foyer, slipped into a parka, and sneaked out the front door.

I walked along the sidewalk on Prospect Street in the old, affluent neighborhood, where the Space Needle and Mount Rainier graced the horizon. It wasn’t raining, a small miracle, but the air was light gray and fragile, full of particles like tiny glass beads. I walked toward school to attend kindergarten, which I hated.

My stomach fluttered from the fear and the excitement of walking alone. After walking three blocks my legs wobbled. The ground under my feet folded, twisted and cracked, and a ferocious rumble nearly tore my head off. The violence tossed me to my knees and I flopped and bounced like a fish gasping in air. Trying to stand up was useless. Trees snapped and houses swayed back and forth and I watched a chimney crumble and crash to the ground.

And then nothing. I lie crumpled in a pile of eerie stillness. Dazed and confused I got up and ran flat out toward home and pushed open the heavy, wood door, which looked to me like it belonged on a castle, and ran to Mom who frantically paced the foyer.

“Toad!” she yelled with relief and hugged me and inspected me for injuries. “What were you thinking, leaving the house alone? Oh, your knees are all bloody,” she said as she turned me from side to side checking for more injuries.

All the fear and excitement exploded from my mouth, “I was walking to school by myself and I could have made it too if the earth didn’t throw me down and try to eat me.”

Mom laughed and replied, “I guess this was a bad day to declare your independence.” She looked me over again. “Here, let me tie your shoes.”

I pushed her hands away. “I’ll do it my own self.”

To be continued . . .

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Parent-Able: Seven Strategies for Raising a Physically Disabled Child Without Going Insane

Origin Story

The Corpsman tried to stick monitor leads on my swollen abdomen as I crawled on all fours on the table alleviating the agony of childbirth. “Ma’am,” he said in a southern drawl, “You have to lie on your back and hold still.”

“That’s precisely how I got into this mess in the first place!”

I acquiesced to the corpsman’s request and he attached the leads to my big belly and looked at the monitor. I panted like a dog failing at Lamaze. His expression dimmed.

“I’ll be right back. Stay here and don’t move!” Easy for him to say. A commander rushed in to the room with a nurse on his heels.

“How are you doing?” the commander asked me calmly.

“Not so good,” I said. “This baby wants out now.”

“That’s what we’re here to do.” The commander performed a hasty pelvic exam and his eyes bulged from behind his glasses.  He barked orders, “Get an operating room ready! And find me a surgeon!” The nurse flew out of the room. The commander glared at the lieutenant. “Did you break her water?”

“Yes, sir,” said the lieutenant.

“You idiot!” barked the Commander. I screamed with the next contraction and my natural instinct said to push out that baby, but nothing happened except an eruption of more pain. “Your baby’s head is butted up against the umbilical cord.” My husband’s eyes were the size of silver half-dollar coins. Chaos erupted in the room and the nurse came buzzing at me with an electric razor and shaved my pubic hair. Then I was rushed down the hall and slammed through huge double doors into an operating room where a civilian nurse talked calmly to me and asked me to sign a paper attached to a clipboard. The bed was inverted, and I looked up at my feet as my wobbling hand signed the piece of paper.

“What is it? I squeaked.

“It’s a consent form,” said the nurse. I scribbled my name and the corpsman snatched the clipboard from my limp hand.

“She didn’t sign on the right line!” hollered the corpsman.

The nurse spoke in a controlled, but urgent voice.  “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Hurry and find the doctor.” The room became quiet and I heard the nurse doing busy work. The pain nearly cracked my body in two and all the blood rushed to my head as I stared up at my feet.

After what seemed like a year, the commander, a lieutenant nurse, and the corpsman, returned to the OR, looking grave as they prepared for surgery.
I lie helpless on the table, biting back the painful, forbidden urge to push. Another man in a white overcoat walked in and I could tell he was the new authority. He introduced himself.

“Mrs. Bonawitz, I’m Captain Beuford,” he said. “We’re going to take this baby emergency Cesarean.” Then he paused. “We’re unable to locate the anesthesiologist on call, so we’re in the process of securing a replacement.” My eyes scrolled the room as I digested the information, and noticed my husband’s absence. “We’re going to start with a local anesthesia in the abdomen,” Captain Beuford concluded. He told me to hang in there and it would all be over soon. He lifted a big needled syringe and then stabbed me in the abdomen.  Pain from the contractions and the stabbing needle burned through my body like tissue paper on fire. Thankfully, the human brain has a built-in anesthesia. It knew I could no longer stand the pain, and my brain said I didn’t have to. I passed out. No more pain.

When I woke up, a young man in scrubs and surgical mask told me he was the anesthesiologist and told me to breathe into the mask that smothered my face.
“It’s about time,” I mumbled. I had no idea if my baby had been born. Then I passed out again. When I woke up, the medical team and my husband stood around my bed and stared down at me. What’s everyone looking at? The surgeon stood at my bedside as the civilian nurse wheeled in the incubator that encased my baby and placed him next to my bed. I thought he was dead, but then saw his blue-gray body shivering and shaking. Tubes were taped to his nostrils and a long, fluted tube was taped over his mouth that attached to a respirator. A gauze sac covered his scrotum with more tubes attached to that. More tubes sprawled around his tiny, battle-worn body like spaghetti. It was so quiet at that moment all I could hear was the whirring respirator as it puffed air into my baby’s lungs. I couldn’t hear, or feel, the beating of my own heart.

Twenty three years later I continue to care for this amazing person who attends University, is non-verbal and uses assistive technology to communicate, uses a power chair for mobility and is dependent on me for all his Activities of Daily Living (ADL).

I’m blogging my book about seven strategies that I used – Grieving, Accepting, Learning, Loving, Laughing, Overcoming Obstacles, and Goal Setting – that have helped me for over two decades.

In this book you will learn to:

– Experience less stress and anxiety, obtain more clarity and enjoyment while parenting your special child, and taking care of yourself will be easier.

– Maintain sanity while raising a physically disabled child in a society that focuses on physical perfection.

– Realize goals you set for yourself.
– Set realistic goals for your disabled child.

In Chapter One you’ll learn the first strategy to raising your disabled child without going insane. That strategy is allowing yourself to grieve.

Posted in Books, Care Providing, Cerebral Palsy, Family, Non-fiction, Special parents, Staying mentally healthy | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gunner’s Tale; Part 4

Published with permission by NKD

N.K. Dewey in B-17 flight gear

I’m watching Dad’s energy and physique fade. He’s a man of the greatest generation. With the movie “Unbroken” coming out based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, it’s no wonder this generation of men are rightly cherished. And they are dying. But my Dad is still alive! And my Mother’s brother is too! Dad is having Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA’s), which are mini strokes that allegedly leave no permanent damage to the brain. His speech becomes slurred for a bit and he can’t remember how to put on his pants. So basically, it’s like a six-minute drunk. Fortunately, God doesn’t want him yet. My mom, my sister, and all his friends and relatives are blocking the Pearly Gates because they don’t want to be tormented by his repetition of dirty jokes yet again.  Of course I’m kidding. Dad’s not a religious man, but every time we finish a phone conversation or we say goodbye in person he ends with, “Keep the faith!”

So in honor of my Dad, the following are the last entries of his war diary:

An Early Page From his Journal

An Early Page From his Journal

2-17-45  Frankfurt was target for today and it was pretty ruff cause we didn’t drop our bombs and then we went Giessen – that is our Sq. didn’t drop there bombs but we did and so when we went over Giessen we went off to one side and did some evasive action of our own. Marshling yards was the target.

2-20-45  Today was my 22 mission over Germany and I get a little more scared every time.  Nurenburg was the target – we hit the south side of the city was target but we bombed the whole town over 1000 bombers went. We had some incendarys and 500 lb bombs.

2-21-45 – Went to Nurenburg again today and boy they must have taken a beating cause over 1000 bombers are hitting again today at it. Not as much Flack today as yesterday and there wasn’t as much yesterday as we expected so it wasn’t to bad of a target.

2-22-45  Went to [blank space]  Today and this raid about took the cake  We were briefed for no Flack and were bombing from 9000 ft. and the highest we went at any time was 20,000 and that was to get over the lines.  Saw the Swiss Mts and were 10 miles from border and 35 miles from Czechoslovakia  The 8th Air Force all bombed small towns with rail junctions in them. Saw a few bursts of Flack way back when going over front lines near Strasbourg.

2-23-45 – My 25th mission today and another dilly only today we went in over north sea and flew all over Germany at low altitude of 16,000 ft. till we got to the target and then went down to it at 5,000 ft and it was visual and was really fun watching the bombs hit and some of the gunners staffed but I wanted to save my ammo. in case some of the front line fighters come up but they never. P-51s came all over when we were bombing and they staffed everything in sight and they must have had a field day.  Went out right past Stuttgart and went over the lines by Freiburg and then we were at 18,000 ft and they shot up quite a bit of Flack on the way out. Boy I was sure tired today and 4 in a row is hard on a guy.

N. K. Dewey’s Daily Scedule

That was the end of the tiny journal, but the contents were far from small. I asked him recently, “Why did you stop writing entries after your 25th mission?” He glanced away, pursed his lips and shrugged his shoulders. No need for me to press him about it. That was enough. At 19 years old, Dad completed 35 missions and lived to tell about them. Fourteen missions for a B-17 was the average before it was shot down. He talks about his service in WWII as a tail gunner, but when asked if he ever killed any Germans, his response is always, “No, but I scared the hell out of some.”

Dad has regaled us with stories that he omitted from his journal, and I have written about them in my not yet titled or published memoir. Keep the faith!

Posted in Family, Feature articles, health, history, military, stories, Tail Gunner, Uncategorized, WWII | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

America The Beautiful

This gallery contains 11 photos.

From Idaho, to Hawaii, to Arizona, to California, to Washington and beyond, America is beautiful. In “A Gunner’s Tale” series, I’ve been posting entries from my father’s WWII diary of his time as a B-17 tail gunner, and as the Fourth … Continue reading

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A Gunner’s Tale; Part 3

B17 Tail Gun Turret

B-17 Tail Gun Turret

It’s hard to believe my father was ever 19-years-old, especially sitting in a tail gun turret shooting .50 caliber machine guns at approaching enemy aircraft. I have a hunch a lot of people my age are thinking the same thing about their fathers. He sometimes talks about his experience and he admits that he was nervous up there. “They called me ‘puke in the face Dewey,'” he said, “because I always puked up the chocolate bars I ate into my mask, or else the updraft would toss it back in my face.”

Published with permission by NKD

N.K. Dewey in B-17 flight gear

Jan 9th  Been stand downs past couple of days and weve been going to school 8hrs a day and go again tomorrow  Just brushing up on every thing in general

Jan. 13th – Mainz was the target – 6 one thousand lb. Bombs – Temp. was – [minus] 43 degrees and my heated suit was screwed up and I got pretty cold.

Jan 14th. Magdeburg and we went by Berlin and Hannover – Had fighters and they got several bombers in our group although they never attacked our sq. but as they turned away from the low sq. I could get them in my sights and it scared the devil out of me my lower ball man and I opened fire but they were a long ways out about 1000 yds. I would say I was more scared than Ive ever been in my life.

Jan 16.th Plaven and we hit marshling yards and we called it cooks tour of Germany and we were just trying to draw up fighters and we had ample support of 51s but we never got hardly any flack. We landed at a limey base and stayed for the night and had fresh eggs.

1-25-45  Got Busted down to a Pvt.  for hunting in the woods in back of camp.

Jan. 29. Hit Kassel jet air craft plant and results were unknown. Fighters were in area but we never seen any. 12- 5 hundred lb. Bombs.  This was our first missions for 12 days we had 6 scrubs and 3 standowns.

Feb. 3rd. My most famous raid I gues cause Berlin is the most dangerous target in Germany and we bombed the heart of the city and it caused quite a write up in the papers

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, 1945. On the left the...

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, 1945. On the left the Columbushaus, on the right the ruin of Hotel Fürstenhof. Canadian soldiers in the jeep. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– We had good coverage of P-51s and all the way they kept in pretty close. There were fighters in the Area but we never saw them. I got my second cluster to my Air metal [medal?] today – Flack was pretty heavy and we picked up a few flack holes.

2-6-45  We went to Chemnitz today near Munich and it was quite a ride thru Germany on Oxygen for 6 hrs and there wasn’t any flack over the target but we ran thru ample on the way out near Frankfurt and most or about half of our ships landed on the continent in Belgium and France but had a lot of gas so we came back to camp. We were alone over France as the formation run up against bad weather so we split up. I saw 5 large ships that were sunk near the coast of France and the towns we went over were in pretty bad shape cause when an army goes thru a place they really ruin it. This was my 19th mission and Ive only 16 more to go.

2-7-45 Had a Big personal inspection today by a 2 star General and 1 star general  first General Ive ever had look at me in the eye, boy this place is really turning chicken shit – we also have a new CO.

2-16-45  Went to Hamm and Got hit pretty bad sent the ship to sub depot cause every gas tank had a hole in it and the Flack was pretty heavy – some hit the flack suit of the Togglei[e]r and it was his 53 mission but no one got hurt.

To be continued . . .

Posted in Family, Feature articles, history, stories, Tail Gunner, Uncategorized, WWII | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment