This is the first memory I can recall, and it had a lasting effect on my life.
My First Memory - 1945
It must have been the fall of 1945, and I was a chubby, happy, little boy almost four-years-old, playing with my brother, who was fifteen months older, on the floor of the old two-story farm house.
My grandmother was the only one home with us. Sis and Gramp had gone to town, and Mom was working. Dad was in California.
Our play was abruptly interrupted by the sound of someone stepping upon the wooden porch and the screen door opening. This was followed by a scream from my Ma (grandmother), and she began to weep openly as she ran to the door, screaming and crying with arms outstretched.
As brother and I hid behind the old upright piano and peeked out in sheer terror, what we saw was a total stranger coming in the door dressed in an odd green-colored suit with a slit of a hat, that he swept off as he entered the house.
Ma threw her arms around the stranger’s neck, still crying and covering his cheek with kisses. She could only say, “Roy, Roy, Roy, you are home.”
Too young to understand anything of Hitler’s world plans or the terrors of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, I was only frightened and confused.
To explain how my Ma felt about the years Roy was gone to war would be impossible for me, because I believe only a mother can feel this. I do know Ma was a worrier until the day she died. The mail box was about a hundred yards from the house down a dusty, old sunken dirt lane. Ma would walk with us to get the mail, and our feet or shoes, if we wore them, would come back covered with that red Oklahoma dust, but not during the time Roy was gone. Gramp had to get the mail, because Ma was so afraid she would have a letter etched in black from the War Department, and her heart could not stand it. We also had a large clock that struck on the hour and half hours. When Roy left, Ma held the pendulum and stopped the clock until he returned years later. She said the striking kept her awake, but I believe for her, time stood still in his absence.
It would be many years later before Uncle Roy shared his war stories with me. Perhaps he needed the time to let some of the personal terror pass, and he knew I needed to grow up before hearing of it.
Little did I know the role this man would come to play in my life. Mother and Father had a very rocky marriage from the start. Mother always loved my father even though they ended the on-and-off marriage when I was eleven, and I believe my father always loved Mother in his own way. My father was sharing to his friends and helped those in need, but his tastes ran toward the wilder side of life (drinking, gambling, womanizing). Not good qualities in a husband or father.
Uncle Roy filled the gap of an absent father, and there could not have been a luckier boy in the world.
Roy was very smart. He had received his college degree early by testing out before going to war and was granted a lifetime teaching certificate which he never used. More important than being smart, he was wise, and I learned more about life from him than I ever would have expected.
Truly, I must have been the fortunate recipient of weird circumstances. Had it not been for the war, Roy would have finished college and gotten married with a family of his own. Instead he received a Dear John letter, and I received a father in the truest sense.