Monday, November 13, 2017

A lost opportunity

I am kicking myself over a lost opportunity tonight. While I was standing in line for Veteran's Day dinner, I turned and noticed the elderly man standing behind me. I asked if he served in Korea or in World War II. He told me he served in World War II.

As we waited, I noticed he stood there with his discharge papers in hand (in case the restaurant needed proof he was a vet). As we chatted, I found out he joined the U.S. Navy in 1944. "I graduated from high school on one day and I was in the Navy the next," he told me.

He served on a small boat with a crew of 13 men in the Pacific theater. I would have loved to have heard more about his service.

As we went our separate ways, I, too late, realized he was there alone. I am now kicking myself that I didn't invite him to join me as we dined. Dammit all to hell!

(I won't make that mistake again, if the opportunity were to arise)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Octogenarian Mappin

On this day in 1937, Douglas Robert Mappin, my father, was born to Robert and Valda Mappin.

When I was younger, I always wondered why Dad was an only child; I didn't learn this detail until just a few years back, but Grandad and Grandma considered Dad their "miracle child" as they had been trying to conceive for quite some time and were almost ready to give up on ever having children.

In a day when home births were not all that unusual, Dad came into this world on the family kitchen table in their Royal Center, Indiana home. It was the only home Dad ever knew until he graduated from Royal Center High School in 1955.

Dad was well loved by his neighbors and his parent's friends. When I was a child, being the first born, I often stayed with my Grandma so that she would not be so all alone and the neighbors often regaled me stories of Dad growing up.

Even though I knew a lot about him, it still never seems to be enough. Dad was active in high school like so many young men, although I don't think Dad considered himself much of an athlete, like so many before him, Dad joined the Army not long after high school... and he later joined the Indiana National Guard.

He met my Mom at a local drugstore in Logansport, Indiana, and they married in October 1956.

If I could impart to you one thing it would be this: When you are young, don't be so self-absorbed with your own lives that you don't ask lots of questions about your family background. My Dad died young and I, to this day, wish I had asked him more about his parents. I know very little about my Grandad, sadly.

I think my Dad felt the pangs of being an only child... or maybe it was just the way things were back in the late 50s and early 60s.... Dad and my Mom had four kids, three boys, and one girl.

Things I remember: Dad yanking me by my arm and pulling me out of his Chevy II when I, my sister Teresa and really young brother Bryan snuck out of the house to smoke a cigarette one early Sunday morning. I can imagine Dad looked out of the living room window and saw his car's passenger cab enshrouded in a white cloud of smoke before tearing out of the house to find us in there. Yes, I got my bottom tanned. And yes, I remember it still.

When President Kennedy was assassinated, I remember how somber how our house was. Dad was a lifelong Democrat (like his Dad and Grandad before him). Dad (and Mom too) made sure that we kids knew the significance of what was going on.

I remember Dad teaching me to put models together. We shared a number of hobbies. I mentioned this the other night, but I recall one night in 1964 while watching "The Outer Limits," being so scared that I hid between Dad's legs. My hero!

Skipping ahead, after Mom and Dad divorced in 1966, we four kids, naturally saw less of our Dad. He did his best to see us as well as include our lives with his new wife Wanda, and as the years passed, four more brothers.

When I decided to go to college, I called him to let him know my decision. When I saw him later that week he and I went out for a beer and he told me with four boys still at home he would not be able to provide any financial support for my education. I knew that bothered him so I quickly let him know that I, being out of high school for nine years at that point, had no expectation that he owed me that. But I was touched by his support.

When I was a (first semester) freshman in college, now 27 years old (and Dad 47), he had a heart attack. It was decided that he would need to undergo a quadruple heart bypass and unfortunately his doctors misjudged Dad's condition. If we had only known they (not he) were not up to that challenge we would have acted differently and gone to a different hospital.

On a personal level, Dad and I had unfinished business when he passed. Dad didn't know me the way I would have liked. Additionally, Dad never lived to see any of his Grandkids, except my son Wes. 
There are so many more memories of Dad but needless to say I, and my siblings, all feel robbed that he left us so young. I do not think it farfetched to say I have 'father issues' that can never be resolved--at least not in life.

Dad was our rock, but to use an old cliche, no man is an island. I wish my younger brothers had had more time with Dad. My brothers Scott and Matt--as well as my son--were too young to have many memories of him.

Earlier this week, my friend Tom, after the death of his sister, made an observation that I find myself in agreement. Take lots of pictures of your family members. Lots. I have very few photos of Dad. My brothers do have more (and I need to get with them to scan them and add to my meager collection).

Photos or not, Dad is in my head, and in my heart... always.

When I served in Afghanistan in 2008, Rochester journalist Ann Allen interviewed me (via the internet) for my childhood hometown newspaper, the Rochester Sentinel. One of the letters to the editor said, "my Dad would be proud and that I sounded JUST like him."

I will be honest here, I cried when I read that letter. Every son, I think, always wants to hear those words. He was and is my hero.

Dad would be 80 years old today. I know I speak for my siblings when I say how much we miss you.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Lois Schreckengost

In my youth, I married my high school sweetheart. We both were young and pretty naive. Today is my late Mother-in-Law's birthday. Lois Schreckengost was a great Mom and Mother-in-Law. I was the son she and Abe, her husband, never had. She was a good woman. She would give you the shirt (or blouse) off her back for anyone in need.

Lois led a very harsh life and she suffered greatly for it in her later years. Lois was stricken with a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis. When I met her in 1974, her spine was beginning to curve and because of it, she was always in a great deal of pain. By the time she passed, the curvature of her spine was quite pronounced.

I have quite fond memories of her. She had some of the oddest quirks, and Phyllis (her sole daughter and my wife), Abe, myself and later my son Wes, loved taking advantage of them. Sweet torment might seem a harsh word, but she also gave as good as she got.

Lois could not watch the old TV show 'Bewitched' without going into a flurry of facial tics every time Samantha twitch her nose. We learned to make certain faces that would launch her tics. She would have to cover her eyes to avoid them.

Lois had a penchant that her house would be spotless, but because of her illness, she relied on others to do this. One of our favorite tricks involved her pet Chihuahua. One day Phyllis and I were out shopping and at a local Spencer's gift we found a pile of fake doggie doo. We arranged (with Abe's help) to place the fake pile somewhere she was sure to find it. She did... and initially, she lost it until we confessed.

In payback, one day Lois was sitting in her chair when she jumped at me and informed me, "I am going to kiss you." I ran down the hall to their bathroom and locked myself in.

Next thing I knew, she, Phyllis and Abe stood outside the door dying with laughter. I asked what was so funny. Lois invited me to come out of the bathroom. I refused. Then Phyllis and Abe told me to come out. When I tried, I discovered I was locked in and the doorknob fell off. I was trapped.... and I had been had!

One of the best things about Lois was the love she had for our son. She adored Wes (she quite called him Adam, Wes' middle name). She lived for Wes and she spoiled him. Now mind you, Wes probably doesn't remember much about her. He was, after all, very young. 

But if there was one word that described her, it was 'Grandma.' She loved being his Grandma!

Lois was his babysitter for the last two years of her life. One cold winter's morning, their mobile home's furnace caught fire and Wes, even as a four-year old made sure they both got safely out before the flames spread. He loved his na-na and she, him!

She loved her daughter and her husband and while there were times she was very difficult to be around, we all knew it was her pain that was speaking, not her.

When Lois died in 1981, our family doctor told us she would never have lived as long as she had if not for her love and devotion to Wes.

Anyhow, today is her birthday. She would have been 80 years old today. I think of her often and especially today, on her day. I don't have any photos of Lois but I can see her as clearly today as if she were standing here beside me.

Lois, I think of you today with fondness and with love.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Jeffty is Five

I am currently reading Harlan Ellison's anthology "Shatterday." I have to give a shoutout to his astoundingly moving, nostalgic and disturbing fantasy short story 'Jeffty Was Five.'

In the opening pages, the narrator and Jeff Kinzer, known fondly as Jeffty, are five-year old boys and best friends.

In the opening pages, the narrator's parents are hit upon hard times and it is decided to send him off to live with a well-to-do aunt. When he returns home, he is seven. Jeffty is five.

Jeffty is a special child. He is not developmentally delayed, not mentally challenged... he is just five and his world time seems to have stood still.

When the narrator is ten, he is sent to military school and he returns at age 14. Jeffty is five.

By tale's end, the narrator is well into adulthood while Jeffty remains five.

Ellison's tale won the prestigious Hugo Award in 1978 for best short story. In an online poll for Locus magazine, 'Jeffty is Five' was voted as the best short story of all time. Mighty high praise, huh?

I will tell you this is an incredibly moving story. And I will not lie; a great deal of mystery and sadness infuses 'Jeffty is Five.'

Through the years. a great deal has been made about how moving Ellison's "Star Trek" story "The City on the Edge of Forever" is. 'Jeffty is Five,' in my opinion, is far more moving.

Through the years. a great deal has been made about how moving Ellison's "Star Trek" story "The City on the Edge of Forever" is. 'Jeffty is Five,' in my opinion, is far more moving.


As a side note, while doing research I learned the story was partially inspired by a conversation Ellison overheard at a party at the home of actor Walter Koenig (best known as Lt. Pavel Chekov).

"How is Jeff?"
"Jeff is fine. He's always fine."
Ellison perceived this as "Jeff is five, he's always five." Ellison then based Jeffty's character on Joshua Andrew Koenig, Koenig's son.

I cannot recommend this story enough. Seek it out if you can, I think you will find it as moving as I.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Kevin Spacey, gay pariah?

To say I am disappointed in Kevin Spacey would be an understatement. Damned angry would be more appropriate. Actor Anthony Rapp's bombshell announcement yesterday certainly raised eyebrows everywhere in the gay community.

Why? It's been a pretty open secret for decades that Spacey has played for our team even if he has refused to acknowledge it. He has, for years when asked if he was gay, hemmed and hawed saying he has known the love of men and women.

Fine, his own sexuality is his own business.

My disappointment runs double. Yes, yesterday Spacey publicly apologized for his transgression--those he said he does not remember doing. And then today, Spacey publicly came out as a gay man. My question is this: Why did it take allegations of sexual misconduct to force him to come clean?

Yes, I am disappointed that he hit on a (then) 14-year old Rapp. Creepy, yes, and depending on what occurred, criminal even. If the allegations are true, and it seems they are, I am also disappointed that Spacey lacked the character to know better--drunk or not, as he claimed--to come unto a minor.

Lastly, in the past, the gay community has been ecstatic to welcome celebrities into the family, if you will. But why in the hell would we have any desire to accept Spacey while he has this hanging over his head?

I can just hear Pat Robertson, all giddy saying, "see, I told you so!" Every fundie out there who has claimed gays cannot be trusted around our kids have now a very visible face to use as ammunition against us.

I wish there could have been a way this news could have broken more quietly, but the current "me too" movement has made that harder, Our community has always been quick to point out that unhealthy sexual relationships between adults and minors have statistically rested on the shoulders of the heterosexual community, not ours. 

And that still is true. 

Spacey has made that a little harder to argue. He's just one man, but it takes just one to taint the argument for those looking with a closed mind.

But, I guess if we're going to be true to our convictions, we must own up to our own as well, yet
 I am also wont to sweep such allegations under the rug. To end these kinds of behaviors, we must, as Rapp said today, "shine a light on the problem." 

Dammit, I hate having ethics sometimes--and damn you, Kevin Spacey.