Chapter 1: In the Beginning... (1931-1955)
The first-born of a U.S. Air Force sergeant named John from Virginia and his wife, Virginia, from Colorado, I exploded into their ordered quiet Cheyenne, Wyoming world in the middle of the baby boom.
Dad and Mom’s age group, known as the “greatest generation,” survived The Great Depression and The Great World War II by frugal, all-natural living. They knew they could endure anything because as children they had. Isn’t that great?
Yeah, and what moniker did my generation receive? “Boomers”! The term, of course, refers to the increased number of babies born to returning World War II service men and women, the baby boom. However, let’s consider the possibility that it also signifies the volatile era we entered while we innocently learned to read our Dick, Jane and Sally readers.
Our generation spent its early childhood watching grainy, black and white television programs that calmly resolved the most complex issues in thirty minutes minus commercials. Those shows’ married characters slept in twin “Hollywood” beds. Dads wore neckties, white shirts and dress pants to work every day while their perfectly coiffed wives wore high heels and jewelry and maintained ideal homes, every day! Of course, the perfect children’s mistakes left no permanent emotional scars and EVERYONE lived happily-ever-after at the end of each show.
Post WWII, the optimism, and unprecedented affluence provided a smokescreen for the impending political protests, psychedelic drugs, sexual revolutions, and Barbie dolls. These bombshells disrupted our perfectly unprepared lives. And not even Mom’s favorite childhood radio show hero, futuristic Buck Rogers, could have dreamed of the advances in medicine, travel, technology, salaries, and fast food we now consider necessities!
However, some boomers’ cynicism and lives shattered by poor decisions – their own and those of others – remind me of atom bomb after-effects, facing lifelong fallout from unnecessary deaths, divorces, abortions, and hallucinogenic drugs. Devastating blasts to well-planned, well-scripted “peace, love and rock-n-roll” dreams scar us.
This story shows how the Lord guided my personal survival through that turbulent period of history. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Dad, a ten-year-old when Pearl Harbor was bombed, vividly remembers the “day that would live in infamy,” December 7, 1941. His family including parents, paternal grandfather, two uncles, three brothers and four sisters huddled around the battery-operated radio joining the nation to hear President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first speak those words.
Dad’s younger sister, Lalia, remembered cowering in the back seat of the car on that Sunday’s drive, traumatized, as their father dogmatically declared, “Those Japs will be here any day, they are going to take over our country. No one will be safe.” Never known to be politically correct or an FDR supporter, Grandpa held no private view, which sometimes scared me as a child! What he lacked in height he made up for with confidence in his opinions. Everyone around him knew exactly what he thought…primarily that “this ‘ole world” is in BIG TROUBLE. As a child I seldom worried about his ranting because a few moments later, when he saw me looking at him with widened eyes, he laughed and said, “crazy old man!”
The crowded household of Dad’s childhood included a bitter man, Grandpa’s father. After their mother’s death, his children refused to allow him to remarry, and he made them miserable in retaliation. Two bachelor uncles, one, mentally handicapped, also shared the home.
Dad, the only one of eight children born in a hospital, Leesburg Hospital, pleased his father by being another boy. His older sister, Lillie said his birth occurred during the time that Grandpa and Grandma left the family farm, and she reminisced about that time as the happiest of her parents’ life because they took care of themselves. Soon, however, the family pressured them to return to the farm where Grandma had to take care of more people that I think I could handle being nice to.
Grandma Kemper told me how especially close to the Lord she felt during her pregnancy with Dad. They attended a Methodist church and Grandpa agreed to the name “John Wesley” because he believed Grandma when she said Dad would be a preacher.
John Wesley, a preacher and theologian, started the Methodism. Your Grandpa didn’t appreciate hearing about the guy for whom he’s named as a child, but the Lord fulfilled his mother’s dreams and God’s plans!
As children they attended Salem Methodist Church in Hillsboro, Virginia. Dad always referred to the church as “cold, dead”. He also refused to sing “Amen” at the end of hymns because that reminded him of the formalism, the methodology, hence the name of the denomination.
The stories of taking a huge tablespoon of cod liver oil told by Dad and his siblings disgusted me as a child. They impressed on me my privileged destiny living in the modern artificial-synthetic-man-made-daily-vitamin age. As an adult I developed an interest in natural health alternatives. This made me wonder if the over-all mental and physical health of Dad and his siblings resulted in part from fish oil and non-processed foods (for which we now must pay three times the regular cost of food) they ate during their formative years. Even in the darkest days of the depression, farmers and their families were blessed with more abundant natural food than people in large city soup lines.
Popularity at school didn’t impress him, but Dad, a good student, studied hard, particularly in arithmetic. Even today, he usually balances his checkbook in his head before checking his calculations on a calculator…never more than a few pennies off.
Although a shy boy, who would cross the street to avoid encountering someone walking toward him on the sidewalk, people didn’t intimidate him. A particularly scary teacher one year reported to his class that someone stole money from her purse. Dad thought that the cloakroom would be a good place to hide stolen money. During recess he found it there and, pleased with himself, took it to her. No one ever confessed to the crime so the teacher accused him of being the thief. He never wasted time trying to convince her or anyone else of the truth. He knew he had done the honorable thing and that’s all that mattered.
The eight farm kids worked hard for few luxuries. Dad’s sisters told stories of mail ordering underwear, two outfits, and one pair of shoes for each school year and trying to make the items last, regardless of how much the clothes faded or their bodies developed.
An early picture of Dad shows him with blonde wavy hair and short pants. He never understood why teenagers or adults would choose to wear shorts. He told us that wearing short pants showed you were a baby and when you grew old enough, you wore long pants all the time.
The farm kids received discipline which seems brutal for relatively minor infractions but from the stories told, I think brothers inflicted more pain on each other than their parents did. Dad and his brother Robert bear scars on their arms from “sword” fights with sickles.
The skating rink provided entertainment for Loudon County young people. Dad and his brothers learned to turn the speedometer back on the car so their father wouldn’t know how far they drove. Dad told us we couldn’t do that with the cars we drove because cars no longer allowed that feature. I’m not sure if that is true or if he thought he could keep us from messing with them.
When he graduated from high school Dad worked for a car dealership and bought a car which he left on the farm when he joined the Air Force. His father sold the vehicle when he went to San Antonio for boot camp and to Cheyenne for his first tour of duty. They never discussed that transaction or where the proceeds went afterwards. Dad always talked about that car with regret. Seems odd to me to let someone die without discussing something that obviously concerned him.
Having worked for a dealer, he knew some of the tricks of the trade and was a tough negotiator. After the two times I ended up with bad car deals independently, I paid too much for what I got, so I promised him I’d never buy another car without his assistance. Fortunately, your Daddy took care of this after we married, so I didn’t have to worry.
The US Air Force began in 1947. Some men in the Army, like your Grandpa Moore, took the option to move from the Army-Air Core when it split. The Air Force accepted him at his achieved rank. By the time my Dad volunteered, the established Air Force prepared to open an academy in Colorado Springs, which the chapel’s roof can been seen from our deck.
At one point the Air Force selected Dad to go from Cheyenne to Denver for pilot testing. To his surprise, he learned he was partially color blind, not enough to limit his everyday life but enough to disqualify him from the program. Mom always made sure his ‘browns’ didn’t clash. He harbored no regrets about this but once again whistled on with his life.
The only regret he mentioned concerned a 40 or 50-something Ford or Chevy he once owned or almost purchased. I could have the year, make or model wrong but he missed that car and many years later seemed to wish he had it. Perhaps this is the one Grandpa sold.