Chapter Seventeen: The Good and the Bad

On the weekends, Grandpa Gordon and Clara would go to the beach on Lake Mead to spend some time with the other officers and their wives. Since they already had a pool, they went just to see other people and hopefully establish some friendships along the way. Both of their lives since they had relocated to Las Vegas had been so busy that they had really not made any friends.

The newlyweds were both private people, however, they knew that they needed to get out and socialize once in a while. As it turned out, the wives of some of the officers really turned out to be nice. These wives became a godsend when they had their first child because most of them already had a child or two, so they were able to give advice and even babysit on occasion.

Clara on the beach, her hair was starting to fill out quite nicely.

Clara on the beach celebrating the 4th of July.

Some of the Officer’s wives hamming it up.

Jumping ahead just a little, Clara and Christine, their first child enjoying the sun. Where is Grandpa Gordon? Taking pictures, of course, with his trusty Contax camera.

The time seemed to pass along pleasantly enough, Grandpa Gordon and Clara’s love continued to grow. They went out on date nights and they soon had a few couples that they could go out with on the weekends. There always seemed to be something to do in Las Vegas. One of Grandpa Gordon’s friends liked the outdoors, so he convinced them to check out a few of the local attractions.

The first place they went to was Nevada’s first state park, the Valley of Fire. It was opened up on Easter Sunday in 1934. They were amazed with the scenery, Clara had lived here well over a year, and Grandpa Gordon even longer, and neither of them knew that there was so much beauty in the desert. Grandpa Gordon was simply beside himself. Below are a few of his photos.

Clara had to admit, her husband was getting pretty good at taking photos. The only thing that marred their happiness was that Papa Thomas’ cancer came back, and this time, the doctor held out little hope for him. As usual, he had not said anything, and he let it go too long before he seeked medical help. This time, the cancer was not limited to one place, it had metastasized. It had spread so far that the radiation necessary to halt the cancer would most likely kill him.  Papa Thomas and Mama Lillian both decided that he was not going to go through the radiation therapy again. It simply had been too hard on him the first time around, and now he was even weaker. They notified the family, and they all came and took turns to spend with their parents. His pain was being controlled with morphine injections. A nurse had come by and showed Mama Lillian how to give the injections into his leg or butt muscles. These were the only muscle groups that were dense enough to take the injections since he had lost so much weight. They were still living on the farm, and that is where he intended to spend his remaining days surrounded by his family.

Grandpa Gordon had exhausted his leave previously visiting his parents, so he was not present when his father finally passed away in the spring of 1958.  Mama Lillian was holding Papa Thomas’ hand when he stopped breathing. He had  a slight smile on his thin face. She had kept him as pain-free as possible in his last few days, and as a result he had been passing in and out of sleep. However, Mama Lillian still insists that he whispered, “I Love You,” to her before he was gone. She was a strong woman but she burst out in heartwrenching sobs when she realized that he was no more. Her three daughters were all by her side till the bitter end. They were positioned around their father’s bed and when he took his last ragged breath, they all grabbed and held and cried with her.

After Papa Thomas passed away, Grandpa Gordon and Clara were able to get bereavement leave to attend the funeral, so they went back to Minneapolis to pay their respects. Papa Thomas had originally wanted to be buried on the farm, at least that was when he thought it would remain in the family. When none of his children showed any interest in following in his footsteps, he and Mama Lillian purchased adjoining plots at the local cemetery where he was finally buried. The casket was closed in keeping with his wishes. Papa Thomas had always thought it was a vulgar display to view deceased relatives covered with goulish make-up, lying in a casket, with everyone saying how wonderful they looked. He had always thought it was a load of crap, so Lillian had gone along with his wishes. Afterwards, they had a simple gathering at the farm with all of the family showing up one last time.

Mama Lillian did not love the farm as much as her Papa Thomas did, and frankly, she did not want to spend her remaining days all alone there either. So when the reception was winding down, Mama Lillian pulled her oldest son James aside and asked him to put the farm up for sale.  She told him that since Virginia and her husband Ken still did not have any children, she was going to move in with them and live in Chicago. She wanted to live again and to see new things since so much of the last few years of her life had revolved around sickness and death.

Mama Lillian spent the remaining years of her life visiting her children and doing volunteer work at the local church in Chicago. She made friends wherever she went and led a fairly pleasant life. Though there was always something missing. It was as if part of her soul was no longer there. No matter how busy she tried to keep herself, she just couldn’t fill that void. There was a sadness that even her grandchildren were powerless to shake her out of and God knows they tried.

Then one day it happened Mama Lillian did not come downstairs for breakfast.  Virginia, her youngest daughter, figured that maybe she had slept in a little, after all she had been busy yesterday with a charity drive at the church. When 10:00 AM rolled around and she still had not come down, Virginia started to worry. She finally mustered up the courage to go upstairs and check on her mother. What she found confirmed her worst fears. Her mother was no longer among the living. She was still wearing her nightgown, and her sheets were pulled up to her chest as if in a peaceful repose. Her skin was ashen in color and when Virginia touched her skin, it was cool to the touch. 

She didn’t know what to do, so she closed the door to her mother’s room and went downstairs to call her husband at work. Normally, he did not work on Saturdays but the ad company he worked for was trying to win over a new client, so they were working on a new campaign that they were going to present  that Monday. Ken said that since they were just wrapping up things up, he would be able to leave and he would be home shortly.

When Ken got home, he hugged his wife and went upstairs to confirm that his mother-in-law was indeed dead. It only took a quick peek to confirm it. They decided the best course of action was to call the police department. When the police arrived, they went upstairs to check on the decedent. Once they had confirmed Mrs. Lillian Anderson’s status, they called the coroner so that they could establish an official time of death and to pick her up.

Ken suggested that they call the rest of the family to let them know about Mama Lillian. It was only when Virginia got out her address book and looked at the section that had important dates on it did she recall what the date was. Her mother had died exactly two years to the day after her husband Papa Thomas had passed. He had died on March 13, 1958, and she died on March 13, 1960. She called Grandpa Gordon first since he lived the furthest away. Of course, he was shocked by the news. One bit of news which kind of freaked Virginia out was that Grandpa Gordon and Clara had just found out that she’s pregnant. It was as one soul left as another one entered the realm of the living.

As Virginia called the rest of her siblings, the reactions were pretty consistent. They were mostly accompanied by shrieks and sobbing. It took a few days but eventually, the whole family was back together again. When they all started reminiscing about their mother and father and the family, Grandpa Gordon said that they needed to start meeting together for something more enjoyable than funerals. So it was decided that they would have a family reunion every five years on the date their parents had both died.

Surprisingly, they kept up with the family reunions until 1980 when they celebrated their last one. It was a few months later that their oldest brother James died. He had been the driving force behind the reunions even though it was Grandpa Gordon’s idea. Once he passed, none of the remaining siblings had the interest to continue on with them any longer, it just wouldn’t be the same without James.

The funeral for Mama Lillian was a simple affair, she had opted to follow in Papa Thomas’ footsteps and that was to have a closed coffin. After her passing, it seemed like a chapter had been closed with the Anderson Clan. No longer were they an agrarian-based family. With the death of Papa Thomas and Mama Lillian, that life was just a memory.

After James had sold the farm, Mama Lillian was quite well off. Though during the last few years of her life she had barely touched any of the money. Her Will called for an equal split with her children. So, each one of them got a fair amount of money. In today’s economy, we are looking at almost $250,000 for each of them and with taxes, it still was over $210,000. This allowed most of her children to pay off their mortgages, including Grandpa Gordon. So all the hard work of Papa Thomas counted for something, after all.  While his dreams for them while not fully realized he at least was able to make their lives a little easier.

Now that Grandpa Gordon and Clara’s mortgage was paid off, they could afford to buy a second car which was an unheard of luxury in the 1950s. Seeing how they had so much fun exploring The Valley of Fire State Park, and with a bun in the oven, they decided to buy a Willy’s Jeep station wagon that would also allow them to do a little adventuring.

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Willy’s Jeep Station Wagon.

It was decided that Grandpa Gordon would take the Jeep to work and Clara would drive the more sporty Buick Convertible to her job at the hospital. Now she would no longer have to take the bus to work. In Grandpa Gordon’s defense he had tried to convince her to take the car, while he would take the public bus instead. Upon hearing his suggestion, she remonstrated vehemently, and said the Commanding Officer of a prestigious Flight School could not possibly take a bus to work. It simply was not appropriate. She insisted that she would take the bus to work instead. Now all of these points of contention became null and void with the purchase of their second vehicle.  Grandpa Gordon had to admit that his wife was a firecracker and when she had made up her mind, that was it.

The sadness brought upon them by the loss of their beloved Mama Lillian was soon replaced by the delight of bringing a new child into the world. Christine Anderson, a healthy 7 1/2 pound baby girl was born on October 15, 1960. All of the family, of course, were notified of the new addition to the family. Prior to the birth of the baby, Clara’s new friends and a few neighbors had thrown a baby shower for her. What was surprising was that Grandpa Gordon’s old friend and perennial boss Brigadier General Frank Miller had shown up to the Maternity ward to congratulate the new parents. He even brought a small gift and some flowers for Clara.

Grandpa Gordon could not come up with the words to thank his old friend. He was too shocked by his appearance in full dress. It goes to show that you can never tell who will turn out to be the sentimental type. General Miller shook Grandpa Gordon’s hand and gave him a guy hug and patted him on the shoulder. He then bent over and gave Clara a chaste kiss on the cheek. Then, as if embarrassed by his overt display of affection, he rather hurriedly,  excused himself from the room.

Grandpa Gordon’s respect for the General had always been high, but it now reached absolutely absurb levels. Grandpa Gordon would now willingly walk barefooted across hot coals for him.

Christine was all you could hope for in a first child. She was a healthy and happy baby. She rarely cried and, for the most part, slept throughout the night. She rarely got sick, and when she started school, she was a solid A/B student. Christine actually made Clara want to have more children.  Unfortunately, their luck ended with her.  Sam, short for Samuel, was born on December, the 13th on a Friday 1963.

The date alone should give you a pause. Besides, you really can’t blame him, he did try to be a good child. However, misfortune just seemed to follow him no matter how hard he tried.

To start with, there were complications with the delivery, and Clara started bleeding heavily soon after Samuel was delivered. Eventually, even after several units of O(-) blood and plasma being transfused, it became necessary to perform an emergency hysterectomy to save her.

Even though Grandpa Gordon knew it was necessary, he was still distraught about the surgery. Even though he knew it was not Samuel ‘s fault, he still blamed him for many years. His behavior wasn’t anything overt, and even though he loved his son, he treated him differently than his daughter, Christine. Eventually, Samuel picked up on it. 

Samuel, of course, did what all children do, and that was to blame himself.  He tried everything in his power to gain his father’s approval. Nothing he seemed to do mattered. He got better grades than Christine did. He became a three letter athlete in high school (track, baseball, and football). Even though both parents went to all of his events and games, it just seemed that Grandpa Gordon did not cheer as much as his mother or even the other fathers did for their children.

What Samuel did not realize was that Grandpa Gordon had long since forgiven his son. The reason why he saw a difference in how he and his sister were treated is because Christine was daddy’s little girl and would always hold a special place in his heart. He also failed to realize that Grandpa Gordon, just didn’t know how to show his feelings to male offspring. While he was very proud of his son, Grandpa Gordon had never been the recipient of much love from his father Papa Thomas either. Papa Thomas had always been reserved around his sons and only really seemed to show affection towards his daughters. So Grandpa Gordon learned this behavior from his father, even if it wasn’t the most equitable parenting technique or method. His love for Sam was apparent to his fellow officers though. Because he, in fact, bragged so much about his son that nobody wanted to talk to him anymore.

The rest of Samuel’s travails will be discussed more in depth in the second part of this book. While discussing Samuel we got just a little bit ahead of ourselves. So let’s go back to the time just after Samuel was born and continue with Grandpa Gordon’s story.

As I stated earlier, Grandpa Gordon took Clara’s emergency hysterectomy quite hard. For some reason, he had always wanted a big family, maybe he again was following in his father’s footsteps. His wishes were,however, in direct contradiction to  Clara’s wishes, who wanted to keep the family smaller at just two or maybe three children.

So yes, there was some initial resentment towards Samuel related to the hysterectomy since now his apirations for a large family were dashed. Grandpa Gordon’s treatment was different in that he tended not to hold Samuel as much as he did Christine. Parents and adults do not realize that infants and young children are veritable sponges. They notice everything that goes on in their tiny worlds, simply beccause that is how they learn. Unfortunately, their interpretation of events is based on their limited experience. Being somewhat inexperienced in raising children, he had no understanding of any of this.  It took a  heart to heart conversation with Clara before he finally realized what he was doing.

To start with Clara strongly declared, “There had never been a chance of me giving birth to five or six children.  It just wasn’t in the cards. So you needed to get that fool idea out of your thick skull. Besides, I was frankly quite happy having just two children. Besides, we’re not farmers, so why in the hell did you want that many children in the first place?”

That question totally caught Grandpa Gordon off guard. He actually was non-plussed by it. After much thought, he could not come up with a good answer. He answered back, “I really don’t know where that idea came from. You are right. I have been acting like an ass.”

Knowing something and doing something about it are two different things. Unfortunately, for Samuel it would take another war and some more reflecting on the part of Granda Gordon for him to finally turn things around. By then it was too late for poor Samuel.

Time progressed rapidly for the family of four and before they knew it, the time rolled around for their first family reunion on March 13th, 1965. Grandpa Gordon and Clara took two weeks off from work so that they could enjoy a roadtrip to and from Minneapolis.  They planned out a loop like route so that they would see different scenery on the entire trip. They took the Jeep Station wagon since it had more room for luggage. It took 4 1/2 days for each leg of the trip which allowed four days in Minneapolis to visit her family and for the reunion. Of course, Grandpa Gordon spent some time at his parents’ grave sites.

To start their family reunions off with a bang, they held the first one at the Excelsior Amusement Park. There was a roller coaster, Custer Cars, a carousel, aerial swings, a ferris wheel, and a whole bunch more. They originally chose this location for the children, but it turned out to be a hit with the adults as well.

The trip in general and the reunion in particular had been a big success, and the time their little family spent together had done them all a lot of good. Grandpa Gordon seemed to take more pleasure in spending time with his son, though there was still some differences in how he treated the two children. Grandpa Gordon’s behavior really bothered Clara. However, she knew he was going to have to come to grips with the situation on his own. She knew he was a good man and that he would figure things out.

When Grandpa Gordon went back to work, he could sense a difference in the atmosphere on the base. There were rumors that the US would soon be involved in another war overseas.

That night Grandpa Gordon broke the news to Clara about the inevitable war in Vietnam. “Weren’t two wars enough?” asked Clara. Grandpa Gordon answered that he still felt that he owed the US something because the military had been so good to him.

Clara strongly remarked, “I will say one more thing then I will hold my peace. You have a new family with two kids who both depend on you. Are you really sure you want to risk all that?” He looked at her apologetically, “I am sorry, I know you won’t understand, but I have to go.”