Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

Happy Birthday, Mom !


I wrote this a couple of years ago. Mom celebrates her 97th birthday today, so I thought it was worth re-posting. Mom's Christmas Outfit

My mother was the first born child of immigrants. She was born Alice Della but has been referred to by her nickname, “Del” for most of her life. Mom’s mother was from England and her father from Canada. Except for a few months during World War II when she and my father lived in Washington state and California, she has always lived in Rhode Island. Mom was the eldest of five kids the youngest of whom she was frequently responsible for babysitting. I always thought that her parenting skills were honed during those days when she was taking care of her little sister and brother.

Mom grew up during The Great Depression and, like many others, her family struggled financially. When she was 15, my mother quit school in order to take a job in her uncle’s mill. I’m not sure how she felt about that but, as an intelligent young woman, I suspect that she wasn’t happy about it. Yet, I’ve never heard her complain about having to quit her education in order to help support the family. She felt it was her duty and she did it.

Mom was raised a Catholic but for reasons about which I’ve never been quite clear decided to leave the Catholic church and began attending youth group meetings at a Methodist church where she met my father. Apparently, the pastor of the church, a Dr. Metzner (sic) was a charismatic man who had a great deal of influence on both my father and mother. I remember them both smiling in obvious enjoyment as they told my brother and I stories about the doctor and their adventures with the youth group. I believe he was the minister who married them.

Mom and dad met when they were 16 and it was apparently love at first sight. Except for the years when Dad was away during World War II, they were never apart. And they always seemed to enjoy one another’s company. Every morning that I can recall, Dad would stroll into the kitchen, bellow “Good morning, Alice Della!”, sweep Mom into his arms and give her an enthusiastic kiss. Her return kiss was just as enthusiastic. It was the kind of overt display of affection which provided a strong sense of security for an impressionable young boy like me.

Like any married couple, they’d sometimes quarrel or disagree often when Dad would take a detour down some unchartered route to see which way it might take us. Mom preferred the known to the unknown but I think that she secretly enjoyed Dad’s sense of adventure. Recently, Mom observed that they’d never had a fight. (Imagine how warped my perspective on married life was coming out of that environment!) .

As was normal in those days, Mom was a housewife. She didn’t even know how to drive. In fact, she didn’t get her driver’s license until she was in her 40s. However, when I was in elementary school, Mom became the first woman president of the Smithfield (RI) PTA. Smithfield was a small New England town and that was a big deal. My father was well-known in town because of his business activities and members hips in the Lions Club and Volunteer Fire Department but it also made me proud when I saw the respect with which teachers, school principals, and prominent members of the community treated her. My mother is not an ambitious person so I suspect that she was nominated for the PTA presidency by people who wanted someone in the position whose opinions they respected and integrity they trusted.

One prominent memory from my younger days is Saturday nights at our house. As the big sister and surrogate parent, Mom always hosted her younger siblings and their families on Saturday nights. Invariably, we males would congregate in the living room to watch TV and banter with occasional conversation. But I can still see all the women gathered around the dining room table to get my mother’s opinion. It’s not that she sought to impose her opinions on them but that they seemed to value her insights and advice. My observation was that they always thought of my mother as well-grounded and a source of common sense. They trusted her opinion.

Dad died just after Thanksgiving in 2006. After all their years together, it’s hard for her to not have Dad but she’s adapted well and has realized how self-sufficient she really is. With age have come some challenges but she is still surprisingly alert and present. Since I take after my mother and her side of the family, I find this especially encouraging!

I know that everybody feels this way about their mother but my Mom is a very special lady. I’m proud to be her son and especially pleased that I was able to bring a granddaughter into her life.

Thoughts of Dad on Father’s Day

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 9 years since my dad, Earl Brindle died in December, 2006.

Earl N Brindle-official Army AirForce photo-1941

Over the past few years, I find myself having conversations with my father especially during my morning walks. I’ll be thinking about some problem or concern and, suddenly, I’ll be asking Dad what he thinks. He doesn’t talk back but, in some way, I do feel his presence. He’s also shown up as a participant in my dreams. I’ll wake up and have to remind myself that Dad’s no longer “here”. I’m not sure what that means but were I to visit a psychoanalyst I’m sure that they’d have a field day with that information.

It’s odd because I didn’t have that many conversations with my father when he was alive.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to notice similarities between myself and my father. Our body types are more alike than I’d once thought. I like learning new things and sharing information with others that might help them to increase their understanding or improve their life. Although perceived by some to be an outgoing socializer, my nature is to be somewhat of a loner. At home, I’m not handy. Neither was he. But I know it and hire experts. He tried to do it himself. Then we brought in the experts!

My mother had been mythologizing Dad for my brother, Alan and me ever since we were kids. In Mom’s eyes, he was perfect in every way. And my father was a terrific role model: self-educated, intellectually curious, ethical, compassionate, generous, friendly, self-deprecating, great sense of humor, civic-minded, concerned citizen, loyal & devoted husband, interested & involved parent, honest, reliable, trustworthy, helpful, courteous, kind, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. A solid, upstanding role model. As the first born son of a role model like this, it’s not a total surprise to me why I’ve had a problem with authority figures all my life!

Dad grew up during The Great Depression. He would have easily done well in college but his parents were poor and couldn’t afford to send him. So, he did his best, served his country during World War II, worked hard, provided for his family, weathered adversity, and lived a productive, honorable life. We Baby Boomers may feel like we’ve been having a tough time during these past five years but my father and most others of his generation lived through and survived during much tougher times. Somehow, they made it through and managed to thrive. Rather than whining and bemoaning our losses, we need to learn from their example, do what’s best for our country and humanity, and get on with our lives.

Through his actions and his words, Earl N. Brindle taught me about being a generous and compassionate friend and neighbor, about being a trustworthy and equal partner in marriage, about being a good parent and about being focused on getting the job done right. I’m still his work in progress.

My father is one of the reasons I ended up in Saratoga Springs. Dad loved to ride horses, a skill he picked up in Wyoming during his stint with the Army Air Forces, and enjoyed watching them race. Along with such sporting events as the Saturday night boxing matches, NY Giants football, and Red Sox baseball, we would always watch the Triple Crown races together. (He would have loved watching American Pharoah win it this year!) When I moved to Saratoga and took Dad to our legendary race course in August to watch the morning workouts, he was in heaven. Along with being able to give him a granddaughter who he adored, I’m glad that I was able to give him those experiences at Saratoga Race Course.

I’m grateful for the time that my dad spent with me at the baseball field trying (unsuccessfully) to help me become a better player, trying to teach me how to fish (again, unsuccessfully), and risking his life and his sanity as he endeavored to teach his 16 year old eldest son how to drive.

Thanks, Dad, for setting such a great example for how to be a good parent. Hope my kids feel the same about me one day.


Livin’ In The U.S.A

In his recent TIME essay , The History of the American Dream, Jon Meacham observes: “Strangely, it’s now possible for the French to be move socially and economically mobile than Americans”.

So much for the American capitalism vs. European socialism argument.

Meanwhile, in one of his recent columns, David Brooks writes about America: “Equal opportunity, once core to the nation’s identity, is now a tertiary concern.”

During the 1992 presidential campaign, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos came up with “It’s The Economy, Stupid” for Bill Clinton. Twenty years later, it’s the economy again. Or, for our more granular 21st century speak, “Jobs”.

The Washington Monthly’s summer issue focuses on the economic debate that our politicians aren’t having, the erosion of the average American family’s wealth and its relation to the country’s future success. In the information overload of our daily lives, it’s easy to respond to the bumper sticker language of campaigns and to forget that America doesn’t live in isolation from the rest of the world. More than ever, it’s a global economy and those in power are frequently not in a position to lead as much as to react.

Personally, I’ve been an advocate for a WPA-type of approach to getting the unemployed back to work while fixing the country’s neglected infrastructure. Rather than extending federal unemployment benefits, it would seem more logical to use those dollars to put people back to work doing something useful which not only helps the country but also provides those involved with a sense of purpose and pride.

However, as the Washington Monthly’s Paul Glastris and Phillip Longman point out: “With household asset levels so depleted, it’s folly to think that the economy can be set right merely by adding more jobs, however much they’re needed. That’s the lesson of the Great Depression and World War II. As James K. Galbraith has pointed out.., the New Deal built infrastructure and put Americans back to work, but failed to spark self-sustaining economic growth. It was ‘the war, an only the war that restored..the financial wealth of the American middle class.’.”

Hopefully, we won’t need to resort to another world war in order to get our financial house back in order. That’s not a solution that any of us wants to ponder. However, watching what’s been going on in Europe and in the Middle East shouldn’t make any of us feel too complacent.

So, if the U.S. is going to get back on track, all of us, you and me included, are going to have to urge our political leaders to focus on uniting rather dividing the country along ideological lines. In his TIME article, Jon Meacham writes: “We are stronger the wider we open our arms… Our dreams are more powerful when they are shared by others in our time and we are the only ones who can create a climate for the American Dream to survive another generation.”

As Aesop noted in one of his fables a long time ago, “United we stand. Divided we fall.”

Fathers’ Day Thoughts

I can still remember when it hit me. After 13 hours of labor, my wife had given birth to our daughter at 1:15am on May 27th, 1994. A few hours later, I was home in the shower and it suddenly struck me. I finally understood the meaning of the word “commitment”. That’s when I learned what it meant to be a father and that realization helped me to appreciate my dad.

Earl N. Brindle died on a Saturday night in early December, 2006 just a few weeks shy of his 87th birthday. He and my mother started dating when they were 16 and had been together for 71 years. The only time they were apart was for four years during World War II. They were married 70 years ago this month.

Dad was born in Raynham, MA., the son of the late Thomas H. and Gertrude (Smith) Brindle. He was a resident of the small Rhode Island village where I grew up since 1947 where he had owned and operated the former Earl N. Brindle Insurance Agency.

Dad served as the Treasurer of the Greenville Vol. Fire Dept., a trustee of the Greenville Baptist Church, he was the first chairman of the Smithfield Sewer Authority (He was amused that the town named the sewage processing plant after him), he served on the Board of Directors for the Greenville Public Library, and in 1999, was inducted into the Smithfield Heritage Hall of Fame. He was also a WWII Army Aircorp Veteran serving in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater as part of the ground crew which took care of the cargo planes which flew over the hump from India to China.

That’s my father’s official bio. But it doesn’t really tell you much about the man.

Something I discovered after my father’s death was that in the summer of 1929 when he was 10 years old Dad and his best friend hitchhiked from Cranston, RI to Raynham, MA and then back home again. That’s a distance of more than 30 miles. And it was back in the day when cars were still relatively rare and most roads were either dirt or two lanes. Today’s equivalent would probably be a couple of 10 year olds hitching a couple of hundred miles from home.

When Dad was a boy, some kid threw a rock which hit my father in the head and all but blinded him. From that day forward, he had to wear glasses with lenses as thick as Coke bottle bottles and his dream of becoming a pilot was ended. Dad didn’t complain about it. He just “made the best of it.”

My father was in the insurance business but he wasn’t a hard-sell kind of guy. Dad was a little ahead of his time because his approach was what would be described today as “consultative”. Of course, he wanted to do a good job for his company but he felt that the best way to accomplish that was by doing what was right for his customer. It wasn’t uncommon while I was growing up to have the phone ring at midnight or 2AM with someone calling to say that they had been in an accident or that there’d been a fire at their home. When that happened, Dad would help them through it and make sure that his customer got what they were owed from the insurance company.

Dad wasn’t really a social kind of guy. He was friendly, amusing and a good conversationalist in a social setting when he had to be. But my sense is that he was somewhat of a loner and, given the choice, would have avoided social scenes. Nevertheless, Dad was generous with his time and several people became his clients when he stopped to give them a helping hand with a flat tire or some other car problem.

When he was a young man, Dad had joined a local Providence insurance firm and had been a rising star in the company. After 20 years with the firm, Dad asked for a raise. My brother and I were heading off to college and , although Dad appreciated some of the perks and small salary increases that he’d been given over the years, he still felt that he was being underpaid. His employer interpreted Dad’s request as ungrateful and impertinent, fired him and then sued my father for potential business he might take away. Amazingly, the judge upheld the company’s position and ordered my father to pay the company $10,000 (approx. $ 40,000 in 2010 dollars) for potential business that he might take away. It was an unjust and devastating decision especially with two kids about to head off to college but Dad just hunkered down and started his own business.

My father was a man who had the courage of his convictions. He tried to be open-minded and just. And he tried to accept others on their own terms as who and what they were. Nevertheless, he wasn’t afraid to speak out about what he considered to be right and wrong.

When Dad was chairman of the Smithfield Sewer Commission, an unpaid position, he devoted a lot of time and energy to make sure that the town got the best and most economical system available. Some cynical folks accused him of being corrupt because they assumed that anyone in that position must be taking bribes. I’ll always remember one meeting which I decided to attend when I drove home for a visit. My father didn’t know I was there but during a break in the meeting he went to the lobby for a drink of water. While he was there alone, a group of 7 or 8 men who were about half my father’s age approached him menacingly. They disagreed with his position on whatever issue was being discussed and they were trying to bully him. As I watched, the group started closing in on my father and I thought I was going to have to step in. But Dad just stood his ground, stayed calm, explained his opinion and walked away. It was quite a performance and I was proud to be his son.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to notice similarities between myself and my father. Our body types are more alike than I’d once thought. I like learning new things and sharing information with others that might help them to increase their understanding or improve their life. Although perceived by some to be an outgoing socializer, my nature is to be somewhat of a loner. At home, I’m not handy. Neither was he. But I know it and hire experts. He tried to do it himself. Then we brought in the experts!

Through his actions and his words, Earl N. Brindle taught me about being a generous and compassionate friend and neighbor, about being a trustworthy and equal partner in marriage, about being a good parent and about being focused on getting the job done right.

My dad. His life ended five and a half years ago but his spirit is with me on this Father’s Day.