Tag Archives: Suzanne Jett Reynolds

ONE Big Family

Donny suggests that I write a blog post about family and how everyone used to pull together without question to help each other out. It went without saying that grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles never hesitated to open the door for days, weeks, months whenever and for however long the need.

I live with my paternal grandparents as a pre-schooler so that my parents can both work. Putting me in childcare is unthinkable. This is not to disparage childcare. This vital resource is now a lifeline to many but time was when it was not even on the radar. In summers I stay on the tiny chicken farm with my maternal grandparents.

Donny recalls his Grandma Lucy walking him most of the way to school every day. She allows him to make the final short leg independently on his own. She is caretaker for Donny & his older sister Judy so that single parent mom, Mary Elizabeth, can maintain her job as a medical secretary.

Mom sees to it that I spend teen summers with my aunts and uncles who live in distant cities so that I can expand my horizons but also so that I can be an in house baby sitter for them.

All of the above vignettes bring us to the meat of this post. And before you read on it’s not written to be a pity post but rather a reminder of how family connections are such a strong vibrant force.

Last summer daughter-in-law Terri brings a friend and her sons along to family camp. We have a puzzle marathon and over sorting pieces Julie & I discuss living the military life in the South Pacific. She relates how while on Okinawa she becomes pregnant with their younger son and begins experiencing unexpected difficulties. She continues with how hard it is to figure out a plan for the older son with no family to help out.

The light dawns on me that this is what has tugged at my memory of a similar time for our family while we were on Guam. The memory always feels slightly off kilter to me and it never once occurs to me that even with a big loving family there is no one at hand to help out. We are familyless.

I come in from school to find a family friend waiting for me. I am told to pack some things that Mom is in the hospital and I can not stay home alone. There is no family to take me in, they are all thousands of miles away. Dad is on flight duty, he cannot take care of nine year old me. I am adrift, at the mercy of friends.

This friend takes me to a stranger’s house. I sort of know the family because their daughter is in school with me but our families never socialize together. This family just takes me in out of the goodness of their hearts and they are wonderful. They apologize endlessly about having nowhere in their tiny house for me to sleep but the couch. I don’t mind at all they are so nice. I miss Mom immensely but I am cared for and comfortable.

And then I get moved to the house of the friend that had met me after school who for some unknown reason could not take me immediately. It is a comfort to Mom to know I am with her good friends but it is simply awful to me. I like the family when we have dinners together, they are fun and cheerful. But living with them and their two rambunctious boys is pure misery. I have to bunk in the room with the boys and they are terrors. Nothing horrifying happens but nothing good either. I am a begrudged duty done for a friend.

I miss all of my home comforts and Mom. Dad takes me to see Mom on his days off but in those times no kids are allowed in hospitals so it is barely a visit. Mom’s emergency resources are available only at the distant naval base and so that is where she lands. Her room is on the ground level of a small building so Dad lifts me up to wave and blow a kiss.

If Mom had been at the base hospital I could have visited her room window at will. Kids roam the base freely without a care in the world. Mom even sends me to the base dentist on my own once. That story goes something like this. When it’s my turn I reluctantly get into one of the many chairs for what is to come. It’s a room full of dental chairs, mass mouth work. I am nervous and fidgeting. I am less than cooperative. Finally the enlisted assistant, none too happy with his job anyway, stops trying to get me to open wider and says, “I don’t want to be here any more than you do, so why don’t you just leave.”

I look at him thinking he is joking. He is dead serious. “Just go,” he stands akimbo with a scowl on his face. I get out of the chair slowly expecting to be yanked back by him or any other adult in the room before I can make my get away. But it doesn’t happen. I gingerly walk to the door not believing my luck. I keep looking back to be sure. My somewhat savior scoots me along with a hand gesture and then turns his attention elsewhere, glad to be rid of me. I am free! I never tell Mom.

It will be determined that Mom is RH negative and in dire straits as is sister Suzanne. Total bed rest is the only recourse and a complete blood transfer for Suzanne when she needs to be delivered early by Caesarean section or die. The hospital has an incubator, not a new device but it is one that is just beginning to come into it’s own in every day neonatal care and that along with the transfusion saves Suzanne’s life.

Mom will spend more weeks in the hospital and Suzanne even more gaining up to the required five pounds she needs to go home and we can finally be a family together.

Postscript

Mom and I are on our return trip from Virginia to see very ill Grandma Boschen. It is January. We board the USS Morton in San Francisco and it embarks. The first night at sea is so rough Mom puts our suitcases in the closet to keep them from constantly sliding back and forth across the cabin floor. We have a roommate but she is close lipped and in a world of her own. The next morning shows no improvement in the weather and the table cloths are soaked by the crew to keep dishes and utensils from sliding off onto the floor.

I love it all. Mom not so much. She gets violently ill and ends up in sick bay. A bad case of seasickness is her diagnosis. She cannot keep any food down. The doctors try to get her to eat toast. I am allowed minimal visiting so I know this. She only wants corn flakes. They balk and so she eats nothing. I am left to my own devices.

Mom has moved us the second day to a room closer to other moms and children, much more fun for both of us, but we do not know any of them and before we can make friends Mom gets sick. The other moms feel some obligation to tend to me but barely knowing me and with kids of their own to chase down their oversight is minimal.

At first I am overjoyed, scant adult supervision for a week until we get to Hawaii! But then my drama creating mind kicks in. If I were to fall into the ocean who would know. I wander all parts of the ship seeing if anyone will stop me. They never do. I truthfully do not go deep into the bowels of the boat but do try a few doors and parts of the deck off limits to civilians. Once I decide to go from the dining hall deck to the top deck with my eyes closed. I have barely started before I walk into a huge steel beam with such force that it knocks me down ending my experiment. I am glad to get to Hawaii and Dad.

Being a kid on your own is not that much fun.

Post Postscript

Mom’s stay in sick bay is not entirely seasickness. Early stages of her unexpected pregnancy with Suzanne as she later finds out.

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Christmas in the SAND

Living on Guam in the 50’s is everyone’s dream life, from kid to adult. We go to the beach, we party, we play, we bond. In later years whenever the subject comes up, my parents always refer to this period of our life as the time when everything is perfect.

We ride out typhoons, one a direct hit. I vividly recall Dad taking me out in the eye to show me how calm everything is. Only moments before the wind is blowing with such ferocity that anything not tied down (he and fellow crewmen have spent hours tying down planes so that they will not tumble like weeds) gets carried along.

Typhoon preparedness on Guam 1953

Almost every night that the weather is good, there is an outdoor movie on base. Folding chairs are set up. Attendance is always full, even if it’s a repeat show. There’s no bathroom so you either endure or go home, which isn’t too far away. Everything on base is within walking distance.

On Saturdays, all the base kids pile onto a bus and get driven off base to a local theater somewhere short of nowhere. We fill the theater, dozens of screaming wild ones with pennies to spend on candy and popcorn that if selected wisely will last the entire morning. I am sure the only adults around are the bus drivers and the film operator. We form new friendships, dissolve old ones, fight over seats, food, and anything that strikes us as worthy. We love it all.

I go to school off base that is a series of quonset huts, one per class all connected by a concrete sidewalk. There is a big hut to serve as an auditorium. And in the middle of the complex a walk in refrigerator where cold milk is served to go with bag lunches. No cafeteria. We eat on the porch of our classroom hut.

On base we entertain ourselves by running behind the DDT truck spraying for mosquitoes, getting as close as possible to the back of the truck so to be entirely enveloped in the cloud of poison. You have to hold your breath, the smell is so awful. I am bad at it and give it up after a few tries. Still our kids marvel at why they are not malformed head to toe.

We sneak into the sugar cane fields behind the base, always leery of the possibility of lurking Japanese soldiers, to get stalks of cane to suck on. The sugar taste is so good.

Dad brings me exotic dolls and clothes from Japan whenever he goes there. A doll with wigs to change her status from young unmarried, to geisha, to wife; covered cloth slippers with a separation for your big toe. And straw open shoes with a velvet thong between the big toe and the rest, you would know the design as a flip flop, but then the concept is totally new to all of us. Learning to walk in them is hard even if they are pretty, the strap is annoyingly uncomfortable.

But the absolute best of all for a kid on Guam, is Christmas. The Navy shipmates decorate their ships within an inch of their smoke stacks. They are gaudy beauties to behold. I never tire of a trip to see them.

Decorated Navy ship on Guam 1953

A huge hanger is set up with presents for every kid on base. We get a collapsible cheap glass wind chime packed in a flat cheaper cardboard box lined with thin tissue. It smells divinely of the orient. I am always sad when mine breaks. We get a mesh stocking full candy. And, as if that is not enough, there are individual gifts. There is a line by age for girls and one for boys. The presents, identical according to specific sex and age, are wrapped and hidden behind screens and carefully handed out by an adult as you reach the front of your line. This glory stops at age twelve. I have figured out that the twelve year old girls get a toy red piano. I really want a piano. I’m only ten plus I won’t be on Guam when I’m twelve, our tour will be up. I get in the line for twelve year old girls and lie my way forward. I have not one bit of guilt about my deception. Mom doesn’t know how I have come by my treasure, she’s clueless about the details of the process, so I’m spared any inquisition.

Christmas 1953 on Guam. Me holding seven month old sister, Suzanne. Note the red piano behind my left shoulder. And next to my knee, the unique Japanese forerunner of the now common as sliced bread, flip flop.

The piano is only eclipsed by a German doll that I get for Christmas. I have sleuthed out my gifts, so this doll, a last minute addition, is a complete surprise. Mom tells me later that she initially passes on one for me because she’s done her shopping. But when she realizes that I will be the only doll age girl on base without a German doll, she picks a simply dressed one for me. It seems that a ship has come in mere days before Christmas with the dolls and there is a scramble for the most elaborately outfitted ones. I am impressed with the girls who get dolls dressed in over the top clothes and accessories but I love mine, simple dress and all. She’s absolutely beautiful.

Just as is life on Guam for those of us lucky enough to have our Christmas moment in the sand.

EPILOGUE

When your past gobsmacks you, in a good way, you just have to laugh and pay attention. Preparing to start a post about Christmas on Guam I see feedback from from the youngest daughter of Dad’s pilot partner in crime.

She has happened upon my blog post about her dad. She’s my sister’s age so I really do not recall a lot about her. Both born on Guam, they were but babies. Her older sister, still younger than me, I very much recall as cute and fun.

Normally I write and rewrite and put a draft aside but like I said when you’re gobsmacked you rise to the occasion, so Merry Christmas Yvonne aka Bonnie and Marianne!

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Commit and Mean It

While I was running in circles at the monument today there was a small plane attempting landings and take offs. I say attempting because there was much screeching of tires and unnecessary revving of the engine. Now a pilot I will never be but my Dad was and as I painfully listened to the learning curve being applied I developed a new respect for his chosen career. To do the thing right you have to have confidence, complete and total confidence in yourself and your machine. You have to commit and mean it.

When I was a teen, Dad decided to take us to Florida to visit friends and his oldest sister and her family. In a Piper Cub. This Piper Cub. A four seater.

piper cub

From Ohio to Florida. And back. It was on the way back that the story takes place. Completely true and not embellished at all. (I actually thought I had already blogged about this but must have been a FB post only and you know how those get lost in the beast never to be seen again.)

We were at some small air strip in Georgia. Or South Carolina. There was a tiny visitor center, sketchy at best. We had probably mostly stopped for gas. We were miles from any type of civilization at all. A storm was approaching. One of those wall cloud type dark thunder storms. We were going to let it pass but then Mom saw the hand writing on the wall. Hours in this hell hole. My sister had already found rat poisoning in the bathroom and tried to eat it. “We’re not staying here another minute, Starke.”

Right. We loaded up. Dad was in his element. He headed us into the wind which was also into the coming storm. There were power lines at the end of the runway. Small low strung power lines. It was a short runway. Very short. Actually I don’t think it was even a runway. Just well packed ground. The plane was shaking and shimmying. We picked up speed but were not lifting up as quickly as we should have because of the storm. We were running out of runway ground.

I was riding shotgun which I switched out with Mom depending on whose turn it was to entertain Suzanne. Mom was surely saying prayers and covering my sister’s eyes. I could not close my eyes. We were going to hit the power lines or get taken out by the ferocious storm. I could see no other option.

florida

And then just as we reached the end of the world, just like that we lifted up, cleared the lines, cleared the storm, and headed home. Dad knew how to commit. He really was a master pilot.

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