The New Frontier


These are my folks. Today is their 62nd anniversary, and unlike my last anniversary post, mom and dad are still alive and kicking, arguing about the same trivial nonsense in the same house where I grew up.

Example-Dad:We drove to Minnesota in ’68 in that black Chevy. It’s just before we bought the white one.

                  Mom: (condescendingly) Dave, you had sold that truck already, we drove the white one.

And so it still continues, even into their eighties. It’s that kind of banter that seems to keep them young. And it’s funny, but that is how they endure in my memory, as young parents, with small children. Though I was one of the brood of four, the two of them remain youthful, and optimistic in my mind’s eye, raising their family in the heady years of JFK’s New Frontier.

After their almost teenage marriage, Dad and Mom bought a modest house on a modest street. My dad worked shifts at Kaiser Aluminum, sweating over pots of white-hot molten ore, spewing the kind of heat that would have made Andrew Carnegie happy. If my father could snag a “double,” stay on for an extra shift to earn more cash, he would jump at the opportunity. Dad wasn’t really a workaholic, because he was foremost a family man, and played as hard as he labored. Still, at the same time he sought financial security, and knew ‘all blessings flowed’ from contract negotiations, remaining a proud member of the Steel Workers Union.

In contrast my mother preferred staying home. She still does. Her home has been, and always will be her sanctuary. She is an interesting individual. As a teacher I can state for certain, if there had been aptitude testing for school children in the 1930’s, my mother would have qualified for a gifted and talented program. No joke–if we analyzed the hours the woman has spent reading, her eyes have scanned print more than looking at my dad. Mom’s face is available in both hard cover and paperback, (no e-book format yet). I think that if she couldn’t read, my mother would wither up and blow away.

Well, after some difficulties in those early years, my older brother arrived on February 10, 1954. And they named him Dale for my mother’s uncle. The next year, I showed up on February 10, 1955. It seemed to make some sort of cutesy sense that I should be called Gail. The timing of our precisely dated births convinced my mother, and maybe even my dad, that all God’s children naturally arrived on February 10th. (You’d think birthday parties would have been easier to plan, but my mom says no).

The path they have tread through the years was not exactly paved with gold. My dad’s employer, Kaiser Aluminum semi-regularly initiated lay offs as the metals market waned. But, was he daunted? Not by a long shot–he had a trick or two up his plaid flannel sleeve. My father, at heart, was not a factory drone, he was an outdoors man, a tree expert to be precise, equipped with winches, come-alongs, Swede saws, augurs, and thermoses of bad coffee. Dad just started his own business, a tree removal and yard clean-up enterprise. And though he actually made more money than at the plant, his practical, family-man side, the side that considered his wife and children, sent him back for the medical insurance and a retirement pension.

My dad always knew how smart my mother was, and instead of feeling intimidated, he was proud. Even today the woman can clear the board on “Jeopardy,” faster than Alex Trebeck with his cheat sheet. In the early years of the 1960’s, he convinced her to challenged the Postal Civil Service Exam, which she passed in spades. Instead of resenting Mom going to work, he encouraged her natural smarts and her remarkable abilities as a positive thing.

Now my mom wasn’t as convinced. Like I said before, she liked being a haus frau. However, her talents shined from the beginning, drawing attention from the postal hierarchy, who saw her as management material. So, after the birth of my youngest brother in 1962, mom entered the workplace and blossomed, eventually becoming a supervisor and working, for the most part with air mail at the airport. She memorized every air route, every airport designation, every schedule, with few mistakes. Her memory skills are almost scary. (I don’t know why he still bothers to argue with her).

So today my young, Kennedy-era parents are celebrating their 62ned wedding anniversary. They will eat dinner at 4:00, and chat about some earlier vacation . . . perhaps the Mesa Verde, the Custer Battlefield, or the semi annual holy pilgrimage to Minnesota, the land of his people. Maybe they’ll reminisce about the time I dropped her diamond watch into the toilet, or the chronic illness that plagued my younger brother through his childhood. Maybe they’ll laugh about the sauna they built, proud to have imported the authentic stove all the way from Sweden. After waiting weeks for the package to arrive it finally came by post. Opening the box they read it was made in Bellevue, Washington, five hours away by interstate.

I think their marriage just might be a good one.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir River of January.

One comment on “The New Frontier

  1. Jamie K. Donaldson says:

    Gail, what a beautiful tribute to your loving parents. Very well written and evocative. I think it’s interesting that both our fathers hail from Minnesota. And there’s a coincidence that your mother studied air routes… a nod to Rio, no? Thank you for writing this piece on the happy occasion of their anniversary. I remember an earlier anniversary at which I met Chad for the first time. Blessings on you and on your family. Love from your old friend Jamie.

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