Everybody’s Dad

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September, 1974.

When my dad said we were getting up at 5am, he wasn’t kidding. His morning schedule demanded we jump out of bed and climb into the truck, the back flanked with high wood racks. Two or three chainsaws are stored in the truck bed, along with cans of gasoline, rusty chains, a yard stick, chalk, and a cooler. This equipment is secured under a green canvas tarp that effuses an oily, pine scent from previous visits to the woods. 

Dad takes the wheel of his 1968 white Chevy pickup, my friend, Mary sits in the passenger seat. I wedge in the middle, straddling the stick shift, attempting to sip coffee as we motor our way out of town. The dawn is chilly and new, the traffic quite light.

Getting up that early on a Saturday renders us among the very few who had places to go. 

Eventually, clearing out the cobwebs of sleep from my brain, the morning feels electric. We were heading to the woods! Somewhere north of Spokane,  my father had discovered a secret tract of fallen timber the previous spring. My dad had a sharp eye for suitable firewood, especially if the trees were already down and dry, insuring a superior burn.

After an hour or so, the Chevy turns onto a dirt road, bumping along deep into the forest. The terrain is steep, and he assures us we are close to his remembered destination. The coffee is long gone, and we need to stop soon and wander into the trees for relief.

His truck rumbles to a halt on a lone logging trace. We’re out of the cab at once stretching our legs, breathing in the morning warmth. He has already dropped the tailgate and is tending to the gas and oil in his Stihl chainsaw. We help haul out the rest of the equipment, and donning leather gloves follow him to the downed trees, lying right where he scouted them, above the road.

I go first, chalking the cut-length with the yard stick, measuring out the entire tree. His chainsaw roars to life and my dad follows me, slicing tree rounds to fit the wood stove. Mary is rolling the sections to the flat, and righting each round for further splitting with an axe.

The day has grown quite hot. We toss our flannel shirts into the cab, drink some water from a canteen, and go back to it.

By 11:00am the trees are no more. Where logs had rested for a season, only skiffs of sawdust remain, the firewood secured in the truck-bed. It’s now that Dad lifts the lid of the cooler and we dine on bologna sandwiches and warm Shasta cola. Somehow the white bread tastes surprisingly good, though only lunchmeat and butter. We had worked up powerful appetites. 

My father relaxes now that the job is complete, and we rest on the tailgate. The three of us chitchat and laugh, sweating and smelling of pinesap. 

That he loves the woods is clear by his smile and satisfaction. And there, on the back of that truck we socialize–two teenaged girls and our genial guide, resting our backs against neatly even, stacked rows of wood.

July, 2018

My father is in the hospital. The ravages of Parkinson’s Disease, chronic blood clots and advanced age has faded his once vibrant presence. We don’t know how much time he has left, as he grows weaker by the hour. And perhaps this isn’t the best way to inform friends and acquaintances of his failing condition. Still, we can choose to remember him, as I have, during his halcyon days when he was everybody’s dad.  

June, 2019

Dad would have celebrated his 87th birthday on June 15th, but didn’t survive his illness. He has been sorely missed this last year since his passing.

To forget his generous character would be a second sort of death, so I will keep him alive in my writing, and my grandchildren will learn all about him. In that way my Dad’s spirit will carry on through their lives.

Happy Fathers’ Day.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both books are available at http://www.river-of-january.com and on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

To Capture War

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I came of age during the lengthy era of the Vietnam War.

This so called “police action” began quietly as a post-WWII policy challenging Communist expansion. Vietnam had been divided as had Germany, China, and Korea, leaving a divide of western leaning democracies pitted against Communist dominated systems. America’s commitment to the Vietnam conflict officially began in 1959, with US aid to the South, and officially ended with the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. Said another way, I was a preschooler when Ike dispatched advisers, and in my first year of college when Nixon ordered troops home.

Though almost moot today, opinions vary on why this war became so universally unpopular. One assessment claims the intense media coverage, particularly on American television, soured the public on the war, while others claim support declined when the draft expanded to middle class, college-bound sons. Not that it matters. In retrospect, whether soldiers were poor or affluent, the draft sent them hell in Southeast Asia.

The view that more affluent Americans across the country grew alienated, does hold some merit. the days, weeks, months, and years of guerrilla assaults, deadly fire fights in the jungle, and the daily tally of “body counts,”* drained public support for this sweltering nightmare.

I recall many evenings washing dishes from dinner, watching a little black and white Sony portable tv. The network didn’t seem to matter; Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, or Frank Reynolds, all showed the same harrowing footage. Sweating soldiers slogging through a blur of elephant grass, the wounded medevaced onto thundering Huey’s, then wrapping up with an updated casualty count.

The Vietnam War was not presented through paintings, photographs, or sanitized movie newsreels. Instead the American public, including this growing girl from Spokane, Washington, absorbed the unfolding drama as a grim reality program, years before that term was coined. And that little 10 inch window to the world told me, as young and unsophisticated as I was, that this war was awful. That war is altogether an awful ordeal.

Film crews exposed the jarring horror of  surgical personnel splattered with blood, fighting their own war to save lives. The desperate Marines being interviewed while under assault at a stone wall in the ancient Vietnamese capitol of Hue; the massacre at My Lai, all of it awful. Americans watched firsthand their native sons give what Lincoln called “the last full measure.”

So many years have passed, and this “little girl” is now officially a graying Grandmother. Yet, as I type, my  recollections of fifty years ago remains vivid. And I know that, at this very moment, young people in battle zones face the exact same hell as the lethal jungles of Vietnam. And current American commitments have dragged on far longer than my childhood.

Still, the human cost of war has not changed–not one bit. And though the the draft is inactive, and the American public distracted, the price of conflict remains the same for those young souls presently in harms way.

In the spirit of comforting the disturbed, and disturbing the comfortable, I would like to finish this piece by reprinting a poem by WWI soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon. With words alone, Sassoon captures the true degree of awful, using no film crew, photographer, or painter.

Dreamers

By Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
 
*Covid 19 deaths are currently presented in the same visual manner. Grim statistics take a toll.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

Premier Sunday

Ladies and gentleman! Today, October 2, 2016 I proudly present the cover art for book two of River of January.

Please welcome River of January: Figure Eight, available for purchase one month from today, November 2, 2016.

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Huge thanks go out to the talented Brooke Rousseau, and her brilliant mother, Yvonne at Point Rider Publishing.

Perorders available at gailchumbley@gmail.com.

To catch up with book one, River of January is available at www.river-of-january.com or at Amazon.com. Also found on Kindle.

Author Gail Chumbley can be found at gailchumbley@gmail.com or at http://www.river-of-january.com

An American Girl Abroad, 1932

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Read River of January for the story behind the pictures.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, a memoir, also available on Kindle. Watch for the sequel, “River of January: Figure Eight” out in November.

A Story in Three Pictures

Eighty-three years ago.

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Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, a memoir. Also available on Kindle.

Watch for River of January: Figure Eight in November.

A Wave of Enthusiasm

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A visitor with the “Darkness Derby” trophy

 

Reno is situated in a golden bowl below mountains that separate Nevada from California. This enormous basin pulsates with life; upscale strip malls, flashy casinos, and relentless traffic following endless suburban growth.

To the north, off the beltway circling the “Biggest Little City,” sits Stead, Nevada, a locale clearly not touched by the same affluence as the rest of the region. A boarded up Catholic church, a Title-I elementary school and a Job Corps Center secured behind a grim, chain link fence, indicate that the very poor live world’s away from the prosperous south.

But at the end of this impoverished section of road, the world changes. Parachutists drift overhead in swatches of white, zigzagging through a deep blue autumn sky. Aircraft of every model and engine size wait, tied down on the asphalt, wing to wing. Vintage bi-planes, silvery jets, oddly shaped experimental aircraft, and muscly aerobatic planes flash in the brilliant sunlight. Thrilled attendees weave through the rows, admiring and discussing these miracles of flight. The owners relax inside the shade of hangars–a protective eye on their aircraft, monitoring visitors with a mixture of casual diligence and satisfied pride.

We, my husband and I, watch the action from inside a tented gift shop in the pits. How the gods of fortune placed us among the elite of the Reno Air Races, in the pits, is a miracle of another kind. In waves, the chosen, carrying pit passes, ebb and flow from our tent. When the Blue Angels blast down the runway, rising in a series deafening concussions, the tent empties. As the spectacle comes to a roaring close, and these seraphs return to earth, the shop once again fills with customers.

These pilots can’t seem to keep themselves from staring at our table. The oversized trophy Chum won in 1933, placed at the center of our book display, captivates these Twenty-first Century flyers. “Can I get a picture of this?” one man asks. “How much would you take for the trophy?” asks another. “They don’t make them like this anymore,” says another. “You need to take care of this one.”

Conversations soon turn to the race itself, 1933’s “Darkness Derby.” For this Depression-era contest pilots flew, one by one, into the eastern twilight. Beginning in Glendale California, nearly twenty intrepid aviators ascended, stopping first in Albuquerque, then north to Wichita, then sprinting to the finish at Roosevelt Field, Long Island. This event celebrated both “Roosevelt Field Days,” and a new Helen Hayes, Clark Gable film titled, “Night Flight.”

Beside the tarnished trophy, we display a framed glossy of Miss Hayes presenting Derby winner, Mont Chumbley, with the very same trophy, at her movie’s premier.

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Reactions varied. One pilot gushed that my father-in-law was a bonafide aviation pioneer. Enthused the admirer added, that your father-in-law managed to find his way through the blackness and win the race was incredible–he had no flight instruments. I smile because I already know, and this visitor’s wonder matches my own. I also smile because for the first time, since publishing “River of January,” I’m with people who understand the profound significance of his victory.

Another visitor tells us he edits an aviation magazine out of Ohio, and would like me to submit a piece regarding the “Darkness Derby.” This editor promises us that he will see to it that the race is officially recorded for posterity. My husband and I are very pleased with this assurance, as well. We’d always hoped to get Chum’s accomplishment recognized by fellow aviators and officially recorded.

Happily, Chum isn’t the only recipient of accolades. Equal attention and interest are directed to Chum’s future wife, a lovely girl also named Helen, Helen Thompson. Her photograph lights up our table with timeless beauty and glamor. She smiles from a vintage, Hollywood glossy emitting a radiance that seems to add to Chum’s luster. I quickly add that this girl’s glamor masked her own courage and ambition in the world of entertainment. Helen Thompson too, took enormous professional risks, performing across three continents during the tumult of the early 1930’s. It was in Rio de Janeiro, in 1936, while dancing at the Copacabana Casino, she met her dashing aviator.

In Reno my husband and I stepped into the world of avid flyers, and they understood our purpose in sharing “River of January.” With all the adulation paid to our exhibit, all the books we sold and signed, Chum and Helen’s story is carried on to inspire future generations of adventurers.

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Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. Book one is available on Kindle.

 

A History Teacher on 911

 

I cannot recall the words I used to soothe my juniors on that horrible day. However, the soul-deep pain remains remarkably sharp in my emotional memory.

Vaguely I can see my son, a senior at the same high school, enter my classroom to check on his mom, the American History teacher. Seeing his face, I wanted to go to pieces.

It was later, in the local newspaper, that I discovered not only the words I shared with my students but the transforming pain they endured watching their country attacked.

(For the writer’s privacy I’ve deleted their identity)

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Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” both available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Guanabara Bay at Sunrise

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South Atlantic

 1936

Aside from the never-ending Elie issue, the voyage itself passed pleasantly. Helen and Lila scrambled out of their beds each morning ready for fun. They hurried to breakfast in the dining room, joining the other young people on the ship. And depending on their moods, Helen and her cohorts played shuffleboard, ping-pong, or other games on deck. After meals she strolled with Lila around the upper level, and the girls always found time to take in the afternoon sun.

Helen enjoyed the scenic two-week voyage, which included additional ports of call along the way, for passengers and mail. Helen noticed that each time they docked, The Southern Cross steered into harbors increasingly clogged with more ocean-going traffic. Recife, in particular was congested enough the ship had to sit off shore until its scheduled arrival time. Anxious for Rio, Helen asked a crew member why the ship had to sit and wait.

“Must keep to the timetable, Miss. The cost of coming into port early can be as high as $500 a day.”

After another stop in Vitorio, the ship downshifted to a veritable crawl. She could feel the air thicken, heavy and muggy, in the motionless heat. Sweltering, the two American girls grew impatient with the slower pace and filled their time packing then repacking their trunks.

The last night on board, Helen took her time washing and setting her hair. She had painted her nails and toes a bright red, and had gone to bed early; 8:00 PM. Lila did the same. The day before, during lunch, an elderly lady from Connecticut had described the beauty of approaching Rio by sea.

“There is no panorama more exquisite than entering Guanabara Bay at sunrise,” the matron declared, her eyes bright with enthusiasm.

Their curiosity piqued, the girls thanked their luncheon partner, and agreed to greet the dawn as it lighted their nearly mythical destination.

The deck appeared empty, dark, and still just before 4:30 AM.  The girls had stumbled out of their beds, pulled on their robes, and stepped out into the cool air. As Helen’s eyes adjusted, she could identify other early risers, also clad in their robes. Clustering at the railing, the onlookers were absolutely overwhelmed with the panorama that gradually unveiled before them.

Helen gazed as the sun, rising from behind her, shadowed an elongated silhouette of the ship on the quiet water. Sugar Loaf Mountain presented slowly, from the summit down, exposed by the rising light, cobalt and gold reflecting on the calm, glassy bay. The relatively dry morning air and growing excitement over their imminent departure from the ship left both girls exhilarated.

“Lila, this was a keen idea!”

“Sure was. Glad I thought of it,” Lila replied, laughing.

*

Helen’s intuition alerted her that something wasn’t quite right. Standing behind Lila, in the customs queue, she watched as a short, balding official approached them from the head of the line. He tapped both girls on the shoulder, gesturing for them to step off to the side.

Innocently, she and her friend complied, dragging their trunks and pulling smaller bags with them. The official then returned to the front of the passageway without a word. The two girls looked at each other, puzzled at the strange request. There seemed to be no special reason they were targeted, and no one who bothered to provide them with an explanation.

The Club Copacabana manager, Mr. Max Koserin arrived to the docks to personally pick up his American dancers around 10:00 AM. He smiled at his new employees, whom he noticed at once. His expression shifted dramatically, however, when he realized they were standing alone, outside of the customs queue, with their baggage at their feet.

“Good Morning, ladies. I presume that you are Miss Thompson and Miss Hart?” Koserin asked.

Helen spoke first. “Yes. I’m Helen, and this is Lila. Thank goodness you’re here, Mr. Koserin. That man at the front pulled us out of line without telling us why. We don’t understand what’s going on.”

“Please try not to worry,” their new boss assured, looking them both in the eye. “I will get to the bottom of this unfortunate misunderstanding.”

Koserin walked to the customs officer and began what quickly escalated into a heated exchange. Helen felt her hope for a quick resolution fade.

“This gentleman has informed me that the city of Rio has recently passed an ordinance requiring all foreign acts coming into the city to deposit a bond with the police,” the club manager explained when he returned.

“We have to…?” Lila began to cry out.

“No, no, my dear, that is my job,” Koserin soothed the frightened dancer.

Mr. Koserin explained that the sum required for their bond totaled the entire eight-week salary for both girls, paid in advance. Strangely, Helen again became calm when the manager didn’t blink at the so-called “news.” In fact he showed no surprise at all. She guessed he expected the snag.

Still, he turned to the girls and cautioned, “Please do not worry, I will be back.”

Lila opened her mouth to speak, but Koserin raised his hand, continuing, “It will take most of the day to generate that sum of money. Stay together and please don’t be alarmed.”

Koserin smiled serenely and then departed.

Again watching the little bald bureaucrat, she noticed that he barely glanced at the passports of travelers he was processing. She quickly understood that the two of them were victims of petty corruption. No actual protocols existed for performers or any other workers to enter the country. She recalled her trips to the police station and consulate in New York, now wondering why she had bothered.

As the day dragged on, Helen grew more certain that their new boss’ presence wasn’t just limited to a warm welcome and a lift to their hotel. She believed that Koserin had rescued other new acts delayed the same way. And though she trusted that he would return with their affidavits, it didn’t help that both girls were stranded in the heat and humidity. No one offered them a chair, a drink of water, shade, or any help. The two Americans just stood miserably under the Rio sun.

When Lila meekly asked, the chief steward refused to permit them to go to their compartment to wait out of the heat.

Wiping her forehead with a handkerchief from her purse, Helen sighed.  It had been hours, and there was no sign of Mr. Koserin with their ransom. Her eyes, automatically raked the docks searching for their boss, then toward the departing passengers. It was at that moment Helen locked eyes with the bullish little customs agent.

“That official over there, do you see him? Helen whispered to Lila.

“The man who pulled us out of line?” Lila asked.

“Yes, him.”  He keeps leering at me. It’s been getting worse the last hour or so.”

“Disgusting!” Lila scoffed.

“I wonder how often that little twit gets away with his scheme,” Helen quipped. Both girls shuddered, glancing again toward the toad-like bureaucrat.

Time ground on and they watched as a queue of new passengers began boarding from the dock below.

Observing the foot traffic Helen realized, “Lila, I think we have another problem. This ship is scheduled to leave for Buenos Aires at five o’clock.”  Swallowing her panic she added, “And we’re going too, if this problem isn’t resolved.”

Out of the corner of her eye she caught the official again, grinning suggestively. Tears traced down Lila’s pink, burning cheeks.

Turning away, glancing automatically toward the dock, Helen gasped as a throng of newspapermen and photographers swarmed up the passageway. “Someone’s tipped a Rio newspaper. We’re news, now.”

Reporters crowded around their trunks, shouting in Portuguese, vying for a story or photo of the two trapped American starlets.

Lila, wet-eyed, stared ahead, not acknowledging the cameras or chaos. Helen, feeling protective of her new friend, held up one hand, blocking the mob, while placing her other arm around her distressed friend. Beginning to lose her own composure, she glanced again from her wristwatch to the dock, as Mr. Koserin suddenly appeared. He had finally returned. Striding with authority up the passageway, carrying papers above his head, Koserin presented two affidavits of money placed with the local magistrates.

“I have never been so happy to see someone in my life!” Helen laughed, now equally as teary eyed. Truly, for both girls, Koserin was a sight for sore eyes. The manager glared coldly as the disappointed official shrugged, accepting the documents—releasing the Americans to enter the city.

After the all-day ordeal the two demoralized girls descended the passageway with their benefactor. Helen asked Koserin for only one kindness, “Could we please have a drink of water?”

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” a memoir. Hard copies are available at http://www.river-of-january.com, and also on Kindle

Questions or comments? Contact Gail at gailchumbley@gmail.com

The Last Flight

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Chum returned to uniform by August 1941. Luckily he had worked for Eastern Air Lines exactly one year, vesting his employment, ensuring a job when he returned from the war. But that raises an interesting question, what war? There was no American war. Six more months transpired until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The answer to this intriguing question reads something like this; President Roosevelt instituted the preparations he could–Cash and Carry,The Destroyer Deal, quickly followed by the Lend Lease Act in 1941. America’s first peacetime draft had already been activated the year before, in 1940. Everybody knew what was coming, except for the bulk of the American population. They found out the hard way, later, across the Pacific, on a mild Hawaiian Sabbath.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir, River of January, and the forthcoming sequel, River of January: The Figure Eight.

River of January is also available on Kindle.