My father was born in a house in Melvindale - a suburb of Detroit - after the depression and before the second world war. He was the last of the four children of Bruno (years later found to actually be named Wilhelm) - a German immigrant. Bruno was a hard working fellow - the first police chief of the tiny city of Melvindale (or so the legend goes) who was working in the salt mines when my father was born. My father was born 15 years behind his next oldest sibling, and well past his mother's good birthing years. He was a frail and sickly little babe who was kept in a box by the stove so he would stay warm and live. My father spent the next ten years being told he was sickly and doing his damnest to prove that he wasn't. When his father died (who ever heard of someone dying from an appendicitis?), his days of being coddled were over. His two oldest sisters were long since married and moved away; his brother, who was closest in age, was in the military. At ten years old, Charlie was the man of the house. So, he worked and went a private Lutheran school (though lord knows where they got the money) to help with the bills and keep food on the table.
A junior in high school, with Valparaiso College already begging him to come and promising a scholarship for his beautiful voice, his mother took ill and could no longer help will the bills. Taking up the reins, and letting go of his dream, he quit school to take a full time job and support his mother. Now, this boy was as quick as whip with wit just as biting and the mean streets of Detroit were his home and his battleground. He fought hard but that boy kept on learning - trading book smarts for street smarts. He got in some bad scrapes and when he could see that every day meant that he had to fight in order to live but that fighting could mean dying, he joined the Air Force. And a meaner old son of a gun soldier you never would see in your life.
It happened one day that this soldier was home on leave and some of his old friends took him to the drive-in restaurant down in Wyandotte for a burger. He never knew what hit him when he saw her - a tall and buxom brown-haired beauty. They dated during the time he was on leave - only a couple of weeks really - and then he was headed back to Chanute AFB in Rantoul, IL. It couldn't have been more than a couple of days when who should appear but Joan - that beautiful lady from back home. He was thrilled and depressed all at once. Here she was, this girl from the good side of the tracks - smart and pretty; here he was, the boy from the gutter - battle-torn and a drop-out. He decided at once that it would never work out, so he turned her around and put her right back on a bus bound for home. Now, Chuck - as his friends always called him - was smarter than he thought, and Joan was tougher than he realized. Ten minutes after he put her on that bus, he realized what a stupid thing he had done, and when he caught up with her he found that she knew what he had done was stupid because she was already making plans to turn around again.
Her parents were horrified; his mother was aghast. They were married in a small civil ceremony on the airbase; their wedding party consisted of 20 airmen and my mother's best friend - Ellen. No family was present and none was needed.
Within a year, Billy was born and less than a year after him, Lee Ann. My father was shipped to France and my mother followed - with babes in tow - across the Atlantic. In France, there came Carl and orders to ship back to the states - to Idaho. My father shipped out and my mother followed - with 3 babes in tow and another on the way. In Idaho came Janet and my father's decision that military life was more than their growing family could bear. He left the service and moved home to Michigan. Almost five years later, Chuck came home with an idea in his head and a gleam in his eye. Joan had made it clear that four children were enough for her, but Chuck had different ideas.
Strangely enough, I was the only one my mother ever named.
(To be continued)
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