“So, David, you’ll be a civilian soon; what are your plans?” Mom’s brother, my uncle Herbert, with Aunt Mary, had come to visit Mom a couple of weeks before my release from active duty and I happened to be home.“I’ve met a few good guys from California. I plan to head out there. One of their mothers works at McDonnell-Douglas and she said they’re hiring.”
“California.” He frowned. “I hope you’re not going to become one of those long-haired, dope-smoking hippies!”
“As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to letting my hair grow some and I couldn’t care less if you like it.” I turned to Mom, kissed her cheek and walked out the door. Without looking back I headed toward St. Louis for what could be my farewell visit to the U.S.O. and maybe to say good-bye to a friend or two.
I was fuming. Unlike Dad and almost every one of my relatives of his generation, I had never even tasted alcohol and certainly had no interest in using something illegal. I thought Uncle Herb knew me better than that.
* * *
Herb was Mom’s baby brother. When she was six years old and he was an infant, his and Aunt Trudy’s father had died. Big John had grown children when he married Grandma Alma, one son being older than she was. The older children had inherited the estate.
Grandma had to go to work at what she was good at and became the live-in cook for the August Busch family in their mansion, and others, until shortly before her death while I was in the service.
Herb and Trudy, because John was a Mason, were accepted into the Masonic Home for Orphans, where he was the youngest baby to be accepted there. Mom was placed into another orphanage where Grandma had to pay for her care.
Herbert learned about vehicles and mechanics and, after the Pearl Harbor attack, joined the Army. He served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, where he earned the Legion of Merit medal and a certificate of appreciation from a city in Italy. By then he was a Tech Sergeant in charge of logistics, including aiding not just our military, but Italian civilians in his area.
After the war, Herb took a supervisory-level job at the St. Louis branch of a large corporation. He married the prettiest wife, had the prettiest dog (a collie named Caesar) and bought the neatest brick house in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. He always drove a new Chrysler and vacationed in Phoenix every Christmas.
I had looked up to him . . . until that unfortunate day in 1968.
* * *
I didn’t see him for over twenty years.
By the late eighties, fortunately, I had proved myself to be a productive, law-abiding citizen with a good career and, without speaking of that incident, we mutually decided to let bygones be bygones, forgiven — or forgotten about.
I’m happy that we were able to spend his final decades showing mutual respect for one another.