20 Prospect is a blog about my memories, so this post may seem a bit out of place, because it is a blog about my memories of someone else’s memories. A “meta-memory” blog if you ‘ll humor me.
After Dad passed away unexpectedly in 1997 Mom began to slowly go through things like old photos and separate them out for us kids. When she sold the house a few years later, I went home to help clean it out to get it on the market. While I was there, she gave me some of his things. Nothing major, just some of the little trinkets he used to save in his dresser drawer. When I was a kid I used to love sneaking into my parents room and snooping through his things. He was a pack rat who saved everything. I’m sure that he is where I inherited my nostalgic tendencies.
Anyway, Dad kept little odds and ends in his bed room, and downstairs in the cellar. Nothing valuable to anyone else but him, and his memory. I used to love curling up on their bed on a rainy day, when they were at work, and I was home with Granny, and reading his old comic books from his Air Force days…
These were “naughty books” in Mom’s opinion, and nothing suitable for children. They were cartoons books sold as souvenirs to G.I.’s in the early 50’s. Reading them now, they seem down right quaint by today’s standards. These passed for risque in 1951…
yes, while the long haired children of the 70’s were reading Spiderman, and Marvel comics, I was becoming acquainted with the mores and humor of servicemen from the Korean War era…
I think I got the better end of that deal. In fact, by a very early age I had established a nostalgia for others people nostalgia. Such was the life of any post baby boomer in America. As kids we were force fed a steady diet f someone else’s memories, consisting of an idyllic Mickey Mouse club 50’s followed by the free love 60’s. Is it any wonder Gen Xer’s are cynical?
But Dad did not belong to the boomer generation. He was born in 1930, too young to serve with the “Greatest Generation”, too old to be a spoiled, postwar brat. He dropped out of High School in the late 40’s, never being much of a student. And by all accounts was a bit of a hell raiser with his buddies growing up in Black Rock – Riverside and Tonawanda. He worked some jobs, Dupont Chemical where his parents worked, and then Niagara Mohawk’s Huntley Generating Station, before finally enlisting in the Air Force. This was during the days of the Korean War, and despite being a dropout, Dad was no dummy and choose to enlist in the Air Force instead of being drafted to carry a rifle as one of MacArthur’s foot soldiers on the Korean Peninsula.
He was a lucky man. He did his basic training in Oklahoma, where he learned that “only stupid Okie’s” would commit the crime of “putting ketchup on a steak”. After basic he was stationed in Denver, where he fell in love with the mountains. A love that would finds it’s way into the next generation of 20 Prospect men. (Me and my big Big Bruddah, despite being born 10 years apart, both found our way to Colorado in our 20’s too)
Yes, he still had that sport coat in the closet when I was growing up. He did eventually grow into it too.
But his fondest experience in the service was when he was stationed in Erding, Germany. He worked in the motor pool at the Erding Air Depot, and during air raid drills would sit in a machine gun post at the end of the runway while planes took off overhead.
Erding was a pretty good gig for a guy in his early 20’s from the North Side of Buffalo. It had been a Luftwaffe training base before the U.S.A.F. took it over, and the German’s did everything in style.
And as these pictures show, life on the base was not much different from my life in college. If anything, the base probably had more coeds than Clarkson University in the late 80’s.
But Air Force life wasn’t all German beer. He was transferred to Châteauroux-Déols Air Base in France in the winter of 1953, and spent a spent a good part of it up to his ankles in mud. After the plush base in Erding, he hated his time France.
Here at 20 Prospect, the fruit does not fall far from the tree. And is it any wonder that I followed the same wanderlust through my early 20’s? Dad would always have a lifelong love for Bavaria, and the time he spent there. When he finally made it back in 1985, he loved to tell me the stories of the things he did while on leave in Garmish-Partenkirchen and Berchtesgarden.
If you just go by the pictures he sent home to his folks, and the stories he told us, his 6 years in the Air Force weren’t much different from a long holiday. He never saw action, thankfully. His service experience was like that of many in the Cold War. Long boring days on alert, waiting for an enemy that never attacked. Killing boredom with beer, and trips on leave. As a kid, in my Grandma’s basement, there was an old phonograph, and some wax 78’s. One of the records was Patty Page’s Tennesseee Waltz. Dad played it for me once, and told me how it always made him homesick during his time in the service. Listening to it now, it makes me homesick too.
The pictures show him getting fatter as the years passed, and the German beer flowed. Going from the skinny kid during his first days in Germany…
to the chubby Sergeant during his later years…
I’m guessing he wasn’t the only GI to gain a little weight in the Fatherland…
Those beer steins, like all his souvenirs, were sent home to his Mom. He eventually reclaimed them and they sat on the stereo console in the front parlor of 20 Prospect for many years.
He came home from the Air Force in 57 I think, and got his job back at the power plant. He would meet a girl from around the corner, and get married soon after, working for Niagara Mohawk for over 45 years in total. A family followed, as you already know. And these pictures, and mementos found their way into the drawers and closets of 20 Prospect where they sat like hidden treasure for years. Only to be unearthed by a little mop haired kid that came tagging along in the late 60’s. And now they sit in my drawers, and closet, waiting for another generation of little archeologists to discover them, and pass their history along.