Ode to my grandpa
Grandpa left his German home by nighttime dew, spiriting away his young bride and infant daughter, my Aunt Sue, sailing far across the ocean blue, to America new. As they departed the scene, the year was 1913, a year before the continent unleashed its war machine. Their ancestral home soon a memory, my grandparents chose Pennsylvania as complementary.
The ensuing family of six worked the family farm true, with Grandpa toiling in coalmines, too. Although the 1919 flu left him with no hair, worse still was World War II taking his number two heir, laying the family’s emotions bare. But ever a Christian–if he were to succumb, he looked forward to heaven and kingdom come.
Living alone with my grandparents as if a son, I learned much important under the sun, and how soda pop stings noses for fun. And Grandpa knew how to eat potatoes right, a big slab of butter with each bite.
After Grandma died early, Grandpa lived alone, because that same autumn Mom recovered her loan. My mother—his daughter—had remarried, you see, and we came together as a family.
I look back and wonder how lonely he must have been. I know I would have been, if I had been him.
But full reflection on this history makes me fathom its core, that had he delayed just one year more, you’d never be reading this bit of lore.
But about whom am I talking? You now will learn. My grandpa’s name was Frederick Kern.
Stories from My Life, #10: A thank-you note on my wife’s birthday
I’m publishing this blog on the anniversary of my wife’s birth. I’ve been fortunate to have several loves in my life, but none more significant than the first and the last. I was no longer a young man when, at 37, I stumbled across the love of my life. I met Becky, and my future was sealed.
Becky and I share similar values, an important quality. Importantly, she has the capacity to put up with characteristics typical of a Virgo. Virgos prefer their ducks in a row and will go to great lengths to make sure they stay that way. Becky puts up with these tendencies, but somehow still loves me deeply. She supports and defends me to a fault. Becky is a gorgeous and caring woman, as much so now as she was when I met her 34 years ago. I am hers forever.
This narrative will return to Becky, but now I will take you back more than half a century to introduce you to my first true love.
It was early in 1965 when I met “Gloria.” We were both members of the University Chapel Choir at Pennsylvania State University where I was then a sophomore. It didn’t take long before I fell head over heels for this beautiful godsend of a girl from out of nowhere. This story would have ended there except that, for some inexplicable reason, she liked me too. And so it happened that we necked and petted our way through the spring of 1965 in my parents’ 1960 Oldsmobile. (Do teenagers these days even know what “petting” is? It seems to me that it has become a lost art.)
During this period of romance, I met Gloria’s parents, and we became ever closer. We told each other that we loved one another. There was a minor hiccup when, following the end of the school year, two weeks into my summer job with the Weather Bureau, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis (the “kissing” disease) that, together with hepatitis, landed me in the hospital in isolation. That didn’t stop Gloria, who was there when I was sent home. Reasoning that her antibodies might help with my cure, we continued the very activity that got me into that predicament in the first place.
But, THEN IT HAPPENED! Two-thirds of the way through the summer, Gloria informed me that she didn’t see much future in our relationship. SAY WHAT? Back at my summer job in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, (having survived the kissing disease), with this heartbreaking news I immediately drove across the state to convince Gloria that she had somehow lost her mind. My mission ended in failure.
Summer evolved into fall, and I returned to Penn State for my junior year. Because Gloria had returned to campus as well, I made frequent attempts to get our romance back on track, but made no headway. What to do? Having grown up in the Lutheran Church, and recognizing that God could solve all problems, I consulted a minister at our campus ministry, explaining my dilemma. I suggested that I pray to God, asking him to send Gloria back to me. AND, I wouldn’t stop praying until that happened. This minister then made what was a thoughtful recommendation. He agreed that my approach had merit, but that I should put a time limit on my efforts. Made sense. I forget now whether it was one, two, or three months, but I commenced praying, and I took this mandate seriously. I spent every waking moment in prayer. I prayed on the way to class, I prayed before, during, and after meals, and went daily to the campus chapel where I figured my plea had the best chance of getting through to higher-ups.
Whatever that length of time was, the agreed-to time period ended, and I had nothing to show for it. It had been an excruciating period because I would occasionally run into Gloria on campus where I searched for any sign that God had made some effort on my behalf.
Basically, that’s the end of my story. I never got Gloria back, but slowly, with time, I accepted that reality. Looking back, after these many years, I’ve come to some noteworthy conclusions:
Number One: Even if our relationship had continued, it likely would have been problematic. We were opposites in many ways. That had been obvious during our dating.
Number Two: Praying to God is a natural human instinct. But I wouldn’t recommend it as a first choice in seeking a solution to a problem.
Number Three: Falling in love makes you crazy.
But most importantly, Number Four: Gloria was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I know that she’s a significant reason for what I’ve become today. She told me that I was smart, that I was good-looking—and that she loved me! (It was probably just a coincidence that, for the spring term of 1965, I achieved my first 4.0 GPA.)
There is one final deduction that, even with all my past naivety, I can also affirm. Had it not been for Gloria, on Friday, February 11, 1983, some 18 years later, I doubt that I’d have had the self-esteem and confidence to walk across that room in the Hilton Hotel, in Monterey, California, and introduce myself to a stranger. Becky turned out to be my soul mate—and the love of my life! And I thank Gloria who, I’m convinced, made that all possible.
Footnote: I am the most sentimental person I know. I treasure memories and mementos (I still have my baby rattle, for goodness sake!). But, if I haven’t already convinced you that I am nuts, I still possess one memento from the story above. If you rummage through my drawers at home, you’ll find an old unwashed handkerchief which, when you unfold it, reveals a reddish stain whose color has mellowed through the years. You’ve probably guessed it. On that handkerchief is the lipstick that I rubbed from my lips some fifty-two years ago—when Gloria and I stood in the doorway of her dormitory, and I kissed her for the last time. I keep that handkerchief as a reminder that, without Gloria, I wouldn’t have my Becky today.
America’s hysteria in 1942: Déjà vu?
Please see note below regarding Densho, the source for this photograph.
Recently, there have been various comparisons of the Japanese internment to what is happening today. I’d like to provide my own take.
In 2014, I published my first novel in the genre of historical fiction, How Much Do You Love Me? It revolves around the Japanese Internment of World War II. Having lived in California for 40-plus years, I had gradually been exposed to California’s history following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. To quote from the Preface of my book:
My intent in writing this book has been two-fold. First, I wanted to write an interesting mystery/love story. Beyond this objective, my goal was to remind us all, particularly the younger generations in the United States, of a noteworthy episode from our country’s history. Most of the time our country has acted honorably, and we can be proud of our accomplishments, both in peacetime and war. However, there are instances when we have acted neither nobly nor fairly and for which we need reminding so as not to repeat our mistakes. The unjustified internment of Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was one of those times.
Following Pearl Harbor, it took less than three months before hysteria overtook the nation, emanating mostly from politicians and other officials spreading the notion that anyone who looked Japanese was either a spy or a saboteur. There was no evidence of such. Nonetheless, on February 19th 1942, some 75 years ago, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, sealing the fate of some 120,000 Japanese Americans, almost two-thirds of whom were United States citizens. If you were Japanese and lived on the West Coast at the time, you were removed from your home and taken to an internment camp. To read my 14-part series on the internment, please start here.
And so it happened in 1942. Are there similarities to what’s going on in the United States today? In fact, there was a legitimate reason for fear—but not for our reaction to our own citizens—following Pearl Harbor. But what is the reason now? Echoes of what happened 75 years ago are again coming from those in power, who fuel the fires of fear of anyone who is different. In 1942, it was Japanese Americans, but today there is a much wider variety of supposed villains to choose from, whether it be our Mexican neighbors to the south, immigrants from war-torn Syria, or any random Muslim from around the world.
But, what of the evidence? Prior to EO 9066, none other than the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, said that nothing from his intelligence suggested any problem with domestic Japanese. But those politicians with conspiracies to promote (often seeking political gain) rallied the cry against the Japanese—and won. (Can you see the hate in the face of the man in the above picture?) It seems to me that it’s actually worse today. Look at what has happened. Among the travesties reported: two Muslim mosques burned to the ground in Texas, an Indian Sikh in Seattle shot and told to “go back to your own country,” and—perhaps predictably—Jewish cemetery stones overturned. Worst of all, I think, is our diminishing reputation in the eyes of those around the world who have always admired our values and reputation for fairness—but who now question our nation’s path.
What all of this means is that words do matter. Evidence matters. In the name of our forebears and to those who have wisely said that we must never forget our history, lest we relive it, the United States must not fall victim to conspiracy theories, political agendas, and unfounded fears that result in the demeaning of any human being. It happened in 1942. Unfortunately, the threat of something similar happening is with us today.
Footnote: For a related article on the San Bernardino tragedy, please click here.
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project is a digital archive of videotaped interviews, photographs, documents, and other materials relating to the Japanese American experience. Additional information on the project is available at www.densho.org
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Here is a nice article written about me on Penn State | News
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