I didn't really know my dad all that well; I was mama's baby girl after all. I do know Dad loved to tell jokes, loved good food and smiled a lot. He was also patient, meticulous and mechanically inclined - always staying busy doing something until much later in life. One of his favorite jokes was explaining why he became a greeter at church - he got to hug all the pretty girls! I probably got a good bit of my humor from him, right down to repeating old jokes. I also love to eat good food. As it turns out, there are a great many things I get from my Dad.
Working with my two brothers, sister, step-sister and cousin Joanne, I put this article together - they helped me fill in some blanks (OK, a LOT of blanks). I was also able to refer to his obituary and his older sister's obituary (Aunt Claire) to get some additional information. I also used some online resources, sometimes falling into a rabbit hole then clawing my way back out to continue on course (see Chasing Squirrels). At the time of publication, I'm still waiting on a records request from the Navy to fill in more blanks.
Dad came from a big family (2 sisters and a brother) with an even bigger extended family. He grew up in the New England area of the United States, having been born in Randolph, Vermont in 1925. They lived on a farm there until a fire that started in the barn in May of 1930. They lost their home, their barn and their horses, so my Grandfather (Pepere) sold his milk route to his step-sister's husband. They stayed in Randolph until they moved to West Lebanon, New Hampshire in 1935. (West Lebanon is right on the border of Vermont.)
Dad enlisted in the Navy in April of 1943 then reported right after high school (near his 18th birthday) in June of 1943, during the middle of World War II. He attended Dartmouth College in 1943 as part of the Navy college V-12 program, then went to the University of Georgia in September of 1944 for ground school. Our understanding is that he was taking advanced math classes because pilots used math for celestial navigation at the time. Dad started his pilot training in January 1945 and was sent to the Pensacola Naval Air Training base in June of 1945. He was still in pilot training when the war ended in 1945 then got his wings as Naval Aviator on December 21, 1945 at the base in Pensacola, Florida. Dad even spent some time in Hawaii from December of 1946 through December of 1947, when he ended active duty. Dad never experienced first-hand war combat but loved talking to anyone who would listen about his time in the service - especially planes.
After getting out of the Navy, Dad returned to New Hampshire and worked for his father in the machine shop his father owned until May of 1950. Dad's love of flying then drew him to Tulsa, Oklahoma so he could study aircraft and engine mechanics, earning his mechanic's license and Flight Engineer instrument rating (through written exam) in 1951.
On January 28, 1952 (Pepere's birthday), Dad became a pilot for Eastern Airlines and got based in Atlanta, GA, working there for 33 years. The story is that dad was was recruited for Eastern by Eddie Rickenbacker himself while he was in Tulsa. He met Mom while they were both working for Eastern and married in 1953. My oldest brother Andy came along a few years later followed by my brother Robert, then my sister Lou Anne, then me. We lived in College Park and Southwest Atlanta for the majority of those years, with a brief stint in South Georgia at Mom's parent's house. (Yes, it really is as hot as you think down there and I remember running barefoot through peanut fields.)
After Mom and Dad divorced in 1980, Dad married Mother-Step June 21, 1981. That's when I gained my sister Patricia and my other brother Robert. Then they bought some lakefront property, built a house in Hiawassee, GA in 1983 and moved there shortly after. Dad's last flight with Eastern was June 12, 1985 with retirement shortly after. He loved flying and logged more than 19,000 hours of flight time between the Navy and Eastern.
Once Dad and Mother-step were fully settled in Hiawassee and the next generation began to grow, they started hosting the annual July 4th family reunion that I mention in this post. As brother Robert (not to be confused with other brother Robert) reminded me, family meant the world to him and the reunion each year was very important. Dad hosted it as long as he was physically able. They lived there with lots of laughter and love until each passed - first Dad in May of 2010 then Mother-step in September of 2016. My family referred to them as Mario and Luigi.
Even though Dad worked for Eastern during our childhoods, we didn't take many vacations via plane. I distinctly remember flying to Mexico City, Detroit, New England and Seattle while my parents were still together. Other than those four trips, no flying. Instead, we camped. Not just short trips; we're talking 3 weeks at a time with a station wagon or camper-van and a trailer. Of course, there were 6 of us, so traveling wasn't cheap and we invariably had a seventh person with us - especially on the longer trips. We traveled all over the United States and up into Canada. We got to see many historical areas including the Rockies, the Badlands, the Appalachians and various other places. I remember swimming in hot springs out west, waking up with snow on the ground in the summer in the Rockies and buying fresh lobster right off the boat in Nova Scotia. We really had some awesome experiences growing up.
Dad also loved to take pictures. We have tons of pictures and slides from our childhoods and travels. (Those photos bring with them great memories.) Dad even learned to develop his own black and white photos, setting up a small dark room in the Hiawassee house. I probably get my love of photography from him and I think all of us children had a camera of our own at one point or another. I know I've passed on that love of photography to my children too, with cell phone and digital cameras making it so much more affordable.
As mentioned earlier, Dad loved good food. I remember stories of him having dreams of eating food and even "licking his chops" in his sleep. My dear husband reminded me that Dad loved all kinds of desserts too. Brother Robert added this, "He really enjoyed eating good food. He liked telling you about the good food he had enjoyed. I heard him describe entire trips by telling what, when, and where he ate good food." My husband and I tend to do similarly and have our own motto, “Will travel for food.”
Lou Anne and Robert both mentioned Dad's humor and love of jokes when conversing with them about writing this article. Lou Anne and Andy both recalled a story told to us by Uncle Leo where Aunt Claire and Dad locked Uncle Leo in the outhouse one time. Uncle Leo and Aunt Claire relayed many stories to us over the years, reinforcing Dad's penchant for a good joke.
A couple of Dad's favorite sayings were, "Better to laugh than cry" and "This too shall pass." Try to imagine a New England accent laced with a touch of a French-Canadian accent and you may be able to hear it in your head - I certainly can. He never quite acquired a southern accent even though he lived in Georgia more than 50 years.
Brother Robert also said this, "Parents are always a mystery to their kids in many ways." My husband added this, "Knowing our parents as adults is vastly different than our childhood vision of them as our parents." Writing this article has been very educational and given me some added insight into Dad. I've learned a lot. Many thanks to my siblings for their input. I hope you have enjoyed it too.
(The photos below include include a flight log from 1952 showing plane number N18124 and a picture of an Eastern plane in the Smithsonian with the same number.)
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