It was 30 years ago today when I excused myself about two or three hours before your 5:21 pm birth to get a cheeseburger. I’d been sitting unfed since before dawn with your mom at the 196th Station Hospital at SHAPE, Belgium awaiting your arrival but you were having no part of it and I was hungry.
SHAPE Hospital in a more recent photo.
There was a brand-new burger place that had just opened in the international shopping center sort of across the street and diagonal from the hospital at which you were making life really unpleasant for your mom, an activity which fortunately did not become a long-term trend in your relationship. I remember that burger for no other reason that it was a good burger, with a thick slice of sweet onion topped with melted cheese. I had eaten this delicious concoction of burnt dead animal flesh, gooey cheese and a host of other bad-for-you things many times before, but this one was special.
It was the last one I ate before fatherhood.
Several hours later after much blood, sweat, tears, even more blood and a ridiculous amount of swearing, and from then on for all time, every burger I ate after that, I ate as a father. So yeah, I guess you could say you established a dietary standard for me on this day thirty years ago.
Jon enroute to Alaska in 1985 just prior to his first birthday.
Sometime in 1986-ish, while your mother was in a class at the former Anchorage Community College, I introduced you to your first burger at the McDonalds near Lake Otis and Tudor. It was a Big Mac, not the Cadillac of burgers mind you, but still qualifying in the minds of many. I sliced it like a pie, attached a bib to your chin and turned you loose.
Several handfuls of two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles onions on a sesame seed bun later, after making a series of pleasantly surprised, concerned and decidedly quizzical expressions on your toddler face, you decided that this burger thing just may have a future.
Of course, your taste and understanding of fine cuisine grew to epic proportions. Not meaning that you ate in epic quantities, just that your love of food and fine dining led you to your training as a professional chef, while my taste in food continues even now, thirty years later, more closely aligned with that of your toddler days.
Attending a relatively recent wedding.
In any case, it’s been thirty years since my last burger before I became a dad for realisies. And it’s been an honor and a privilege to watch you grow up.
Happy 30th birthday, Jonathon Kelley Wolfe! Here’s to you and here’s to many more burgers both delicious and disagreeable. And here’s wishing you 30 more outstanding, magnificent birthdays in your future. And then 30 more and 30 more and….
I stumble across all sorts of stuff in my archives, some of which has never seen the light of day. Here’s #5 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures. Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:
a.) I’m in the photo or…
b.) … I took the photo.
Nephew Andrew Kimes graduated from the Basic Parachutists Course at Fort Benning in the summer of 2003. From left, me, Andy and Andy’s mom and my sister, B.J.
Garrett and Nate visited Mount Vernon about a year or so ago and while we were there, I snapped this with my cell phone camera, dragged it into PhotoShop and aged the photo. (Garrett did not age abnormally from the process.)
Me on television circa 1980 anchoring “Fort Gordon On The Move!” a weekly information program seen on tens of screens worldwide.
Always loved this photo of Garrett and Nate being pursued by the late Bella. They always loved to take Bella out for a romp in the back yard.
Anyone who’s ever read this blog past the first few pages has heard me mention Jeff Tobin a few times. Jeff is one of my oldest friends, mostly because he’s 16 hours older than me. We were both drum majors in our all-scholarship military school band and went to the same college afterwards. We also shared short but colorful careers in radio.
This is from JeffreyTobin.com, Jeff’s professional site and blog. Jeff brings up this radio “war story” whenever we see each other, which is far too infrequently. ‘Preciate the write up, sir!
And if you’ve not subscribed to Jeff’s blog, do it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
I’ve worked in broadcasting in some form or other since I was in my teens, and I learned early on that one must always expect the unexpected.
It was the late 70′s at radio station WKST in New Castle, Pa. My best buddy from school and I had continued our close and wonderful relationship through college and into the broadcasting world at area radio stations.
We knew each other well. We were a team and trusted each other implicitly. We still do, these many miles and decades later.
Dan Wolfe was live and on the air on a sunny Saturday morning. From atop a downtown building, he described for his audience a community parade as it passed by. I was back at the studio in the control room running the show from behind the scenes as Dan listened to the broadcast through his headphones.
“Here comes the high school band!” He described the view as the audience listened to the music. “And there go the WWII veterans all marching in formation…”
He heard the music of the bagpiper regiment grow louder as it approached the grand stand. But he could see no bagpipers. He looked up and down the street, but there were no kilts, no drum major, no drums. Nothing. Still, the music swelled in his headphones. How could this be?
Suddenly I heard an almost imperceptible chuckle in his voice: The little giggle of which I’d become so fond over the years. Dan realized the music wasn’t coming from the parade at all, it was coming from the studio! I was playing a recording of bagpipers and carefully feeding it into the mix.
Dan didn’t miss a beat. He described in great detail the approaching phantom regiment – the bagpipes, the colors, the regalia. And off they marched into the mind’s eye of our listeners. There never really were any bagpipers, and no one was ever the wiser.
My little joke was not a test of Dan’s abilities, but an investment in trust. I was confident that Dan would manage the situation. He was able, and he handled the unforeseen with the panache of the consummate professional he was.
And we grew closer together, both personally and professionally.
This week at my office, I demonstrated that same trust in one of our current employees, handing her a substantive project I knew she could handle. Like Dan, she rose to the occasion, taking the project on as if it were her own. It was. And she didn’t miss a beat.
If you want to move your organization forward, first develop trust. When trust is established, you can hand off responsibilities that express that trust. In this way, a test of skill is no longer a test; it becomes an empowerment… an empowerment for personal and organizational growth.
“Handing off the bagpipers” to an employee is a gift. It’s a gift that makes everything stronger: The employee, your relationship, and the organization.
I haven’t posted lately, so here’s #3 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these photographic blasts from the past. Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:
a.) I’m in the photo or…
b.) … I took the photo.
Now six-year-old Nathan returning from his first day of Kindergarten in September, 2013. I hope his enthusiasm endures for all things academic.
Me and Mike Downs at the Grand Canyon of Saudi Arabia, circa 2001. Mike was the G-1 and I was the PAO of Army Forces Central Command – Saudi Arabia, a unit which no longer exists, to the best of my knowledge.
Left to right: Shawn Woodbridge, Jeff Keane, Yours Truly, and Jeff’s wife, Ethel Keane. We were celebrating something or other (probably Jeff’s promotion to colonel) at the Ritz Carlton’s Sunday brunch in 2003. Shawn was a major at the time but was recently promoted to colonel as well. So it turns out that there’s three of ’em in this photo after all is said and done.
Nate’s sixth birthday in 2013. We were at Nate’s choice of restaurant, Red Lobster, and Nate wanted to share something privately with his Mom, Beth.
Here’s #2 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures. Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:
a.) I’m in the photo or…
b.) … I took the photo.
With James Carville at the Army Worldwide Public Affairs Symposium in 2006 . He and his wife, Mary Matalin, were the keynote speakers that evening and were tremendous. It was an honor to be there and to get to speak with Mr. Carville.
I took this one at a reunion of World War II veterans at the WWII Memorial on a rainy day toward the end of my time with the WWII 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee.
This is an Alaska photo. I took this in the photo studio at Fort Richardson, Alaska when my sons Jon and Andy were far younger than they are now.
I took this one just after Nate and Garrett ran the bases at a Potomac Nationals minor league game in the summer of 2013. Later that year, they’d attend a Cleveland Indians game and get to sit in one of the swanky VIP suites for their grandparents 25th wedding anniversary.
I stumble across all sorts of stuff in my archives, some of which has never seen the light of day. Here’s #1 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures. Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:
a.) I’m in the photo or…
b.) … I took the photo.
Youngest son Andy, Me, oldest son Jonathon and the ever-so-talented actor and great friend, Frank Simons many moons ago in California. Frank was one of the very first people I met when I moved to California in 1990. He and I have shared many discussions about politics, Star Trek, television and pretty much everything. He’s one of my most dear friends and miss our debates. There’s no one else I’d rather have an argument with!
Ben Vereen visited the Pentagon some months after 9/11 when I was working on the Army’s Crisis Action team. Great guy! So is Ben.
Look closely — you’ll see a laptop computer in-flight immediately prior to its demise. We called this “Computer Assisted Suicide” and had a party to celebrate the passing of my laptop. (Needless to say, alcohol was served.) Acting as the Range Safety Officer is the late Lt. Col. Bob Hagen, who assured that we didn’t drop the laptop on an unsuspecting vehicle. He’s giving us the thumbs up at the top of the photo.
This was taken on the flight line at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, NV in 2005. With me is Retired Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster who was at the time the director of the World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. I was the Chief of Staff for awhile as well as the PAO for the Committee. This job and working with this fine gentleman was one of the highlights of my nearly 29 year Army career.
The initial sting and sorrow at losing our beloved Bella, the dachshund, on Friday has abated. And the house continues to seem unusually quiet. This probably stems from the lack of profanities being uttered as one of the occupants residing herein found a pile of puppy poop the hard way, if you know what I mean.
Many of you have followed her since we got her last year. Many of you don’t know the backstory of how she came to be such a huge part of our household and how she won our hearts. So for my own mental health and in an attempt to capture these memories, I’m going to tell you Bella’s story.
I was desperate.
Now that’s not something that’s really unusual for me. I’m desperate for a number of reasons, but just a year and a few weeks ago, I was really, REALLY desperate to come up with a birthday gift for the lovely, talented and buxom Beth Geyer, my dearest significant other. (And before you get all weird on me, she not only approves of the aforementioned description, some time ago she insisted on it and it stuck.) She had mentioned a few times that she was longing for a pet, namely a kitten.
I’m fine with cats. In fact, this is one of the few places I’ve lived in which I do not have a feline patrolling the premises. So I had been on the lookout for a kitten for a number of weeks, making it a point to hit up the PetSmarts and Petcos of the world in search of a small furry feline. I even scoped out the Prince William County animal shelter when I was in the area. But, as it was the tail end of winter, small kittens were in short supply.
I should have seen it coming. February 28, 2013 was upon me more quickly than I had anticipated, the invariable progress of time notwithstanding. Two days. I was down to two days and I was desperate.
I gathered Nate, the younger of Beth’s small humans, and departed for some such adventure, as was our routine in those days before permanent employment. Shortly after our departure, we found ourselves in the vicinity of the Prince William County Animal Shelter. I asked Nate if he wanted to stop in and he agreed.
Nate hadn’t been there before, but I had. So I knew where to guide him to have a look at the kittens and cats available for rescue. On our way past, I noticed a small cage sitting on the floor of the hall in which was a tiny brown furry creature of some sort. But since we were in search of a kitten, we both breezed past pretty quickly. Upon determining that there were no kittens that fit the bill, Nate and I turned around and headed back through the hall toward the kennels in which the dogs were housed.
There again on the floor of the hall was the same tiny brown furry creature but this time, it was facing us.
Bella as we first encountered her.
It was a very tiny dachshund. In a very tiny cage.
I should mention that I’m a sucker for a hard luck cases. This poor little puppy practically defined the term. She was clearly frightened, dejected and not at all well. Nate and I bent closer to have a look at this pup and she scooted over toward us. After determining that this little dear heart wasn’t in a defensive mood, we moved in even closer and the puppy started sniffing and licking our fingers through the cage as puppies do.
I don’t remember if her tail was wagging at all or not. She was still confined to the small wire-framed kennel in which she’d just been surrendered and didn’t have much room to maneuver.
Just then, one of the shelter’s employees happened by and I stopped her and asked if we could pet the new arrival. She gladly obliged my request and let the puppy out of her kennel.
Nate, of course, was excited but having not been around pets at all very much, he didn’t know exactly how to behave. It was hilarious to watch Nate! It was a classic approach-avoidance scenario. He wanted so badly to interact with the puppy, but when she tried to hop up and lick his face or sit on his lap, he was alternately welcoming and terrified. The more he tried to get away from her, the more she’d try to get close to him. And the more she tried to get close to him the more he’d wriggle away, not sure just what to do about this small creature.
Bella and Nate’s dance on day one.
I tried to tell him that the puppy wouldn’t hurt him — she just wanted to play with him. I instructed him to sit still and she’d come to him, but he wasn’t having any of that whatsoever! Their “I’m-going-to-get-you!-No,-you’re-not!” dance continued much to my delight.
This dance would define their relationship.
Here’s the big problem. This was a dachshund puppy. This was the one breed of dog that Beth mentioned as being her least favorite breed of dog. Not just that she didn’t like them. She specified that they were her least favorite.
Seeing Nate’s alternating joy and slowly abating horror at the puppy in his presence, I started to think that this could seriously solve the birthday present problem, but there was great potential to create a longer-term issue of bringing home to Beth a pet that she’d dislike.
The words “least” and “favorite” kept buzzing around my head like annoying, biting flies.
I asked the shelter employee about her backstory? Why was she surrendered to the shelter? Where did she come from? The dog had been given the name Rosie. As I recall it now, Rosie had lived with someone who was at first provided a loving home. They had paper-trained her for peeing, but she hadn’t completed the housebreaking process and still pooped somewhat indiscriminately.
At some point, Rosie’s original owners had to go away on vacation or some such event that forced them to be away and made arrangements for a third party to care for her. This continued for some time and the people never came back to claim her. I don’t know why or how someone could do this to any living creature, but in the days and weeks following, Rosie had been essentially ignored. By the time she arrived at the shelter, she was horribly underweight, she had infections in both of her ears, and a number of skin lesions.
She was a mess.
Remember when I told you I was a sucker for hard luck cases? Here’s where it’s becomes relevant.
I could not allow this poor defenseless puppy to be placed into the general population of shelter dogs. Even if she were only there for an overnight, it was unthinkable for such a sweet, small, sick puppy to bear such a thing. You’ve been to those places. You know what it’s like. The dogs are often stressed to the breaking point just from being in a strange, uncomfortable kennel with other dogs. The yelping and howling of other shelter dogs would undoubtedly unnerve poor baby Rosie were she to enter the general population. She was far too fragile and far too sweet and Nate was far too engaged with her for me to allow that to happen.
So we rescued her.
$45, I think was the adoption fee and that included shots. The shelter was sure to explain the contractual obligation to have her spayed through the shelter when she was healthy enough to tolerate the surgery. $140 for the surgery. $30 for post-operative pain meds. No problem.
I recall the staff at the shelter being such wonderful people and made the process as easy and as stress free as it could be. I really was delighted with the process though I found myself terrified about bringing home a wiener dog to Beth. That’s ok. I was committed to taking the ass chewing, if necessary. But there was no way I could allow Rosie to suffer any more injustice at the hands of an overburdened animal control facility.
Nate and I dashed over to the closest ATM, which was just a minute down the road. We got the cash for the adoption fee, drove quickly back to the shelter and sealed the deal.
I took Rosie and Nate home. Beth had been napping that day and so after putting Rosie in the living room with Nate, I proceeded upstairs and gently woke Beth.
“Your birthday present is downstairs and wants to meet you.”
Bella and Beth, March 2014
It was love at first sight. And I was thrilled at the reception Beth gave her. Beth was all smiles and so very affectionate with Rosie that any sense of “least favorite” was gone.
Rosie was home.
That afternoon, I took her to the local veterinary clinic to address her health issues. When I got to the clinic, there were a few larger dogs there and to keep her calm, I held her close and rocked her gently from side to side as anyone who’s ever had children does almost instinctively. She snoozed a little, trembling at the loud noises but settling back into my arms with a relieved sigh when the immediate threat was gone.
After a long wait, we were escorted into the treatment room, she was examined and determined to be the mess I thought she was:
“Thank you for bringing Rosie in to see us today. She is such a sweet little lady and did great for her exam. We are sending home medication to treat Rosie’s skin and ears. Please monitor the mass on Rosie’s side for any change in size or character. If the mass hasn’t resolved in the next 4-6 weeks or were to increase in size we would recommend rechecking it.”
They gave me three prescriptions, a long list of instructions and some gentle shampoo for her skin.
Bella in her usual state.
By the time I got home, Garrett, the older of Beth’s boys, arrived home from school and greeted his new family member enthusiastically. The boys played with her, and Beth cuddled her. From that moment on and for the year or so she was with us, there wasn’t a moment that Rosie, who got the name Bella after a day or two, wasn’t engaged with one of her human family.
Bella in the dog nest.
When Garrett woke up in the morning, Bella would stay with him on the couch watching cartoons snuggled up close by until it was time to go to school. Garrett would often say that Bella was in her dog nest when they were cuddling together. When Nate darted downstairs and around the house, Bella would chase him and growl at him playfully, reinvigorating the dance they’d started on the floor of the hall in the shelter the day they met. She’d grab at his pant legs and hang on for dear life. We always said that Nate was Bella’s own personal chew toy and Bella would never pass up a moment to engage him in raucous play. During the day, Beth and Bella would snuggle up and read or watch TV. Bella would accompany Beth around the house when she was doing housework. Rarely was Bella out of sight from at least one of us. And at night, Bella would demand to lick my face as we watched TV together, and after repeated refusals, would finally settle for falling asleep on my outstretched legs.
I’m out of words now. Writing this has made me laugh. It’s also made me sob. I miss Bella terribly. She spent all of 379 days in our world and I can’t remember a day in which her little brown face didn’t enrich me in some way.
379 days. How can someone so small who was with us for such a short time have affected our family and me so profoundly? I have no explanation nor am I really interested to find out. All I know is that I miss her. And as I move about the house, I’m filled with reminders of her presence. The baby gates that kept her and the carpets upstairs safe are gone. Her bowls are washed and stored away, her puppy food no longer nearby. Bella’s dog toys no longer adorn the living room floor. The dog spit she chose to deposit on my face with her boundless affection has been replaced with my tears.
Goodbye, sweet puppy. You made a difference in my life.
This is another one of those “True Confessions” moments. The names have not been changed to protect the irrational loser, in this case, me.
When I was six years old, we moved from a small nondescript house in a small nondescript subdivision on Glenwood Avenue in Fostoria, Ohio to an older house on Cory Street. 900 Cory Street to be precise. Even though it was a distance that was easily walkable, when you’re six, moving is a big deal and it seemed like a long way away.
The Cory Street house today, sadly in disrepair. (Stolen from Google Street View)
The Cory Street house was older. As I recall, it was about 50-60 years old back then which would make it over 100 years old plus or minus today. It was a three-bedroom home with a tiny den downstairs. There was no heat on the second floor, so we all experienced in our bedrooms the extremes of weather that existed over the six years we lived there.
The house also had a basement. It was divided into two rooms. The first was the laundry area and had enough room for a couch that was there for a while, but wasn’t a permanent fixture. The Siamese cat, Samantha, lived down there and so did the associated lingering stench of the litter box, which later became my job to maintain. I was really bad at cleaning up poop — a characteristic of my being which I embrace to this day.
The second room was the furnace room. Dad set up his workbench in there and for a time, Dad actually practiced his mantra of “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Of course, his self-compliance was cyclical and I recall the workbench being cluttered as much as it was orderly.
The furnace was a large, old coal furnace which some years before had been converted to burn natural gas. It was a monstrous, roughly cylindrical presence, extending from ceiling to floor, with multiple cylindrical ducts jutting angularly out of the top on their way to the floor above. Samantha used to hop up on top and sleep on top of the furnace for obvious reasons.
Next to the furnace was the blower. We called it the fan box. It was a strong fan encased in a large sheet metal enclosure. When I think about it today, I wonder why it had to be so large but I guess that’s the way they built stuff back then.
When the thermostat upstairs got cold enough, it activated the furnace and fan. The fan in the fan box roared to life and the furnace ignited warming the house and making my childhood memories of that house as warm and as cozy as it made the air upstairs.
I was downstairs in the basement with Dad as he was organizing the workbench for the first time. My six year old self had never really given a lot of thought to the heating system in the house. Unless it breaks, who the hell does that anyway let alone a six year old kid? Anyway, there I was standing right next to the furnace when the thermostat kicked on the furnace.
When the heat kicked on, the gas jet on the front of the old coal combustion chamber activated. It made a loud whirring noise, almost a screech as the methane gas roared and was shot into the combustion chamber. The jet had three louvers on the side which opened allowing air to get in and my little six-year-old eyes could see the first controlled explosion of the gas as it began its way to the combustion chamber.
So put this all together. You’ve got a loud fan, a screeching set of louvers opening up to reveal a fire-breathing dragon looking thing and the roar of the combustion itself ringing in my ears; all in the span of a second or so. So naturally I did what any self-respecting six-year-old might do.
Well, I didn’t really panic. I screamed first. THEN I panicked. Then I kept on screaming. Loudly. Then I ran. The screaming alone probably would have scared me even though I was the one doing the screaming.
I beat feet out of there at warp factor eight, even though Star Trek wouldn’t be thought up for another four years or so. (Even then, I wouldn’t see it regularly until it was well into syndication. But that’s another story.)
I don’t remember what happened after that except to say that I must have calmed down before too awfully long. But the sheer terror of that moment remained behind and I was scared shitless of that furnace for a long, long time.
I eventually got over the fear of that furnace room, eventually setting up my electric trains, my chemistry set and my own little version of my Dad’s workbench in there. But it took a long time for me to make friends with that furnace. I would slowly open the door and peek inside and announce myself out loud to the furnace as though it had been expecting me. I talked to it, told it that I was a friend and that I knew it wasn’t going to hurt me, knowing secretly that this was a bald-faced lie. Over time, though that furnace and I made friends and it wasn’t too long before I barely noticed the roar of the gas jet or the rumble of the fan box when the thermostat issued its orders. I could play there quietly or with my friends in perfect harmony with that big, scary old converted coal furnace.
Earlier this week, I was trying to find the office gym and the locker room. The locker room is in the basement. To get there, you have to leave breadcrumbs so you can find your way back. Much to my dismay, the path from the locker room to the gym leads…
<wait for it…>
… through the boiler room.
My nemesis. You can just feel the malevolence, right?
The first time I opened the door to the boiler room and I wasn’t expecting it, I about shit my pants. In a split second, that moment of panic (less the screaming, thankfully) consumed me. All of my smarts and education went out the window and I instantly transformed myself into 187 lbs of irrational panic.
There was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to go through that goddamn boiler room.
I slammed the door, eyes wide and pulse racing. (And this was on the way TO the gym!)
Once I recovered a bit, I found a way to get to the gym by going around the evil boiler room which, like its distant cousin, the converted coal furnace on Cory Street, roared and rattled and screeched at me like it knew I was terrified of it and it was enjoying it. I think it was laughing at me.
It was. I swear it. I’d bet a month’s pay on it.
Now, a week at the gym has passed. I’ve discovered that I can get to the gym and back by going around the boiler room. However, that means going from the Turner Building to the Fairbank Building and THEN around to the Annex building and ascending the sixty-six steps to the attic gym where my then elevated heart rate has some real use.
I’m getting a little better.
I can actually bypass the longer trip through the Fairbank Building IF and only IF I cut through a tiny corner of the boiler room. Tiny. It’s literally two steps and two doors. I could do it with my eyes closed if the evil boilers weren’t there. But they are and embarrassingly enough, I still have a hard time opening that first door and scurrying across the smallest part of the boiler room floor. If that second door is ever locked, I will have a heart attack and die right there. Of course, maybe that’s their sinister plan all along.
It’s not any better when I come back from the gym.
I can do it now. I can. I really can. I don’t like it, and I try not to look around. If the lights ever go off in there mid scurry, you can bet your boots I’ll be reversing course and doing my exercise by way of LA Fitness or Gold’s Gym or something.
It’s embarrassing to think that here I am a grown man still unnerved by pipes and furnaces. I mean seriously! What the hell? But for that heart-stopping moment when I crack the door and I dash two steps to the other door, I am not a grown man. I’m six and I’m in my new house on Cory Street.