Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

In Memory

My dad passed away this week. He was 95. He suffered with dementia for quite a while but we do not measure a person by the ravages of time and disease but how they inspired the people around them — in our case, myself and my three sisters.

He grew up during the depression in a broken family. Many a time during his later years, he told us the stories of his birth (almost died), his alcoholic father, his mom who could not care for him (working in the city), his growing up years with his aunt, uncle and cousin. And since he was born and grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland then later returned to reside there in retirement, he was able to show us the places where those events took place. It really gave his stories context for us to help remember his and my mom's early lives.

In 2008, we gathered on the Eastern Shore to celebrate Dad's 90th birthday. The highlight was a family reunion which brought together so many family members, many whom I had not seen since we were children.

We set up a small exhibit of memorabilia, mostly photos, from Dad's life. The photo in the back of him as a handsome young man makes it clear why Mom was so attracted to him. Good thing — none of us kids would be here if that chemistry did not work.

They were married on June 21, 1941 but world events would quickly change their lives. Later that year on December 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and America's involvement in World War II began. Dad was working in the shipyards in Baltimore which he continued for a while since that was an obvious need in wartime.

Eventually, he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps (the predecessor to the Air Force) as a pilot. His flight training was in a PT-26, a single wing aircraft with two seats (one for the student pilot and one for the instructor) and fixed tail-dragger landing gear. Since he enlisted late, the war ended before he could complete his training and he was released back into civilian life — returning to the shipyards and soon after, beginning a family (with me).

One of my earliest memories is reading his flight instruction booklets — which were a combination of cartoon-like drawings and text — that even my young mind could grasp. I do not recall him talking much about WWII at the time, even when asked.

However, years later as his dementia began to tear down the filters in his mind, he began to tell us long elaborate stories of his training days. In fact, it appeared that when he told the story it was as if he were watching a movie and relaying what he saw and heard. One of my sisters purchased an inexpensive video camera and we took turns recording some of those sessions.

He would often tell the same stories repeatedly, even after we reminded him that we already knew that story. However, we realized that as his other memories faded, it was important that he cling to these memories that were obviously buried deep in his brain but which were vivid beyond most of ours.

About a year ago, I found a company that makes models of various aircraft and ordered a model of the PT-26 (shown here without its propeller). I then transshipped it to him in Florida where he prominently displayed it on the dresser in his bedroom. I am sure it helped him preserve those memories of that important segment of his life.

He was deeply in love with our mom and fortunately, they had a long, happy life together. It was quite a blow to him when she passed away in 2009.

It is hard to briefly summarize the life of a man who survived to age 95 but there is one vignette that stands out above all others showing the depth of character he possessed.

I grew up during the age of the civil rights movement — he and I used to watch the TV news together of black kids being refused entry to schools, sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, bombings of black churches as well as killings of protesters and civil rights leaders.

He told me that he grew up in a time and a place where blacks were looked down on, second-class citizens — and that he could not change his feelings toward "the colored people", as he called them. However, he recognized his own prejudice and tried earnestly to not let us kids see that in him. Growing up, I never once saw him treat any minority differently than he treated white Americans. He wanted that prejudice to stop with him and his generation. And, in that, he was successful on the personal level.

Thank you, Dad. You are my hero — I love you and miss you.

Life is good, albeit sometimes painful.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com