A Story of Reconnecting

Read in reverse order, start at the bottom. That’s how it copied out of Tumblr.
The Godwink

Everyone knows what a Godwink is, right? An event or personal experience, often identified as coincidence, so astonishing that it is seen as a sign of divine intervention, especially when perceived as the answer to a prayer. In other words, someone is trying to tell you something. Pay attention.

I’m sure I had a couple of Godwinks earlier in my life, but I didn’t start paying attention until my mom passed away. Here’s one, and I wasn’t even involved. My wife, kids, and a friend were.

My mom had a lifelong friend, Muriel, who lived in Tampa. In fact, they were both teachers and after their final semester as student teachers at Gulf Beaches Elementary Magnet School (the new name) they stopped at every bar on the way back to Tampa. Yes, I know, but it was a different day (early 50s). Like I said before, it’s when smoking was good for you.

Another interesting fact was that while Muriel was Jewish, she secretly converted to Catholicism later in life. Therefore, she was a member of  two different faiths, Judaism and Christianity (can doubling up really hurt?). Not sure that’s legal, but she was one of my mom’s dearest friends.

Now, my mom loved elephants. We still have them all over the house and when we were stationed in Thailand, she must have bought every one she could find. See below. I mean everywhere. These look like opium weights to me.

Fast forward to 2014, the year my mom passed. A small group of us are convening in Florida for the funeral. My wife, kids, and a friend went to Florida a couple of days early, and they are eating breakfast at Screwie Louie’s on Madeira Beach (definitely have the Bloody Mary). My wife and kids are facing away from the mounted TVs and our friend is facing the TVs. Our friend is glancing at the TV watching the local morning news when she sees a funny story. If I remember correctly, some family was celebrating their child’s birthday on the beach, and as one of the attractions at the party, the family rented an elephant. So this elephant is walking around Redington Beach (about a mile from Madeira) for this kid’s birthday party. C’mon, an elephant on the beach? I’d never heard of that before or since. And to add to the story, the friend who saw the elephant was born Christian but converted to Judaism when she married. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s a Godwink. Mom was telling us it was all gonna be OK.

So back to my story.

I hardly travel for my job. I’ve taken a few trips but travel is expensive and so much can be done my Skype or teleconference that it’s just not worth the cost. Of course, lots of people still do travel for work, but in my line of business it’s seldom needed.

So my boss came up to me the other day and mentioned a meeting involving 20-30 social responsibility ambassadors from Europe who will be gathering in early July. I had heard about it and expected to dial in to listen to the presentations and possibly present if the agenda wasn’t full. That was fine with me.

Then, to my astonishment, he said, “if you want to go to the meeting, go ahead and book it. It’d be good for you to meet everyone, and we have enough in the budget to cover it.”

I said, “Where is it again?”

“Frankfurt.”

Darmstadt, Michaela’s home, is 30 minutes south of Frankfurt. It takes me longer to commute between my house and the office than it would to drive to Darmstadt.

I have not seen Michaela for 55 years, and in the span of a few weeks she finally found me through my mother’s online obituary, and a trip I had never planned to take is placing me within 30 minutes of her. She’s not in poor health, but Nina, her young friend, told me she could not travel to the US. The only way I was ever going to see her again was for me to go there.

That, and maybe it’s just me, is a Godwink.

Yes, I’m paying attention.

Bots, Trolls, ID Theft, Obituaries, and the Internet

A lot of shit happened between leaving Sweden in 1964 and the death of my mom in 2014. For you numbers folks, that’s 50 years, exactly one-half century. And one of the biggest changes we’ve seen is access to information. Almost anything that fancies your interest is online. Einstein would have had a field day. No need to remember useless crap when you can go online. That leaves more brainpower to solve the world’s problems. If only we all did.

The biggest difference between 1999 when my dad died and 2014 when my mom died is how accessible an obituary is. Look up George and there’s no obit. A lot of other George Whitley’s but not his. My mom’s obit is a different story. Key in her or his name, and she shows up. I guess I could load his somewhere, but I haven’t done so yet.

Here’s mom’s obit which is easily accessible online. Dad’s not so much.

Enter Nina Zhn, web guru, friend to the elderly, and all around good person. She, being of that generation that is certainly internet savvy was given a task, and she tackled it with millennial fortitude and drive. What did she do? She turned on her computer. Now I’m not sure of the exact sequence of events but she got to it. And praise Jesus for the obit.

Now we’re all suspect of what shows up in our inbox and certainly wary of any scam. We’ve all heard the bad stories. So what would you have done if this showed up out of the blue?

Well, that’s exactly what happened to my oldest. And she was certainly concerned that it might possibly be a scam. Someone looking for money. Was there really enough detail that someone couldn’t have found somewhere? My mom’s obit had several references to what was included in the Facebook message.

My wife received the information and a discussion ensued. While the name didn’t ring a bell (like I said, a lot of stuff had happened), all the other details were correct.

There was only one way to find out and a call was placed a couple of Sundays later. Sure enough, Michaela had been the woman who watched over me in those final months in Stockholm and who my parents had invited back to the United States. As Nina said she had been looking for me for years to no avail. After leaving Sweden, she moved to Spain to marry her boyfriend. However, that never happened, but she ended up marrying his friend instead. That didn’t work out either and there may have been another husband but never any children from either relationship. She currently lives in Darmstadt, Germany, about 30 minutes south of Frankfurt.

If you’ve ever watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, you know Marty Funkhouser refers to himself as an orphan. I think that is an apt description for anyone who has lost both parents. If we’re not somebody’s kid, then we’re orphans.

But that has changed for me. By some twist of fate in our universe I have been reunited with one of my “mums.” Not the one who birth and raised me but one who I spent a considerable amount of time with and who I believe loved and cared for me as her own. She has already told me several stories about my misadventures in those few months. And they were certainly stories my parents were unaware of since they were usually out at a party or out of town. I look forward to future calls and stories.

And so the story ends…at least I thought so…

George, my dad, fought in China during WWII with the 14th Air Force, what was formerly the Flying Tigers, and Arline was raised in a military family. In fact, she was evacuated from the Philippines just prior to its invasion in late 1941. In other words, they were world travelers and had seen a thing or three.

When the local USAF personnel officer in Omaha (he was stationed there with the Strategic Air Command) asked where he wanted to be posted next, and he said Sweden, they said fat chance. Well, dad he knew a guy who knew a guy and low and behold he reported back to that same personnel officer with orders posting them to the US embassy in Sweden as the USAF Air Attache. If you’re not sure what an attache does, at least in those days, well it’s a little military intelligence gathering, remember it was the Cold War and Sweden is very close to Russia, and a whole lot of eating and drinking – the usual fare being an alcoholic beverage with every course, and this was old school, maybe 6-8 courses for dinner. And, of course, this is when smoking was good for you, so it looked like they were dining with a fog machine.

Just in case you need a geography refresher. “I think I can see Russia from the balcony!”

Prior to the posting they headed to Washington DC to attend Swedish language school, and right around that time the blog author arrived at Walter Reed Hospital in Sep 1960.

Not sure what type of clean room mom has me quarantined in, but this is probably right before we headed to Sweden. Upon inspection, I’d say my hairline looks very similar today. Lots of forehead.

So off we go to Sweden in early 1961, a newly minted family and multi-lingual. At least 2 of us were. The tour of duty was for 3 years, and we were stationed in Stockholm.

In those days, I’m not sure how it is today, the residences that you were assigned or chose usually had a staff which assisted with household chores, caring for the family, and preparing for dinners and guests when it was your turn to host. I can’t remember how many people assisted my mom (Dad was gathering secrets), but by the end of the tour I spoke pretty good Swedish.

Dad providing much needed supervision. Between parties, I’m sure. Nice cuff links.

Apparently, I was a runner, and even though most people would not have been seen in public wearing this outfit, I had no shame. A wandering I would go. I was once caught walking around the pool, very early in the morning, in my pajamas, having been able to unlock and open the french doors which led to the pool. Pool drained, doors wired. I guess mom and dad had been out very late the prior evening.

Based on the circumstances, zone coverage was not working. The defense had to transition to man-to-man, 1-on-1, whatever you want to call it.

Near the end of our tour, with me being very mobile and conversant in the native language, and my parents busy social schedule, reinforcements were obtained. Introducing Michaela Leopold, the nanny or sitter my parents hired for the last few months of their tour. Michaela was in her mid 20s and probably didn’t know what she was signing up for.

Michaela, early 1960s. I wonder if Restoration Hardware carries that wallpaper.

Much of this is a blur but Michaela and I spent a lot of time together. Probably all day and into the night, since mom and dad were out carousing, most days of the week. And sometimes for 1-2 weeks at a time. It was a lot of together time. You don’t forget that easily.

Skip ahead and things were wrapping up in 1964. The tour is ending and replacements are being assigned. My dad’s been assigned to the Pentagon so we’re headed back to DC.

However, my parents have really taken to Michaela. She has become a part of the family and is able to aptly manage her young protege. I’m not sure what strings they were going to pull (like everything else, know the right people and things happen) but they invited Michaela to return to the states with us. Not sure how long she would stay but this was a unique opportunity for her. Live in America, do what she’s been doing and see what the chance offers. Unfortunately, Michaela did not join us. She had a Spanish beau, and was off to join him. Is that ever a good idea? Because my parents cared for her so much, my dad wrote a nice reference letter for her (yes, we still have it).

How come I don’t remember any of the training only the discipline?

The tour ended, we went our separate ways, and we never saw Michaela again.

My dad and mom passed away in 1999 and 2014, respectively.

The Preface

I’m not much of a poster. In fact, “not much” is an overstatement, my social media accounts are barren, a little like west Texas, at least in some places. But every once in awhile along comes a tale which is too interesting and borderline improbable not to share. Sometimes, the span of time cannot dull the bonds of relationships formed decades before. And if you don’t believe in God winks, you might now.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Love is love.

#mynewmom #godwinks #therearenocoincidences #findingallen