The day a daughter's world changed
By DONNA SCH00LEY Special to The Palm Beach Past
With every step, the military boots I wore licked the back of my legs, stinging the calves. Such styles were popular then with 11-year-old girls, for "The War" was in full swing and had set the tenor of the times. Funny that after the United States has fought subsequent conflicts, I still find myself referring to World War II as The War." But maybe not so strange, since it turned my world upside-down.
On the afternoon of Jan. 5, 1945, I made my wayhome on sidewalks hardpacked with snow. Lowered sun rays the color of butterscotch signaled the end of day. Night comes early in January in Grand Rapids, Mich. My mittened hands clutched piano music to my chest. Daddy himself had begun my lessons when my feet could hardly touch the pedals. He had the amazing talent of playing by ear. His mother, a toddler astride each knee, had kept the family solvent by giving lessons during The Depression. I heard that before then, she used to play "mood music" for silent films. Now, Daddy was playing a field organ for his infantry unit somewhere in Europe, censors' crossed out lines assuring his V-mail to us never revealed where. I was to carry on the musical tradition, but I never did. I will never forget the sense that something was wrong. On pure intuition, I picked up my pace to a trot down the gently rolling hill toward our house. Cars were jammed on the street out front when ordinarily there would be fewer than a handful. I trudged up the concrete steps usually guarded by Lady, our black chow. Where was Lady? Out of the corner of my eye I saw boots lined up neatly aside the front door.
I opened the door. I recognized Mr. Potts, our minister. He had hugged me good-bye at Plymouth Congregational Church since I was 3. He had presented me my Bible when I was confirmed. I had always liked the way he smelled. Someone passed me a telegram. We had received one four days before, informing us mat Daddy had been slightly wounded on New Year's Day. We had hoped it was frostbite that would send him home. We hadn't laid eyes on him since August when we put him on the train to ship overseas. It had been a miserable Christmas. The telegram said Sergeant Jack B. Himes had died from his wounds. I stared at the words, unable to cry. How can you die from slight wounds? Fate had held out the hope he would return, only to snatch it away. Sobs would come when my Valentine to Daddy would show up in our mailbox: Return to Sender.
I don't remember the people leaving. I recall calling my friend, Gloria, to tell her I would not be going to choir practice. Miffed at me, she wanted to know why. My voice cracked as I told her, "Because my daddy died." My maternal grandmother, who lived with us because Daddy did not want my mother to be alone, washed and ironed babushkas, mine and my younger sister's, so we would look presentable when we rode the Greyhound bus to my uncles' house. Listening to the tires hum, I gazed out the window at the night Daddy earned a Bronze Star for valor in combat fought at The Battle of the Bulge. His commanding officer wrote he was hit with shrapnel as he was leading his men. Years later I saw the land near Bastogne where the battle raged. It had become a meadow. The land had healed. Daddy's buried in a military cemetery in the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France. The Protestant section consists of rows upon rows of plain crosses. A giant American flag flaps a benediction overhead. Through adolescence I fantasized that maybe a mistake had been made, that one day Daddy would come striding back on those long legs of his. I scanned pictures in newspapers and magazines, in the Movietone Netvs, searching for him, the way I did whenever he marched in a hometown parade. When in 1963 I stood on his grave, I put away the dream. Mama never remarried. We were poorer. Social activities became less, vacations nonexistent. We even stopped going to church. I learned how stoic Mama was. I discovered what part a father plays in a daughter's life when there was no one for me. If I thought I had missed Daddy before, it was to be like a droplet in a spring rain. Standing in the doorway that Thursday in January, looking at the ring of people, their heads bowed, I didn't know that I would learn the true meaning of loneliness, that I was silently bidding my childhood good-bye.
Donna Schooley taught English, and her community college students described her as "tough but fair," a sentiment she believes would be a good epitaph. She has lived in the area since 1952 and currently resides in Ibis in West Palm Beach. "Over the years I have traveled the world and found out I have been few places. . . . I learned to fly an airplane when I was 31, earned my scuba diving certification at 50, and stood up far the first time on skis at 60. " Her main love, though, is family. She's been married for 54 years and has three children and six grandchildren.
The Palm Beach Post
West Palm Beach, Florida
25 Mar 2007, Sun • Page 26
The Sandusky Register
20 Jan 1945, Sat • Page 1