Yesterday, my parents went to a retirement celebration for one of my dad’s old bosses, The Adjutant General Fred Rees. It was an important event that they didn’t want to miss. It’s been over ten years since my dad retired from his long military career and he’s sort of been off the net for a while (in fact several people thought he was dead. He’s not, by the way). When they got back home this morning, the two of them talked to me about the people they talked to and the things they remember from their time working as a military family with all of their old friends and colleagues. I learned that General Rees ate at our house years ago and that he knows people across the globe. Governor John Kitzhaber did a video presentation for the event and rumor has it that General Rees suggested that he trim his facial hair before the event. Always the boss, General Rees guaranteed that his soldiers kept a strict, tailored appearance. He kept his soldiers clean cut, much like any military boss would. (My cousin Thomas just told me yesterday that in Afghanistan, his Marine Corps buddies grew mustaches as soon as they got overseas, though they had to tailor them to be “Hilter-esque,” ¼ inch from the nose and ¼ inch from the top of the lip.)
When my dad was in the military, he had the right mustache. He always had a mustache and the one time he shaved it off, to look more like the officer General Rees wanted my dad to be, I cried. My dad never shaved the mustache again.
Since my dad retired from the Army National Guard in the year 2000, he’s been farming, both at his place and his parents’ place. He was around when my grandma had her stroke in 2003 and he helped take care of her until her death two years later. He has since continued to be a daily helper to my grandfather and the old farmstead, especially every winter when my granddad takes off to Hawaii and leaves the cows and goats to my dad’s sole care. Had my dad stayed in the military for this whole time, he would have missed this. He probably wouldn’t have been at the house the morning we got the call that my grandma had had her stroke. He could have been traveling or on his way to work. But he was home because he was at the beginning of his journey as a caregiver.
I was a junior in high school when my dad retired from the military. It was a fun though insane time. He was actually the one who took pictures of my junior prom date and I; my mom was at work that Saturday. He went to every basketball game I played that year. By the time my senior year rolled around, he wrote notes to my English teacher, Mrs. Deibel, apologizing for my tardiness and ensuring her that he would work to get me up earlier. Had he still been working for the military, I’m sure my tardiness would have been unacceptable, but I think he was just fascinated by this strange, loud, blond creature who laughed and joked and shook up the rules he’d worked years to lay down for his household. He became an observer and also went through a transition of his own, growing a full beard and losing the directions to the barbershop until my mom made the first comment about his shaggy Einstein hair. But when a guy stops doing the work he’s done for about thirty years, what’s he going to do?
General Rees was a West Point scholar. He served as The Adjutant General (TAG) of Oregon for seventeen years during three different stints. He went to the big leagues in Washington D.C. And he was the Salutatorian from his high school graduating class (which wasn’t as impressive coming from a class of seven graduating seniors). General Rees is a native Oregonian, a farm boy from Helix, Oregon. My mom said that when he was working for the guard in his early years, he farmed and practice law. He did all the boring crap my dad has been doing in his retirement when he was a young, assertive citizen soldier. It was weird to hear that; my dad had something else in common with General Rees?
My old volleyball coach calls my dad “the general.” My dad never became a General; his highest rank was Colonel. But when my oldest sister was in high school, her volleyball coach, Ms. Schultz, gave her players a contract to sign. The contract said that the players would basically adhere to various rules that would ensure then to remain happy, healthy, and dedicated to the team for the entire season. I remember there being stuff about what they ate on that list – that’s probably the one that caught my sister’s eye – she was never a fatty but if you ever told her not to eat something, she would be one to eat it in front of you and smile just to spite you. When Shanna showed my dad the contract, he went to the school to talk to Schultz. He was gruff. He probably wore his military uniform. And Schultz caved. You don’t mess with “the general,” she learned.
Kids in my class at school were afraid of my dad. When I got Student of the Month awards from Dayton Grade School, my dad and mom would come to the Student of the Month breakfast where I got to eat a cinnamon roll and drink a carton of 2% milk. My dad would always come in his uniform because he would have to drive to work straight from the school. The boys in my class were scared of him and would always ask me if he had a gun with him when he walked through the school. For the record, he didn’t. In fact, I’ve never seen my dad hold a gun. (I wasn’t one of those cool Oregon daughters who liked to hunt with her dad. Instead, I’d go shopping with my mom.)
Fathers are supposed to scare the bad kids away. They’re also supposed to keep their kids in line, something General Rees’ daughter shared at the retirement dinner. He apparently had the same finger point and high standards at home that he had at the military department, as he should have. When I was a kid, my dad was the same way. You didn’t talk back to him. You didn’t question why he did things the way he did. What the Colonel said was law, no questions.
Things have changed since we all moved back around the parents. I blame the grandkids. My dad turned soft – not completely, of course – but enough to change his plans for a day completely when my brother brings his hungry kids over unexpectedly and asks him to make the girls waffles and hang out with them when they work on farm projects. Back in the day, ETA, ETD, and TBD were law. Now, those goofy-faced chicas (who he claims are bubbly and smiley and I claim are manipulative) show up and he goes all Fruit Gusher on us – no joke.
My dad says General Rees is planning to go back to Helix to farm. I’d imagine he’ll travel a bit too and grow a bit of facial hair for a month or so before cutting it when he sees his military folk. Who knows – maybe he’ll become be like my dad and be the babysitter, storyteller, Fruit Gusher we all love and adore.
Before I leave, I want to share this one beautiful song with you from one of my favorite Christmas movies, White Christmas. It’s seems fitting as the chorus reads, “What do you do with a general, when he stops being a general?”
Tata for now.