Remembering A Hero

Col. Archibald Scott

Last Thursday I got a call to teach a class at the technical college where my friend Barb works. I was thrilled to accept the position, but I only had a week to prepare for a class I had never taught before. Brainstorming, scrambling, and praying for guidance and wisdom ensued. I also took several trips to the campus to fill out employment papers and send proof of having worked in something other than teaching, a requirement for the job. Verifying my occupational experience was a real adventure since most of that experience occurred more than twenty years ago.

As I searched the internet to find the employers I had worked for in the past, I found most of them were either no longer in business or had passed away in the twenty odd years since I had worked for them. One man in particular, Colonel Archibald Scott, was someone I truly enjoyed working for and with. In the course of trying to find him, I also discovered he was not just a wonderful boss but a true American hero.

Scotty, as he introduced himself to me, became my boss and was the manager of the Temporary Lodging facility on MCAS El Toro. The base has since been closed by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, but when I worked for Scotty, it was a thriving Marine base that welcomed Marines of all ranks and their families to southern California. It was our job at The Lodge to provide a place to stay for incoming Marine families who didn’t yet have a home. Sometimes if we had no room, we had to find hotels for them in the surrounding areas of Irvine and Tustin, but often families stayed for a month until they were settled in housing of their own in the area. Scotty was the perfect ambassador to those families, including my own.

When my husband and I arrived in California for the first time, I was completely disoriented. We had come cross-country from Pensacola, Florida, taking thirty days of leave to road trip up the eastern seaboard before traveling the northern tier of states to Wisconsin. It was an awesome trip! In Wisconsin we stayed at Bruce’s parents’ house for a few days until we saw the first of the winter storms gaining momentum across the plains. We packed our belongings and drove across Iowa where we were the last car to drive through on the interstate to Omaha. The state patrol shut it down after us because of a snowstorm. We were relieved to finally arrive in Omaha, Nebraska, at SAC Headquarters, Offutt Air Force Base. We made it to California a couple of days later with barely any money in our pockets.

The first person we encountered when we arrived at El Toro was Archibald Scott. He welcomed us at The Lodge with a big smile on his face and a friendly handshake. I was annoyed  by the traffic and afraid I’d have to live like a pauper in that alien place, but I  felt better after meeting Scotty.  I think that’s how everyone felt after meeting him. He inspired confidence.

Scotty was a fine man, happy and jolly, a coffee drinker, a golfer, a joker, but beneath his happy-go-lucky exterior, he was an Army colonel and a heroic man. He told me once about running away to join the Army when he was only fifteen. He showed me the indentation on his chest where, at the Battle of the Bulge, a mortar had bounced off his sternum without exploding leaving a concave scar on his chest. I knew these things about him, but when I looked at his biography on the internet, I was struck by how modest he had actually been.

Colonel Archibald Scott served in the United States Army during World War II—in the same 328th Regiment that Sgt. Alvin York did—the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs, and the Viet Nam War. He was highly decorated. In World War II alone he was twice nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor for acts of gallantry in battle, but never received the honor because one of the officers who witnessed his bravery was killed in the war before testifying on his behalf. He did receive the Silver Star which was later upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross. He also received the Bronze Star with Three Oak Clusters, and a Purple Heart with four oak clusters. Oak clusters denote how many times someone receives the award. In the Korean War he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star. He was truly a hero.

I didn’t keep in touch with Scotty after I left The Lodge. I wish I had, but I became busy raising my family and being a Marine wife. I have never forgotten Scotty, however. I was saddened to read he died in 1996, when my oldest son was six years old. It’s odd the twists and turns life’s path takes. I never would have thought that my teaching job would turn up new information about an old boss, an admired friend, a man who welcomed me and my husband to our life together in the Marine Corps.

Even after I begin teaching at my new job, I will remember the hassle of filling out the employment verification paperwork because it brought me a new understanding of a man I thought I had known. And maybe that is what Scotty would have wanted me to know, a good and humble man who would never brag on his record, but who would be proud to know I had written about him all these years after his death. I miss you, Scotty. Thank you for your heroic service to our country and thanks also for the memories.

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Brown Turkey Figs

One of my favorite memories is picking figs with my Grandmother Holmes. I was very young. I’m thinking around five or six. She needed to pick some figs from the tree in her backyard. We took a dishpan and walked around to the back of the house. There next to the big long leaf pines growing in her side yard and within sight of the barn, we picked brown turkey figs. I wasn’t sure what they tasted like and wasn’t really even sure if they were edible. Teardrop shaped and purple with a pink seedy center, they didn’t look edible, but she encouraged me to try one. I remember looking at the fig and thinking it needed pickling or preserving like I had seen them in jars or spread on toast. “Go on,” she said. “Try it.” I took a small bite from the plump purple side and bit into the most wonderful taste experience I have ever had. The sweetness transcended the funky, fuzzy texture and transported me into another world.

I think that was my first taste of “grown up” food. I consider figs to be rather sophisticated, and now that I live up here in the great white north, I don’t get to delight in them as I once did. My mother has tried to supply me with fig preserves from the lady in Tennille who sells hers at the farmers market in my hometown. Her fig preserves are delicious with a slice of lemon in each jar for flavor. But sometimes only a fresh fig will do, and that is a treat I can procure only about once a year.

Because of my longing for this delicacy only grown in warmer climes, I decided to experiment. When Bruce and I were at Jung’s Garden Center in Stevens Point this past spring, we saw that there were Brown Turkey fig trees available in the bare root room. That is the area of the nursery where people who are thrifty can buy dormant plants and allow them to come back to life in their yards for about a third of the price of buying a potted plant. You buy them with the roots covered in peat moss and saw dust and put them in the ground when the danger of frost has passed.

Can you imagine my delight and excitement when I saw the fig trees for purchase in my area? I wasn’t leaving the store without one. Bruce and I decided we could pot it and wheel the little thing into the house during the winter. The next day I potted it up and watered it diligently. It looked like a stick set in some dirt. I waited about two weeks. Nothing happened. I thought the fig experiment was failed and over, but a few days later Bruce suggested we put it in the ground.  I decided I wanted to plant it beside the patio near my roses so I could enjoy the big, hand-shaped leaves with their lovely, velvety texture. I also thought it would provide some nice shade once it gets big. See how much faith I have in this little tree?

I am happy to report that my brown turkey fig looks beautiful. It has grown about a foot this summer. It doesn’t yet produce fruit, but I didn’t expect it to this soon. In only a few weeks I will tenderly wrap it up for the winter and pray for a mild one with a good bit of snow to insulate the little tree against the cold. I hope that one day I too can take my grandchild out to my backyard with a dishpan to pick figs. When I do, I’ll remember my grandmother’s gentle urging and introduce my grandchild to the delights of this southern delicacy here in the north.

A Change in the Air

Though it is early September, Labor Day in fact, I feel the wheel of the seasons turning. I’ve noticed the light is different. The sun no longer rises so early and isn’t coming through the same windows of our house as it did at Midsummer. When did that happen? I also have noticed a distinct chill in the evenings different from the occasional chilly Midwestern summer nights. The wind is consistently coming from the northwest more often than from the south now, so much so that Hurricane Isaac never quite reached this part of Wisconsin.

The restlessness I feel at the beginning of fall is also on full display, like a mammal needing to put up enough food for the coming winter. I’ve begun baking and canning jellies. I can’t wait until apple season so I can make applesauce. I’ve even started to clean up the gardens for the winter, something I’ve rarely had time to do in the past seven years. The only thing missing is I won’t be going back to teach this fall, but that is actually a welcome change right now. I finally had time to go to Minneapolis to drop my son off at college, something I never had time to do before because I had a teacher’s schedule which started before the boys went back for fall semester. I’ve had the time to notice other changes as well.

The first leaves are beginning to turn deep russet and purple. The thistles have turned downy, and the goldenrod is lighting a path along the road sides like tiny flower fireworks. Soon they will start the sumac blazing, and the smell of fall will be like wine heady enough to make you drunk with its loveliness.  When I walk with Stella every day, I notice summer leaving, but I think I am okay with that this year. I usually mourn the passing of summer, but the heat and having the time to mourn my job made this summer one of healing, like a balm to my soul, but I’m ready to move on now.

Bruce and I spent the majority of the long hot summer together, and I’ve come to see that as a gift even though we are both out of work. This year we will have been married for  twenty-five years, a number that seems both far too small because I can’t remember much of my life without Bruce in it, and far too long because it seems only yesterday that we met at O’Malley’s in Athens. I can’t imagine my life without him in it. At this point in our lives, we always thought we’d be further along financially, but we never counted on a bad economy. This summer Bruce and I have been together every day except when he was doing his Army Reserve training. We’ve gardened, floated down the river on tubes, walked at least 300 miles with Stella, and through everything we’ve been happy. We’ve journeyed through troubles in previous years and will forge ahead carrying this burden as well. Even after all this time together we are still in love. We still love being together even when we don’t do much of anything. I still love the way he looks at me, and I still feel weak in the knees when I look at him.  I realize how lucky I am.

This morning I went on a solitary run without Stella and without Bruce. I notice more alone than I do with either of them. As I walked along looking at all the autumn colors just beginning their transition and the wildflowers blooming in one last celebration of summer, I realized how much of a constant change is. We can never count on life running smoothly. The warmth of summer is replaced gradually by the chill of winter, but nature allows us the time to soak in the change, to learn from it, to prepare for the next season or the next part of our lives. Change is ever-present. We never know what lies ahead of us. We can only anticipate what might come, and if we don’t get what we want, perhaps we can be satisfied, even happy with what we need.

Though the summer is ending, I look back at what I’ve learned about myself and about human nature, and I am grateful for all I have.  My two sons have blessed my life beyond anything I would ever have dreamed possible, and my husband…how do I begin to explain finding the other side of my heart? He grows dearer to me with each passing day and season. I know I will look back at this summer and remember our time together in this, our twenty-fifth year of marriage and thank God for the changes in my life that have allowed me the time to see what is truly important.

A Mother’s Fate

Bruce and I took Travis back to school yesterday, and I’m feeling some anxiety about his living off campus in a house with six other boys this year.  I should have asked more questions during this summer. I should have made Travis sit down with me and plan what he needed to take with him, what his roommate would take, provided the cleaning supplies, niceties like a shower curtain and curtains for the windows  myself. I almost made a bunch of meals to put in the freezer for him to take just so I would know he was eating well. I worry about him.

He’s my youngest son, the last of my boys in college, and he will be the last to leave the nest. Erik graduated this past May, but he never wanted to live off campus—too much of a hassle to cook and shop and clean his own place. He preferred to have that taken care of. I was happy with that arrangement too. I knew where he was—more or less—and I knew there was relative safety surrounding him on campus. This January he leaves to join the Navy. I’ll begin worrying about him then. For now he is home, safe under my wing. Travis, however,  is out in the big world, at least in the big city.

I know he is excited to be on his own, and there are six other boys to keep him company, but I’m a country girl, always have been. I get nervous just thinking about a city. I love the conveniences, but I don’t like all the locked doors, the looking behind you when you hear footsteps, the loud noises, the traffic. It seems a scary place to me, but Travis and Erik seem to revel in the size and number of people in the city. They like the big campus, the concerts, the number of things to do at all hours.

I try to remember when I was in college, but that time was long ago. Athens, Georgia, is not the size of Minneapolis, Minnesota, either. I remember how much fun I had and staying out till all hours of the night, but I only lived off campus for one year. That was enough. Being off campus separates you from the life on campus. I don’t want that for Travis. I want him to do well in his classes, to be able to study when he needs to, to get to class even when he wakes up late. He doesn’t even have room for a desk in his house now. I worry.

My husband thinks I’m silly to worry so much, but last night I couldn’t sleep thinking of Travis out there by himself, walking to and from late classes alone. I’m not even sure he has a key yet to his house. I left him with his girlfriend Amy by the steps of his house. It has no shrubs, no grass. On either side of his house, the other two houses looked homey and were nicely landscaped; one even had some rhubarb and cucumbers growing in the yard and pots of flowers next to the front door. I couldn’t help wishing Travis were living in either one of those houses instead.

During one of our only moments alone sitting on the front stoop, I asked Travis whether he liked his house. He said yes, but I think he was trying to reassure me. He admitted it would be better when all the boys got there and were settled with their things put away. I agreed. But it was hard to leave him there so unsettled. I felt as though he was adrift and needed me but was not going to ask for any help. I waved to him as we pulled away, and Amy waved back, then Travis did. I have to get used to the fact that he doesn’t need me as he once did. He’s growing up. Well, actually, he is grown up. I know I must let go, but he’s my baby. I still see the little boy in the man he is becoming, and I miss both of them.

Although he will think it is too soon, I can’t wait to talk to him today, to see how everything is working out. I’ve already made a list of things I need to send to him next week, and I’m sure I’ll see him again when I go to Junk Bonanza with my friends. By then I hope my anxiety has eased, and I hope he will be settled. I hope also that I will finally sleep well tonight knowing he is okay. But I also know that I will always worry. That is a mother’s fate.