My grandmother Joan (pronounced “Jo-Ann”) passed away yesterday. This is one of the earliest pictures I can find of the two of us, and I realize today that in this photograph, she is only a few years older than I am right now.
Here are some things to know about my grandma, Joan (Engle) (Booth) Schoenberger, who was always kind of quietly amazing:
She was from Massillon, Ohio and counted Paul Brown among her high school teachers. (For the record, she always told me he wasn’t a particularly good teacher, because he was constantly focused on something else.)
Her first husband – my paternal grandfather – died when he was only 34 years old, so my grandma raised my dad and my uncle on her own, a single mom in small-town Ohio. Only as an adult and parent did I begin to grasp how difficult that must have been.
She moved with her boys from Massillon to Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and became a librarian.
She loved to read. And while my parents and Sesame Street encouraged my reading habit early on, it was visits to grandma and the unfettered access to the shelves of Upper Sandusky’s Carnegie Public Library that fed my addiction. Even though we lived across the state, grandma would let me check out stacks and stacks of books, and I still remember some of them, like The Gollywhopper Egg and all the Bobbsey Twins mysteries. There was an old painting of a man hanging on one of the walls, and I remember grandma pointing out that his eyes followed you creepily. Grandma was also responsible for unknowingly introducing me to Blue Snaggletooth. (This library connection stayed strong: When I was in college and obsessively seeking All Things Ray Bradbury, I went to the Upper Sandusky library on a search for “The October Game,” and found it in a collection there. The librarians didn’t know me, but they let me check out the book despite having no library card and having a home address some 110 miles away, because I was Joan’s grandson. And she had already been retired for awhile.)
Grandma always laughed and said that she wasn’t very sharp, but get her in a game of Oh, Hell and she would begin every hand with a woe-is-me reminder that she had no idea what to bid or to play, and then she’d rack up the points while simultaneously thwarting your bids and insisting the entire time that it was all luck.
She was fun to hang out with.
I was at her wedding: My mom’s father had been a widower since the early 1970s. He and my grandma Joan were married in the 1980s, throwing our family tree into giddy chaos.
Her house was always a special place to visit, whether it was for a holiday, or the Wyandot County Fair, or just because we were going over for the weekend because Mom and Dad needed to take care of something in Upper.
This chair belonged to her.
When I attended Bowling Green, my friends and I would stop in and visit her from time to time on the way to Columbus. She usually offered to buy us dinner at the local bar – The Pour House – which served excellent wet burritos.
I am so very glad that Kelsey knew her great-grandma well, and that the two of them got to share each other’s company for 15 years.
When I read my copy of Giant John – which I’m pretty sure is a library discard my grandma gave me – I will always hear her voice.
I am thinking of my Dad today.
Note: This post originally appeared here in 2009.
Despite the fact that my Dad served overseas during the Vietnam War, I never really thought of him as a “veteran.”
He’d been stationed on a base in Korea near the DMZ. He never told “war stories.” I don’t remember groups of old Air Force buddies visiting the house when I was growing up. No medals or mementos around, unless you count the tables and lamps he had shipped back home as gifts for mom.
I was only two years old when his four-year service in the U.S. Air Force ended in 1972. He came back from South Korea to Lima, Ohio – I honestly don’t remember him being gone, though I do remember being small enough to wear the jacket in this picture – and he and mom and I went about our lives.
Among Dad’s pictures from overseas is a shot of him yelling across a crowded bar that always reminded me of a scene from M*A*S*H, and in the background is a sign reading, “Pardon me, sir, but you’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a shit.” I always liked this picture because a) Dad looks like he’s having fun, and b) the sign said “shit,” and swearing was funny, especially when I was little.
After this recent post, my mom commented that she and Dad were supposed to get married in October of 1968, but they had moved the wedding up to early September after Dad was drafted.
This was news to me, and didn’t seem to make sense, since he’d been in the Air Force, so I visited mom yesterday morning to find out the story.
It goes like this, give or take:
Dad graduated from Upper Sandusky High School in 1965 and took a job at a manufacturing company, painting auto parts: one of the pieces that held the grill of a Pontiac Tempest in place, Mom thinks.
On the job, a piece of heavy equipment fell on his ankle and lopped off that bone that sticks out the side. He had it fixed with a pin, but the injury was enough to earn him a deferment when his number came up in the draft for the first time.
He spent a year at Bowling Green State University, but didn’t have the money to keep attending, so he returned to Upper Sandusky and got another job.
Mom, who went to nursing school right after high school, remembers the U.S.S. Pueblo’s capture in January 1968, and said suddenly it took a lot more than a pinned ankle to get a deferment, and when Dad’s number came up after that, he chose to enlist in the Air Force rather than be drafted into the Army.
He was barely six months past his 21st birthday.
When he was doing basic training at Sheppard AFB in Texas, Dad decided he wanted to be a medic.
This was an odd choice: All through her nursing school education, Mom said Dad never showed any interest in medicine.
In fact, he had apparently always planned on being an accountant. (This image of my Dad as a numbers-cruncher is so out-of-whack to me that I have trouble drawing even a remotely appropriate parallel.) Mom says Dad had even begun correspondence courses in accounting, and they bought an adding machine which she stuffed into his duffel bag so he could keep up with his schoolwork when he went into the service.
So now, here he is calling to let her know he checked the “medic” box, and her mind is immediately filled with images of Dad hauling injured guys from the battlefield under heavy fire, and she kind of freaks out.
After basic, they were transferred to Kincheloe AFB in Michigan’s upper peninsula, where Dad met a guy who told him about this thing called “anesthesia,” and about how being an anesthetist looked like a good career choice, and that’s where Dad decided what he’d do after finishing his Air Force service. (He also got papers to deploy to Turkey while he was at Kincheloe, but those were rescinded due to me arriving on the scene in November 1970.)
Not long after that, Dad wound up serving in South Korea, but I’m a little fuzzy on where, exactly. I always thought he was stationed at a place called Kojin – I have a baseball-style cap embroidered with “Kamp Kojin Korea” on the front, “Doc” along one side and “Commander USAF Hospital” on the back – but I can’t find any references to such a location online. Another cap I have says “USAF HOSP Osan ’71-’72” on it, and along the back edge, “Johnny”, “Rich” and “Pam.”
My Dad, Richard Earl Booth, returned home in 1972 and became an anesthetist and a tremendously awesome father of three, and
despite his pre-Air Force aspirations always referred me to Mom for math advice once I was past Algebra I.
When I was about 16, he gave me the heavy wool Air Force trenchcoat he got when he enlisted, which I absolutely loved.
Dad died of complications from kidney cancer on May 12, 1993, one week after his 46th birthday. I think of him regularly, though until this year, for some reason, never really in the context of Veterans Day.
He always gave the impression that his time in Korea was no big deal; that he never did anything “heroic”; that he only did what he needed to do to take care of his family in the long term.
But what gets to me now, as a father coming all-too-rapidly to the end of my thirties, is thinking about the choices Dad made when was only 21, and then having to leave Mom and me an ocean and a continent away, and comparing that to where I was when I was that age, and wondering how in the world he ever did it.
I miss him. And I’m thinking of him today trying to truly appreciate what that choice meant.
Adam Besenyodi will be sharing the table and selling Deus ex Comica: The Rebirth of a Comic Book Fan. He may even have some copies of Exo-1 and the Rock Solid Steelbots on hand. (And if he won’t, I’m sure he’ll let me know soon enough.)
I believe I speak for
all both of us at booth A12 when I say it would be excellent for you to come by and nerd out for a few minutes.