The Backside of a Story

The grind, the dogged determination, the hunt flew under my childhood radar. There were meetings and trips and cameras everywhere, dad was often gone. I recall the exhaustion at day’s end, his need to wind down. He had the “all or nothing” attitude, and with him, it was all of everything. He worked best under pressure, fitting for a journalist.

Sadly, I didn’t understand or appreciate dad’s personal sacrifices, what that meant to our family, until after he died. His passion was beyond my scope of understanding. What gives me pause is the blood, sweat and tears dad put into his work, his belief in personal involvement and commitment to his endeavors. The evidence surrounds me and it abounds.

2015-06-13 08.14.04These are a fraction of the clippings sent to my grandparents during the reporting years, most dad wrote. He covered the news but he also made the news, appearing in many of the articles shown.

Dad was passionate about education, not only his and ours, but for all the children in our district, at all levels.

Clackamas Community College

Dad was involved when the planning of the area’s first community college was in its infancy. He was passionate the school be located where it now sits. Dad was concerned about location, traffic flow, generating business in that immediate area (he worked tirelessly on the Oregon City Bypass, an effort to reroute traffic in Oregon City). Eventually, a college was born. At one time or another, three of his grandchildren–my three children–attended that college. One of his daughters–this one–volunteered there as a tutor. He never knew.

Gladstone High School

He became involved not only with curriculum planning, but the high school itself in the 60s. He was on the school board for several years, serving as chairman part of the time.

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Dad wore many hats, and I am proud of his involvement and accomplishments. Something I never realized, though, was the role our mother played. They were a team in many ways. Who knew, for example, about mom’s contribution the day she helped dad piece together one of the most significant news events in U.S. history?

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It was November 22, 1963, and dad worked at The Dalles Chronicle, a small town newspaper. If you are old enough, that date rings a bittersweet bell.

The dak-dakka-dakka-dak was ubiquitous to every newsroom, the machine state-of-the-art. Dad’s reliance on the teletype machine was not new; that it was too slow for dad was the beginning of an unlikely but pretty darned cool sequence of events.

Kennedy had been shot, and dad could not get the news out fast enough.

His idea was brilliant: he called mom, asked her to turn on the television and report back to him events as they occurred live. Between her news and dakka dak dak, he pieced together the events at Dealey Plaza.

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“I figured television would communicate faster than the teletype and called Maude at the apartment, told her the president was shot and to turn on the TV and relay to me events as they occurred in Dallas,” dad wrote.

“Rod called me to tell me the news,” mom says. “It was coming in, but too slow to meet the deadline for the paper.”

While others had to “phone their reports to the UPI Dallas office for follow-up transmissions by the slower teletype around the country,” dad wrote, he relied on live coverage from Dallas to piece together his story. That, and mom.

“Maude telephoned several times,” and “That was most significant,” according to dad.

“We decided that it would be faster if I left our TV on and our phone off the hook,” recounts mom.

“Actually, she helped me put together the Pres. John Kennedy assassination story that morning. Talk about a team effort, that was it. Between the time I originally phoned her and the next forty minutes or so, I had one-paragraph dispatches from Dallas spread all over my desk and was pasting them together in sequential form as Maude telephoned them to me,” dad wrote.

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They developed a system. Mom remembers that she “signaled Rod by tapping on the phone” to “relay the information to him.” She tapped the phone or called his name loudly so he could hear her on the other end while he continued to work, the backside of a story.

“The dispatches confirmed what Maude telephoned to me, so I had the story going together from two sources. What she told me on the telephone was confirmed by Cassels and UPI over the wire.” (Louis Cassels was a “United Press International news writer assigned to cover the president while Kennedy was in Dallas.”)

“I don’t remember how long it took, but, together we were able to meet the deadline, and the paper went to press on time,” says mom.

“It was the best of both worlds,” dad wrote. For sure.

I’ve read many of dad’s articles and short stories. The man could write, but on this most significant November occasion, he didn’t do it alone. He had help, and mom must be acknowledged. Her efforts were key to his timely production of a major news event. Appreciation of my father’s accomplishments has grown through the years; understanding and appreciating mom’s have given me new perspective. A seemingly insignificant detail can mean the world.

This, a byline to mom, is long overdue.

dec 2014_the dalles

In the very early 60s, dad was sports editor at the Enterprise Courier in Oregon City. We lived on Yale Street in Gladstone. Note 1961 above, the date on dad’s debut column The Catalyst.

We later moved to The Dalles where dad worked at The Chronicle from 1963 to 1964. Mom, Lynne and I sit outside the “apartment” dad mentions, in 1963.

When Pete King, the then publisher of the Enterprise Courier called and asked dad to return to Oregon City, he jumped, and we returned to Gladstone in the spring of 1964.

I find irony in the title of dad’s column,  The Catalyst. One definition “any entity that produces an effect or is responsible for events or results” reminds me of one very helpful lady.

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Below, dad converses with local school children in The Dalles in the very room where he and mom pieced together the assassination story*. It was 1963, the very same year.

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Photo courtesy Margaret Geier

*Sadly, after weeks of trying unsuccessfully, I was unable to locate dad and mom’s article. The Chronicle itself does not archive papers prior to 2005, those they do keep are from the late 1800s. The U of Oregon library keeps The Chronicle from the 60s on microfilm but they do not provide a courtesy search. They happily take payments, however, of $60 per hour for a private search.

The hunt continues.

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Kennedy was someone I would have supported had I been older, and I am saddened each year remembering how he died. The following link details JFKs campaign trail up to and after that fatal day.

http://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/tag/jackie-kennedy-history/

Imperfect

While mom stands at the left and grandma frosts the cake, I lick the beaters. Life, in the eyes of a child, as it should be.

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I must have been eight or nine, I’m guessing along about 1967 or ’68, when I first realized. Grandpa Eddie and grandma Lalla were visiting us in Gladstone, and as usual, dad was overjoyed.

July 2015_Karen Hazels house Aug 1968I was about the age I am in the photo, at great Aunt Hazel’s house in the summer of 1968, in Tacoma. Hazel was grandma’s sister, and her house, like grandma’s, was a happy place.

I recall my childhood as generally very good. All my basic needs were met; I had food, a roof over my head, clothes, and for the most part, I didn’t suffer for much. The parents weren’t rich, but I always felt loved. I was happy.

I was old enough to realize that sometimes, when dad was around his parents, his behavior changed. I noticed because it was different. While dad always had the potential to be fun–and he could be hilariously funny–around his folks he seemed overly happy, sometimes he was loud, and on occasion he was what I would now say bordered on cocky. Alcohol may or may not have played a part; I recall social drinking among the adults in my world, friends and family.

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It was early evening after dinner, and dad and grandpa–along with my sister and I–had gathered in the living room. I recall that a cocktail in a tall, clear glass sat on one end of the coffee table that my mother bought with Green Stamps. The drink belonged to my father.

Dad was sitting at the end of the couch, on the other side of his drink. I was standing perhaps five feet away from the coffee table towards the center of the room. Grandpa sat in a rocker to my left, maybe 10 feet to dad’s right. We formed an easy triangle.

I heard grandpa chuckle as he caught the pillow. Dad, in his overly jovial state, had broken a major house rule: he’d thrown a pillow across the room and started a pillow fight. Grandpa–a guest in our home–was willing to “play” and quickly scanned the room for the next, easy participant. As I was the closest, he chose me, rapidly tossing the pillow my way.

WHUMP! I caught it against my chest. As I looked around the room I decided who would be my target. I noticed mischievous smiles and gleaming eyes, all on me, as I launched the pillow.

The next thing I knew dad had exploded in anger and the game was over. He was my target but in my excitement to play I’d hit the drink. The glass flew to the floor and shattered, spilling icy liquid over the couch and his legs. The next few words I heard were crushing. I don’t recall the specifics, but it was something about being clumsy.

Having heard the commotion, mom and grandma ran in from the kitchen. Having sized up the situation quickly, mom ran to the bathroom for towels and grandma’s heart broke for the young girl in tears. I’d followed mom into the bathroom and grandma had followed me.

As mom quietly left the bathroom to wipe up the mess, something happened that I’ll never forget. When grandma wrapped me in her arms, I looked up into her eyes. Her face streamed with tears as she apologized for her son’s behavior. I said I didn’t mean to knock over the glass, and she said she knew, that it was an accident. She said accidents happen, that dad should not have become so angry. She said it wasn’t my fault.

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There wasn’t much on earth more important to grandma than her son. He had been the light of her life and there wasn’t much she wouldn’t do for him. This was something that even I–who’d lived on earth a mere eight years–could sense.

Yet, in that moment, when I witnessed grandma’s tears, I knew I had an ally for life. She knew dad had overreacted; she knew he was wrong. Grandma knew a spilled drink and some shattered glass were not worth breaking a little girl’s heart.

Maybe grandma knew something else. Maybe she knew that through her tears, somehow I’d get the message.

Sept 2015_me looking at grandma

It’s Where I Perfected My Pie Crust

Nov 2014 094I wonder how many times I tried to climb the old maple tree next to the sidewalk.

I never fell out. I jumped from its bottom floor into piles of leaves, piles we’d just raked.

We were told to rake and pile again.

I wonder how many times I went up and down these stairs. I hate to think what may have happened the day dad lost his footing and flew down, on his hind end, on the heels of my sister. They were steep and narrow. The only injury was a sore bum.

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I wonder how many times I handled these glass doorknobs.

Nov 2014 026Unless specifically planned for, we don’t see these in houses of today.

I wonder how many times I looked into this mirror, made silly faces with my best friend.

I wonder how many people smiled at dad’s choice of fire engine red on our bathroom walls.

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I wonder how many times I washed dishes at this sink.

I perfected my pie crust, right here.

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I wonder how many times I ran through this back yard, played on our long-gone swing set.

I wonder how many neighbor kids swam with us in our plastic pool.

I wonder how many popsicles I ate in this back yard, how many hours I spent slathered in baby oil, catching some rays.

I wonder how many hours I practiced on the high jump set dad made for me, right here.

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I wonder how many hours I spent playing with this doll furniture.

Grandpa made our doll houses, mom made the curtains and put up the wallpaper.

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I wonder how many times I turned our “chandelier” on and off before I was told to stop.

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I wonder if anyone else knew this was my secret hiding place, in the attic.

Big people called it a closet, but it wasn’t. It was quiet, safe, and nearly no one else wanted to be here. Just me.

You tell yourself it’s just a shell. Just a place. It’s what you do when you have to leave for the last time, never to go inside again.

It wasn’t just a house.

I wonder how long it will take before it doesn’t feel like home anymore.