Saturday, May 31, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

So Child Number One runs over to her dad's place to search for my ancient tennis racket. She wants to play with her BFF. While there, she encounters her father's girlfriend's shetland pony, I mean, Doberman. Being the dog lover she is, she replenishes the dog's water. And drops her cell phone into it.

The next day Child Number Two takes a class trip to an amusement park. I say, "Make sure your cell phone doesn't fall out of your pocket on a ride." She says, "Okay!". Several hours later a strange phone number appears on my caller ID. Sensing doom, I answer. It's Child Number Two. "Mom, my cell phone fell out of my pocket on a ride."

I call the ex to talk about replacement phones and go straight to voice mail. Hmmm. Sensing doom, I call on the land line. He answers. "I can't find my cell phone. It's been two days."

After much research, scrambling, shopping, worry, and, thankfully, not too much dinero, they can hear me now.

And hopefully, this week, you can too.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day Tradition

Since it's Memorial Day weekend I've decided to annually post an essay about my father that I wrote about ten years ago. I wrote it for a website devoted to the 446th Bomb Group, of which my father was a member, and it details a couple of the missions that earned him his DFCs.

By Ann Wesley Hardin

Editor's note: The author is the daughter of 1st Lt Frank Baker, the pilot of "Rubber Check". Lt Baker was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and 3 Oak Leaf Clusters for his service with the 446th, including one for the mission detailed here. Click here to see the extract.

Shortly after my father folded his wings in November 1996, I began a quest to find out as much information about his war record as I could. I had before me several military extracts detailing the courage that won him three oak leaf clusters and a Distinguished Flying Cross. So I knew there were wonderful stories out there. If only I could find them.

Like many who served in WWII, my father didn’t like to talk about it much. While I was growing up, he watched war movies, read war books, and commented on the technical errors he found in them. But he never discussed his own experience. One day, I asked him.

He expressed surprise that I wanted to know, could not recall anyone ever asking him before. And he proceeded to tell me about a landing outlined in one of the extracts. He was very matter-of-fact about this mission to Germany, April 22nd, 1944:

Shortly after leaving the target area, the Rubber Check (named for its propensity to come back) is attacked by enemy aircraft. Rudder control cables are frayed; radio compass is shot out; mixture control cables severed, and a propeller is frozen at minimum power.

Maintaining control on the return trip, my father is unable to land because of enemy activity around the airfield. Proceeding to a second field, my father avoids collision with a plane that cartwheels in front of him and crashes as he prepares to land. Pulling out all stops and using every trick he can think of, he regains altitude and lands on a third field. No one is hurt.

“Were you scared?” I asked.

“No time to be scared,” he answered. “I had no intention of losing that plane.”

The only time he faltered in the various tales he told me that day was when he mentioned the presumed death of his co-pilot, Foster Hinton. As a member of the 707th squadron, my dad never lost a crewmember on one of his missions, and he was distressed by the loss of Hinton, even though he wasn’t responsible for it.

Lieutenant Hinton got sick and missed a raid with my father. As a result, he had to make it up on the Black Widow – an ill-fated voyage. My father remarked on the tragedy with a pilot’s bravado, “Hinton shouldn’t have gotten the flu.” But I had already detected the sorrow in his voice.

As it turned out, Foster Hinton was not killed when the Black Widow went down. But my father didn’t live to know that. Following his death, I called Hinton’s widow and she told me he had been captured and imprisoned. I wish my father knew that, but I guess he does now.

After speaking with Mrs. Hinton, I called Franklin Calhoun, a gunner on the Rubber Check. It was a sunny afternoon, about 2:00. Mr. Calhoun lived in Florida, and I heard the TV in the background when he picked up the phone.

“Is this the Franklin Calhoun who was a member of the 707th squadron in WWII?” I asked.

His voice trembled in reply. “Yes,” he said. “I am”.

I told him I was Frank Baker’s daughter. Did he remember my father?

“Oh,” came his shocked reply. “Oh I can’t believe it. I never pick up the phone at this hour because it’s usually a sales person. Of course I remember your Daddy.”

We talked for a few minutes about the nature of war. He said that he didn’t know my dad very well because my dad was an officer and Franklin was not. There was little fraternization between the groups – a fact that I did not realize. Mr. Calhoun told me that the bomb crews were not buddy-buddy like in the movies. They were just a group of men out to do a job. But he had always admired my dad.

“Do you have any stories you can tell me?” I asked. “My dad told me a few, but I want more.”

“Well,” Mr. Calhoun drawled. “Did your Daddy ever tell you about the time we busted up the plane?”

“No!” I shouted. Mr. Calhoun laughed and told me the following story:

On a day in 1944, with roughly half it’s missions completed, the Rubber Check heads home. The daylight is fading, and so is her fuel level. As the crew prepares her for landing, a terrible discovery is made. The ball turret won’t retract, trapping the artillery gunner in a bubble beneath the airplane and dooming him to hit the runway before the wheels.

Frantic efforts are made to retract the turret, without success. Because of the approaching night and empty fuel tanks, a life or death decision must be rendered.

Through the headphones comes a confident declaration from the pilot. “Don’t worry Fielder, I’ll take care of you. We are going to bring this baby in.”(I suspect a more colorful term was used for “baby” but I have no proof).

As promised, my father landed that plane – and broke it in half. In the back, Sergeant Calhoun “hung on for dear life.” He said that when they carried him out, everyone was alive. Everyone stayed alive, and miraculously unhurt. Even the ball turret gunner, Roy Fielder.

Since then I have learned that Roy Fielder kept in touch with my brother in Texas all these years. He met with my dad on at least one occasion, and exchanged Christmas cards with my sister-in-law. When I called her for Mr. Fielder’s address –I wanted this story in his own words but sadly never got it – my sister-in-law said, “Oh, he thinks your dad hung the moon!”

And you know what? I do too.

Footnote: My father left behind many mementos from the Good War. Among them was a clock from the control panel of a Liberator. He swiped it from another plane and I often wonder if it was from the plane that broke in half. He never said.

My brother traced the tail number of the “new” Rubber Check to a B-24 bone yard. In the words of a fellow aviator, “It’s probably a beer can now.”

The crew of "Rubber Check". Standing L to R: Sgt John Thomas, Sgt Albert Cochran, Sgt George Blank, Sgt Franklin Calhoun, Sgt John Roberts, Sgt Roy Lee Fielder. Knealing L to R: 2Lt Adrian Perrault, 2Lt Frank Baker, 2Lt Arthur Bailey, 2Lt Foster Hinton.

At the same time my father was bombing Germany in a notoriously difficult aircraft, without fighter escort to protect him from enemy fire, my former father-in-law was learning to arm the P-51 Mustang--a new, scrappy fighter with long-range capability that would single-handedly save countless lives and change the course of WWII.

My ex-late-father-in-law was also stationed in England with the Mighty Eighth. During his tour he witnessed horrifying B-24 crashes. Heavily laden with bombs, the planes often floundered and exploded on takeoff. But he also witnessed the mass ascension of the Normandy Invasion fleet and said he'd never seen anything so magnificent.

A few years ago we took him to the WWII weekend in Reading. A beautifully restored P-51 Mustang was in attendance and he hadn't seen one in over 50 years. Although we'd been warned against touching the precious aircraft, we wanted a picture of him near it.

As we approached the Mustang, I told the owners who he was and what he had done during the war. They dropped everything they were doing, shook his hand and with a reverence that makes me cry just thinking about, honored him by asking if he'd like to stand on the wing.

They helped him onto the wing, and we took this picture. Later, my mother-in-law told us she'd never seen him so happy in his life. If his ear-to-ear grin the whole day was any indication, she was right.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Happy Happy Oy! Oy!

My sixteen year old daughter got her driver's license today.

'nuff said.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Wonder What the Ladies Room Would Look Like...

Here's a good one, compliments of Bev:

Men's Restroom Mural

Edge Designs is an all-women run company that designs interior office space. They had a recent opportunity to do an office project in NYC.The client allowed the women of this company a free hand in all design aspects. The client was a company that was also run by all women execs...... The result.........well.....We all know that men never talk, never look at each other....And never laugh much in the restroom....The men's room is a serious and quiet place...But now...with the addition of one mural on the wall......lets just say the men's Restroom is a place of laughter and smiles. (click pic to enlarge)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Real Men, Part I

Dennis claims that male love is "largely theoretical".

A man might not sweep the floor, change a diaper, or listen to his teenage girl rant about global injustice, but, he'll gladly take arms and defend his family to the bloody death -- when the aliens arrive.

So, he sits on the sofa, channel-surfing and swilling beer, awaiting the invasion. After all, he needs his strength for when they come. As they surely will.

A couple of months ago, the Visigoths came to the Fab household.

They invaded swiftly, under cover, with no warning. For a few, tense minutes, the Fab household was unprepared, surprised and oh so vulnerable. Tears were shed, hair was torn, muscles spasmed and panic seemed imminent.

But then, the last man standing in the family met his True Purpose. He took arms -- took his family in those arms -- turned, and faced his opponent.

FabHub stepped up to the plate, spent every second with FabDame as she was poked and prodded, tested and toasted, needled and nipped, cat-scanned and cut, drugged and dopey, grim and gutted, rayed and re-sectioned.

Through it all he mowed the lawn, delivered children to music lessons, shopped for food, made the meals, texted me back (endlessly, patiently) and watched Oprah.

Without one, single complaint.

I don't know about you, but there's no way I'd have tolerated Oprah.

Proving the man that he is, he continues to bear most of the load normally carried by two, three, four, or an army.

As FabDame says, it's not easy being married to a sick person. As he replies, it's what I signed up for, and it's finite. She's going to get better.

You know, after my dad and both my brothers died, my sister-in-law cried to me over the phone, "Where are all our men?"

I knew what she meant. I felt it. That loss of protection from the aliens, the visigoths. I was willing to endure the everyday shit of diapers and global injustice just to have that protection again.

It wasn't until two months ago that I realized, we still have it. We still have protection. He's alive. He's with us. We still have a hero.

Right there, over the rainbow.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Everyone's Up and Great in Kansas City

Day one, Friday: FabDame sleeps until 7:30. She's still tired from chemo. And I came all this way...

Later on she makes me back her seventy-five foot van out of the garage, making one lame-o excuse after another. I drive us to the cancer center where FabDame has blood drawn and pressure tested.

I can see this is going to be a really fun trip.

But, the afternoon improves when we meet Sunny for lunch and FabDame perks up enough from the TexMex to stop in a cool little thrift shop we pass on the way home. Finally!

FabDame takes a nap. She is such a slacker.

Day two, Saturday: FabDame is up and dressed as I stumble into the kitchen, scrabbling for my iced coffee. She makes oatmeal, scrubs the kitchen and folds the laundry.

I check my email.

At noon, her friend shows up enroute from Iowa to Albuquerque. We go out for the best Kansas BBQ in the nation. Later, while tornadoes rip a swath of death and devastation to our south and west, we make this neat-o card for the mater:

Afterwards FabDame mops the floor, does the grocery shopping and prepares a seven course gourmet meal.

I snooze on the sofa and surf the 'net.

Day three, Sunday: FabDame sleeps until 8 O'clock. Christ. I have to make my own coffee. Oh wait, FabHubby makes it. She finally drags her lazy ass out of bed to make me toast served with homemade jam from fruit she picked off her tree last night in the windstorm.

I text Dennis.

In the afternoon we go shopping at Kohl's. FabDame tries on every single outfit in the whole freakin' place to find something that fits her new, slender frame.

I buy discounted underwear.

You know how tiring it is trying on bras. By the time we get home I need a nap. While I sleep, FabDame makes three quilts for the tornado victims. Three. Like that's gonna help. We go to Costco and she purchases her Mother's Day meal. FabHubby cooks it.

I wash the lettuce.

Day four, Monday: FabDame still needs clothes, but it's almost time for me to leave. As we're walking out the door, my cell phone rings. It's USAIR. My flight was cancelled. I spend the next hour on the phone with Sukresh from Punjab trying to get another flight. Sukresh offers me a seat on a flight to Stuttgart, connecting to Nairobi, a layover in Malaysia, and thence a spot on the standby list to Philadelphia. I say that's unacceptable. Sukresh politely finds me a direct flight the next morning.

FabDame and I get one more day! A gift from the gods. Where are we going to go? The mall!!

FabDame has to return some Dockers she bought before she lost weight. While there she finds the most beautiful sweater and tunic that totally rocks her boho, scarf look. I find a $7.99 summer top.

She's so jazzed when she gets home she rotates the tires on the van, reglazes a window, and moves the baby grand to dust underneath.

I relax with a beer.

Day five, Tuesday: By the time I crawl out of the shower at BF O'Thirty, FabDame has hot eggs and toast on the table. Her daughter comes down and FabDame packs a nutritious school lunch for her.

Fabdame reads the news, feeds the animals, trims a few trees and paints the living room.

I print out my boarding pass.

If there's one thing I learned this weekend, it's this. If anyone can beat cancer...

Tomorrow: FabDame builds a B-24 in 19.2 minutes and ends the war in Iraq...

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gone Visiting

Going to see FabDame in Kansas for the weekend!

Clean up before I get back, k?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Whenever anyone dies in my family, I usually have a dream about them at some point down the road. Just one dream, and always a sweet one. I await these mental encounters with great anticipation. They mean so much to me.

The dream about my dad came three months after he passed. My brothers were six months and two years, respectively.

The other night I had my Denali dream. It was an interesting one. She was standing there on a leash and I noticed her head looked strange. Eventually I realized she had a stainless steel mask over her head and that it had been there for a long time. I removed the mask and there were wounds underneath it. I stroked away the wounds and she came over to me and leaned her forehead against mine, obviously thrilled to be free of her "iron mask". We nuzzled, she gazed happily, thankfully, into my eyes, and then I woke up.

Cool, huh?

Over the years, I've come to believe these dreams are messages from my loved ones that they've reached their final destination and that they are ok.

Have you ever received messages from the ether? Don't you appreciate it when folks you love let you know they got home safely?

Thanks Denali. You're a good dog.

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