Sunday, December 23, 2012
I was stunned and had no idea what I would do for Christmas that year. Where to go? What to do? When I told Joe, he said he wanted me to go home with him and that he would call his parents. He used my phone to call and I was in the room to hear his side of the conversation. He asked if it would be okay for me to go with him for Christmas and proceeded to explain about Mother having the flu and that I had no where else to go. I was humiliated because he made me feel like a charity case. I still laugh no remembering it.
When we got to his parents' house, his dad greeted us at the front door saying, "It looks like Mutt and Jeff walking up the sidewalk." I pointed at Joe and responded, "He's the Mutt!" which made him laugh and broke the ice. Joe's mother and sister weren't at home so I hung my clothes in the guest room closet and we left to do some shopping. When Christmas gifts were opened, I remember there were a couple of gifts for me. One was a bottle of perfume from his family, but I can't remember what Joe gave me or I gave him. I can remember the small oval of framed dried flowers on a black background we chose for his mother.
I also remember how welcoming my future in-laws were and that they did not make me feel like a charity case. They told me Joe had never brought anyone home before, so they knew I was pretty special. I only felt like a charity case when Joe called them because he was nervous and kept repeating that my mother had the flu and I had no where to go for Christmas. Had I been asking my parents' permission to bring him home under similar circumstances, I would have been more comfortable doing so.
Years later Joe's sister told me she and her mother couldn't stand the suspense so while Joe and I were gone shopping, they looked at my clothes in the closet and were surprised by how small I was since Joe is so tall. They wondered if he would be giving me a ring for Christmas, but that didn't happen until Valentine's Day.
Monday, December 10, 2012
When we finally opened presents on Christmas Eve, I was a little surprised and a little disappointed to find the album was "Sing a Hymn with Me" by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Just what every girl that age wanted for Christmas, right? I know Daddy loved gospel music so I felt it was partly because he wanted it and probably teased him about that as well. The truth is, I enjoyed it and enjoyed listening to it with him; I listened to it even when he wasn't around and I did sing along with Tennessee Ernie Ford. As you probably have guessed, I still have it with my collection of records and it is priceless to me now.
Daddy couldn't carry a tune very well so he would just listen. Since he was a preacher, I asked him about why he didn't sing at church when the Bible says "to make a joyful noise." He told me then he couldn't sing, but he loved to listen. That speaks volumes because the singing at most of the small country churches where he preached wasn't always on key or on tempo, but it was heart-felt.
A memory also associated with this gift of music is how we would listen to the "Old Time Camp Meeting" on the local radio station as we drove to Lawn, Texas where he preached for the Church of Christ for many years. I can remember other times when he would listen to gospel quartets and his foot or hand would be quietly keeping time with the music as he smiled and often closed his eyes in enjoyment.
"I Love to Tell the Story" is also a favorite hymn on the album. I requested it to be sung at Daddy's funeral because he did love to preach The Gospel and tell the story that meant so much to him.
Monday, December 3, 2012
A few days ago I asked my cousin if he would write down some stories he remembers his dad, my Uncle Wilber, telling about his service during World War II. In particular I wanted the story that was shared at his funeral about him helping an Italian POW. Many thanks to Duane for writing this for me to post on my blog. I've inserted two pictures from Uncle Wilber's WWII photographs I scanned, but I don't know if one of the men is the POW in the story. At the top of one of the pages is a note stating he visited "Rome and other points of interest in Italy, Sept. 1944."
MY FATHER, WILBER CONLEY, AND THE ITALIAN P.O.W.
By Duane F. Conley
My father, Wilber Franklin Conley (1919-1984), served in the Army Air Corps (predecessor of today’s Air Force) during WW II. He was in a ground crew unit, providing maintenance support for the bombing raids over Nazi-occupied Europe that were being staged out of North Africa. When I was growing up Dad used to tell me a lot of stories about his experiences during the war. Here is one of my favorites (as best I can remember it after so many years). It is a short and simple story, but to me it is an important part of remembering Dad.
Mussolini, Hitler’s European ally, had grand dreams of a second Roman Empire in North Africa. Unfortunately for him, Italian troops fared badly against the British in the early years of the war, resulting in thousands of Italian P.O.W.’s. One of these wound up in a work crew which Dad supervised (unloading supplies, as I recall, while Dad operated the crane). Apparently they chatted with each other from time to time. (I guess the prisoner must have learned pretty good English, because I don’t think Dad knew any Italian.) This prisoner had a wife and children in Rome, with whom he had not been able to make contact, so they presumably had no idea whether he was dead or alive.
Sometime late in the war, after most of Italy was liberated, Dad got a furlough that allowed him to visit Italy. When the prisoner found out about this, he begged Dad to look up his family in Rome, to let them know that he was alive and well. Rome was not on Dad’s itinerary (which was mainly Naples and the Isle of Capri, I think), but he agreed to give it a try.
Dad managed to hitch a ride to Rome and found the address, not without some difficulty given his lack of Italian. He found the family in one of the upper stories of some kind of tenement, not in the best neighborhood. You can imagine the wife’s astonishment and perhaps unease when a soldier showed up at her door in a U.S. uniform. After he communicated his message, she became ecstatic, crying and hugging him and trying to thank him in Italian.
When I was a kid hearing this, it pretty much went in one ear and out the other, like so many other stories, but from an adult’s perspective this one has stuck with me like no other.
It has been said that war brings out the best and the worst in people. In the great cauldron of WW II, millions of people from all over the world encountered one another, many of them far from their homes. The way I look at it, every one of them was kind of an ambassador, representing his home town and nation by his conduct. Some behaved badly, committing wartime atrocities. Some, like Audie Murphy of Texas, showed exceptional battlefield valor and became heroes in that way. In my eyes, by his act of compassion to this Italian family, my Dad became a hero in a different way. I am proud of the way he represented Cherokee, Texas and the U.S. of A. on that occasion.