I find what appears to be a marriage certificate, but it’s in German, which I did not expect and reads, ‘Totenschein’ in fancy bold, scripted font across the top. I can make out 1 February 1953 on the first line of the document. My mind, trying to piece together all these random bits of information, needs to confirm and calculate back to my father’s enlistment. The swirl of various dates confuses me, so I go back to the ‘Thomas, Military’ envelope.
No wait, I saw it in the ‘Adelle, Misc.’ envelope, so I set his folder to my left, and take Grandma’s from the accumulating stack on my right. Yes, as I recalled, he enlisted in September of 1952 and married my Mom not five months later. I leave the document sticking out of the sleeve and create yet another new pile with it on the far side of the rest of the right stack and go back to my parents’ envelope.
In addition to the marriage certificate, I find my brother’s birth certificate. Even the first line surprises me. David’s name wasn’t even David, it was Nathan. David was his middle name. While my first thought shrugs that choosing to go by one’s middle name isn’t uncommon or surprising, it dawns on me that my parents likely named me after him. Nathan and Natalie are just too similar to be a coincidence. I wonder whose idea that might have been, but I’d bet it was my Mom.
I continue to look at David’s birth certificate and, as expected, his location of birth was on a military installation, but in Germany. I never knew my parents ever lived anywhere besides the southwest, much less abroad, and perhaps that also explains why my father avoided Korea, by taking a European assignment. It certainly explains why the marriage certificate was in German. They would have lived there after the war, but before the building of the Berlin Wall. I wish I could ask them about what that must have been like…
And as my mind wanders to far away countries and their view of history and post-war reconstruction, I am suddenly aware, yet again, of the oddities of math. Mom married my father in February, only knowing him for a couple months at most, especially when I calculate that he probably spent six or eight weeks in boot camp stateside. If he enlisted in September, arrived in Germany in November, and David, well, Nathan, was born in July, that would make my Mom… wow, a complete slut who slept with my father on their first date, or even when they first met!
“I guess that apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” I say to the room, receiving only a slight echo from the tiled space. “Thanks, Mom, for that.”
What a family I am discovering: Grandma, my Mom, and I all put the cart before the horse. The best I can say is we obviously knew what we wanted, but the reality is that none of us made wise choices when it came to our personal lives. The disappointment I feel in myself that I didn’t do any better than either of them when it came to our virtues, and the surprise that my life might well be the least messed up of any of these three oddly similar generations of women adds an entirely unexpected level to what I thought would be an emotional task, not a shocking one.
Granted, getting pregnant with Amelia wasn’t by my choice. I certainly wouldn’t have gotten pregnant when I did if Jason didn’t assault me that night. Quite frankly, though, and not the first time I admit this to myself, it was probably amazing that I didn’t get knocked up when I was in my twenties. When both my paternal grandmother and my own mother were pregnant in their teens, I can only slightly claim a minor redemption in a family lacking in redeemability simply because I waited until my thirties to get pregnant without being married.
So often I thought my mother, a woman who made the best effort she could to raise me all on her own when my father bailed on us, would have been disappointed in my life choices and the lack of care I put into my own wellbeing until just the past few years, and now I discover she quite obviously was out skanking on another continent.
“Jesus Christ, Mom. I can’t believe no one ever told me this.” Again, the room sat in awkward silence with me.
“I suppose that wasn’t one of those romanticized stories Grandpa was going to tell me.” Even the room offered the silent confirmation of a Wyoming conversation.
I try to return all the envelopes to a single pile, and even take the time to return them to the same order, albeit reversed, so that they remain in the same order as Grandma bundled them. I notice the pages in the ‘Thomas, Misc.’ envelope are still askew, so I take the time to straighten them and close the envelope properly. When I try to tuck them in, they snarl, and I push the edges together to create a gap to see what the obstruction might be, and I find a letter folded in thirds on which the papers are hung up, so I pull it out and read through it – a typed business letter.
October 16, 1952
Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Hobart,
Thank you for your time regarding the matter of your son, Airman Thomas Hobart. I understand your concern for the current situation and how best to direct his service when he completes basic training on or about the 18th of November. I have arranged for his immediate deployment to Giebelstadt Air Base following the completion of his training. I will insure he will be assigned appropriate housing accommodations upon his arrival.
I hope this concludes your concerns regarding your family and their wellbeing.
Colonel David Jenkins
Alexandria Army Air Base, Louisiana
The military letterhead retains its crisp folds and when I hold it up to the light, I can see the quality of stationery long since discarded for recycled printer paper.
I wish I knew more about Colonel Jenkins. I don’t remember Grandpa ever mentioning the name, although remembering names was never my strength. If they served together in World War II, there’s a chance that he might have been his commanding officer, perhaps a young lieutenant who served alongside my Grandpa in some north African campaign. Now I wanted to go back to the ‘Douglas, Military’ envelope and look for his name on any of the documents. I almost wonder if Colonel Jenkins may have owed my Grandpa a life-saving favor, which he cashed in to keep my father out of Korea. I like being able to piece together history this way.
I refold the Colonel’s letter and gently slide it and the other forms back into their respective envelope. I wonder if any other envelopes contained letters, too, so I continue the reverse stacking and peek into the ‘Thomas and Rebecca’ envelope for any smaller items. I find two letters! Both remain folded in their original envelopes, but it doesn’t take long until I dig into them to read their contents. I’m excited to have my family history come alive.
The first, postmarked in either June or July of 1976 contains a special bicentennial mark, which may also be why Grandma kept it. It’s a bit blurred and faded, but it appears to be sent from Arizona, addressed to my grandparents. I try not to tear or crinkle it, but my excitement is getting the best of me.
July 4, 1976
Dear Mom and Pop,
Everyone here is celebrating the big holiday, but I have to tell you that there really isn’t much worth celebrating here. Does an extra bottle of tequila count as celebrating?
Look, I have to say I have spent the better part of the past couple decades trying to help Becky and I just cannot do this any more. I don’t know if she’s written to you or told you what’s happening with her, but she’s pregnant and I refuse to go through this again. I gave up everything to help her when she got pregnant with Nathan, but I absolutely cannot manage this hell a second time.