This is how I remember it

Entry 13

The whole decade thing began with the beginning of my second decade.  I was born in 1950, now in 1960 life was about to begin to move very quickly and major things were in the imminent future.  My Dad somehow wrested control away from my Mom and he made some interesting decisions in this important year.

A couple of things were messages that my Dad lived and taught me.  First was the importance for a man to have ‘a tribe’.  I am not saying that it it not important for a woman to have a tribe or that you couldn’t be in a mixed tribe, but, there is something very interesting about a man and his tribe.

My Dad had been in one of the largest tribes in this century.  He was a soldier in World War II.  This group of men, thrown together from all over the country and then a part of tribe known as the Allied Armed Forces, accomplished a task that the entire world depended on.  They stopped the Axis powers of Hitler and Japan.

I think there was a real sense of loss, or at least of missing being in a tribe for all of these men who came home.  So, all over the world, they formed organizations so that they could get together and accomplish new things.  My Dad’s chosen tribe was the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW for short.


He worked himself up from the bottom and in 1960 he was the Commander of the largest post in Michigan, Post 423 of Ann Arbor.  (My Mom, not to be out done, was the Vice Chairman of the Woman’s Auxiliary, meaning she would be Chairman in 1961.)  But in 1960 Dad was ‘top-dog’.  So, number one was being part of a tribe.

Number two was something both my parents did, they always, always, volunteered someplace.  They worked hard for no monetary compensation to help others.  Both Bonnie and I continue this Flanders tradition to this day.  Now, back to 1960.

The times they were a changin’.  Politically we were faced with a time without our war hero president, Dwight Eisenhower.  He couldn’t run again. Along came this minor war hero, a senator from Massachusetts who talked funny, and ‘oh, no, he was a catholic!’But, alas, he was the nominee of the party of FDR, so my Mom and Dad loved him.

Kennedy button

Now, here is where it gets interesting:  The VFW National Convention is being held in Los Angeles and of course the Commander of the largest post in Michigan should be there to represent the entire state.  Dad announces, “That’s it, we are going!”  My Mom, in a rare moment of practicality, says, “But what about the kids…My mother and Dad can’t handle all of them.”  My Dad’s retort is classic, he yells back, “Don’t talk to me about kids when my heart is on fire!”  (Maybe he didn’t use that exact phraseology, but it was very close.)  My Mom, in good Betty form, regains control and tells him that he better figure out what to do with the kids or she will have his guts for garters (once again I may be off a little in the exact exchange, but I am pretty sure that is what was said.)

Dad took about 17 1/2 hours and comes back to Mom.  “Bonnie can stay with your Mom and Dad, the boys need to learn what it is like to live on a North Dakota farm – we are taking them to Uncle Hanks.  We drop the boys off and then we fly from Bismark to LA, I’ve got it all worked out.”  Mom’s reaction was classic:  she immediately went to their bedroom and changed into her VFW uniform.  For the next two days she stood in front of a full length mirror practicing poses, she finally decides on the one with her chest puffed out and her head looking away at an angle with one eye on alert to see if anyone is looking.  She will use this stance for the rest of her life.

On a warm July day, with Bonnie safely packed away at Gramma and Grandpa’s house, we pack the car and head for the wilds of North Dakota.  Van had mixed emotions, he would miss all his girlfriends in Ann Arbor, but was excited to meet new girls in the exotic place.  I just hoped they had pepsi on that farm.

ND post card generic

A road trip from East Ann Arbor Michigan to Bumblef#@k North Dakota in 1960 is a long series of Arthur Godfrey shows on the radio, rest stops with outrageous holes to urinate and defecate into, picnic tables for your bologna and mustard on wonder bread sandwiches, boyhowdy it is a long way.  After losing every ‘let’s see who can hit the softest’ contests with Van, we pulled into Uncle Hank’s farm.

Uncle Hank's farm

Van let out an audible gasp as he realized the only girls he could possibly meet here were Herefords and Guernseys.  I just kept thinking, ‘why do you hate me so much Mom and Dad?’  It was definitely a hard working North Dakota farm.  There was Uncle Hank, exactly what you expect a dirt farmer to look like.  His wife, Aunt Fern, a kind, loud, funny auntie who would be a real favorite for years to come.  Their two sons, Merle and Jerry.  Merle was the fun loving boisterous one with a steady girlfriend that he kept groping when he thought no one was looking. Jerry was the quite, handsome, not exactly interested in farming for a living one.  They all immediately took Van and I in and treated us like…well, family.  My Dad couldn’t have been happier. And everyone of them worked hard every day.  No day’s off for a farmer.

Hank on tractor

Van learned to drive about every farm machine they had.  He was actually pretty good on all of them.  One day Merle took us out on the huge combine to work the corn fields.  He let Van drive it and he was doing great.  I decided I needed a turn and both Van and Merle said, “No.”  When Van stopped the gigantic machine to slug me, I jumped out of the cab and started to walk away, putting on a really good pout.  Merle yelled at me, “I don’t know where you think you are going…”  Van called me a name that cast aspersions on my rightful place as a Flanders and gunned the combine as they sped away.

Ok, I had not thought through my plans about how to find my way back to Hank and Fern’s house. And the concept of 160 acres had not registered but I would show Van, dang it.  After hours of walking and just before a big ole prairie thunderstorm rolled in Jerry came roaring through the fields in his Ford Galaxy.  He jumped out of his car and ran over to me.  He got down on his knees and hugged me hard. I didn’t know what to do with such an outpouring of emotions.  I knew he was crying as he said, “I am so glad I found you.”  There was no, “What the hell did you think you were doing?”  Just, “I am so glad I found you.”

After that Jerry watched out for me the entire time at his Dad’s farm.  He would take me along when he went to the bar in the little town near the farm.  He would buy me a big Pepsi and and bag of peanuts and I would sit outside on a little bench listening to Johnny Cash on the jukebox.  I heard Ring of Fire for the first time on that bench.  One time he had to go to Bismark for some farm business.  He took me along.  It was 110 miles to the Capital city.  We made it in less than an hour. He was a sensitive man who was not afraid to  express emotions.  I think he taught me a lot.

It was an eventful summer.  In Los Angeles both Mom and Dad got to shake John F Kennedy’s hand. I think California changed them.  They got the notion that they could do big things, take chances and be someone they didn’t know they could be.   Van did in fact meet a girl and I am pretty sure he got to second, maybe even third base. Bonnie gained about 10 pounds eating bacon and sugar coated left over pie crust at Grammas.  And me, I just wondered what would top this summer.  I found out soon enough.

Oh, and I never did learn how to drive a combine.

I tried driving a combine







3 responses to “This is how I remember it”

  1. Bonnie Flanders Avatar
    Bonnie Flanders

    I enjoyed this one very much. I’ve stopped wondering which parts are real and what stuff is made up and just enjoyed the story. I know what’s coming next…


    1. Actually this one is all true.

      Gary Flanders Big Bear City, California



  2. Bonnie Flanders Avatar
    Bonnie Flanders

    Bravo!  Bravo!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: