Sunday, August 10, 2008

West Point

My father, Horhay, who was born in 1936, went to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia for his high school years. His parents weren't well off - they survived the depression and raised 4 kids frugally on a teacher's salary.

My grandpa was Cary Grant Hot!

Grandma had a garden, and they raised their own chickens and rabbits for eggs and meat. She sewed all their clothes, sometimes out of the left-over flour and rice sacks. They were hardworking, religious people who were extremely strict.

I honestly don't know why exactly my father went to FUMA or how they afforded it. He was the oldest, and neither of the other 2 boys went. He did well there, and he apparently enjoyed it enough that he wanted to continue and have a military career. He wanted to go to The United States Military Academy, West Point, in New York.

Back then, it was even harder to get in than it is now. You have to prequalify to be extended an invitation to take the tests (academic and physical assessment) to get in - and you have to have a nomination from a Congressman or a Senator. They have waiting lists for their waiting lists to just take the admissions tests. From their website:

The majority of the Members of Congress use a competitive nomination process, whereby 10 candidates are named to compete for a single vacancy. A minority of the members of Congress names a single candidate as their primary nomination, and some choose to number, or rank order the alternates. If you have an excellent academic and extracurricular activity record, however, you have a good chance of gaining admission with an alternate nomination. Each year several hundred of the best qualified alternate Congressional and military service nominees are offered admission from the West Point waiting list.

My grandmother managed to secure Horhay a first rank nomination. His record at FUMA spoke well enough of him that he was invited to New York to take the tests. My grandmother then scraped together the money to get him a bus ticket from Virginia to New York.

He - missed - the - fucking - bus. One single opportunity that would have altered his life immensely, gone in the blink of an eye. I honestly don't think he ever got over that.

He ended up doing a semester at UCONN, then joined the Air Force. While he was stationed in upstate New York, he reconnected with my mother and her family. When my father was young, his mother took them up to Buffalo every summer, where her father lived. They would rent out half the duplex that my mother's parents owned. Their mothers became very good friends, and all the kids kind of grew up together. My parents started casually dating.

My father got sent overseas, which he loved. He was an incredibly intelligent man. He had been taught Latin, and he became fluent in both German and French. He was also very musical and creative. He could play many instruments, but his talent was the clarinet. He has said that rock-and-roll killed his dream of playing in a jazz band, professionally. Prior to that, he reveled in being part of the Air Force jazz band, and all around DJ and band leader. (He saw Elvis in 1955 at the Amarillo Air Force Base and HATED him!). He told me a story of the military ship leaving the shore of New York, with him spinning records for his fellow recruits, and how happy that made him. He wanted to be so much more than where his life eventually led him.

My son took clarinet for one year. My father was over one day shortly after my son got his instrument, and I asked my father to blow us a few notes. I had never seen him play before - he gave all that up before I was born. I was shocked that he actually agreed, and he played an amazing song for at least 3 minutes. I was unfamiliar with the tune, and asked him what it was. He was free styling - 38 years since he had last picked up that instrument.

I hate to say that I feel for my father, but sometimes I do. It insults my sensibilities 'cause I am such a bitch. However, I feel that he found himself in a situation that he could not get himself out of. I feel that a couple of wrong decisions cost him a lifetime of happiness. I don't think he understood the mental illness awaiting him on the other side of the "I do's". I also don't think he understood his own alcoholic, abusive nature. Or his depression.

When my father got out of the Air Force, he went to Buffalo to help his grandfather run his bicycle shop. His grandfather was grooming him to take over so he could retire. He again reconnected with my mother, and they got married on October 31, 1959. You would think someone would have realized the significance of this date!

My mother should have worn a black dress with orange eye-shadow and practically screamed at the top of her lungs, "We are doomed - run away! All of our children will be demon-spawn!"

And that is how missing one little bus can fuck up your whole life.