Lawrence Alvin Weber died in his sleep October 3, 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. He was 91 years old and a long way from home. But he didn’t know it.
He was born May 30, 1925 in Luther, Oklahoma to Lawrence Leland and Emma Mae Jarvis Weber. He was the second of four children, the only son in this farming family, surrounded by a thriving rural community of 613 according to the 1930 census. And of those, a good many were members of his extended family.
So much of his life’s focus must have come from his beginnings. He was a child during the Great Depression and Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl years. Being a child and busy with school and sports and his family and friends these hard times probably weren’t as much a concern for him as they were for the adults. Because his family farmed, they had food to eat. As long as the weather cooperated and their crops came in. But the national sense of unease, of not knowing where the next meal was coming from, must have filtered down to the children.
He would always be concerned about people having enough to eat. All his life, even when he lived in town, he grew a big garden and produced enough food to can or fill his own freezer and the extra he gave away. You couldn’t visit Momma and Daddy in the summertime without going home with fresh vegetables. After he retired, he volunteered at the Edmond Hope Center where he worked in the Food Room.
On the heels of The Depression and the Dust Bowl came World War II. In October 1943, his senior year in high school, he enlisted in the Navy. The Seabees, the Construction Battalions.
I asked him why the Navy. I knew he couldn’t swim. In fact he never was comfortable swimming even after he learned. He said it was because they were required to provide better food than any of the other services. Plus he liked heavy equipment and they would teach him to use it.
The Navy took him out of the small rural town where he knew everyone and sent him off to Rhode Island where he knew no one. In those days joining the Navy was “for the duration.” And nobody knew how long that duration would last or what the world would look like when the duration was over. The Allies were not necessarily odds-on favorites in the war against Hitler’s Germany. And the survival of any individual member of the armed services was far from guaranteed.
From Rhode Island, which must have felt very foreign compared to Oklahoma, Daddy was sent across the country by train to California.
That was the first time he’d been to Colorado. The trains were still steam locomotives. And they were routed north from Denver into Wyoming then west through the South Pass because the Rockies were too high in Colorado for the trains to pull.
From California, he was shipped out to the Solomon Islands. On April 1st 1945, the 82-day battle for the control of Okinawa started. Daddy was there. In all, the 10th Army had 182,821 men under its command including over 88,000 Marines and 18,000 Navy personnel (mostly Seabees and medical personnel.) Nearly 250,000 people died during that battle. 14,009 American soldiers. More than 149,000 of the island's 300,000 civilians, and more than 77,000 Japanese Soldiers.
His 20th birthday fell two-thirds of the way through that battle, in the midst of such death and destruction.
The only thing, really, that he ever talked about Okinawa was when they were hit by a cyclone. That must have been the one thing like home to a young man from Oklahoma.
When I wanted us to go to Mexico one vacation when we were on the South Texas gulf coast, Daddy said he'd promised himself when he was in the Navy that if he ever got back to the United States, he was never leaving it again. And he didn't.
It’s always frustrated me that he never seemed to feel that the apocalypse was at hand, like I did. Not during the Cold War when the magazines were filled with bomb shelter blue prints and the nation was stock piling water and dried food in public bomb shelters. Not during the most violent days of the Civil Rights Movement when American cities were burning. Not during the war and anti-war days of Vietnam.
I didn’t know that maybe it was because he lived most of his childhood in a world on the verge of disaster. And came of age in the midst of incomprehensible death and destruction.
I don’t think he’d have been too worried about this year’s election cycle even if he’d have understood what was happening.
I did appreciate that when we would move to a new house, if it didn’t have a storm shelter, he had one built and always one that was big enough to accommodate our family and any in the neighborhood who needed a safe place to come.
He grew food and provided safe shelter.
I think the thing I most admire about my Daddy was the way he took care of my mother. During her last years she developed dementia. To the point that toward the end she didn’t know any of us – even Daddy. She’d see him coming up from the barn and she’d ask “Who is that man?” But when he spoke she knew him. She always recognized his voice.
My Daddy concentrated on what needed to be done and did what he could. With grace and good humor.
He enjoyed babies – any kind of babies – calves, puppies, chickens, goats, grandkids and great-grands.
He liked to play. Cards with Momma and friends – the women against the men. Work-up softball in the yard after work with my brother and me and all the kids in the neighborhood. Or a pick-up basketball game at family get-togethers. He put up a basket down by the barn after he retired to his acreage in Logan County. That was so Momma and the grandkids could play HORSE.
And he cooked. And he ate. He was the best person to cook for because he liked everything. And he always appreciated good food.
When my brother and I were growing up, Daddy’d take us either to the Texas Gulf Coast or Colorado for formal vacation. When we moved to Colorado after Mother died Daddy would always comment that he never thought he’d ever live somewhere as beautiful as Colorado.
Oklahoma was always “home,” but his home in Colorado always looked “just like a picture.” And he felt at home there.