It goes without saying that a child with a divergent life only does so on account of having divergent parents. Adventure, it seems was always part of their blood line. My mother was born to a second-generation German immigrant and the daughter of a Texas pioneer. Her father, who spoke Pennsylvanian German in the home, ran a modest variety store where my Mom and her siblings worked growing up. I can only recall a few stories she told of her childhood; it was normally something she didn’t talk about. What I do know is that she did very well academically. During high school she was selected for an education exchange program and began her world travels at the age of sixteen by studying for a term in northern Germany. She stayed with a German host family, went to a German public school and toured parts of the country on bicycle. This experience whetted her appetite to know even more about world cultures and languages. Returning home to the United States, Mom graduated from high school and dreamed of going to college, knowing that she could not afford to. However, her family attended church regularly and her mother believed in the power of prayer, so they started praying. God’s answer came in the form of a letter from the University of California waiting for her one day after school. She ecstatically opened the letter and read that she had been accepted into the University and granted a large scholarship. This was a dream come true, but it was also confusing for she had never applied to that campus before. Still, the opportunity was too good to pass up. She drove from her Southern California home up to the admissions office and presented the letter she had received to the clerk. “I am here to accept my scholarship,” she stated. The clerk asked her to wait for a moment while she went to get her file. A short time later the clerk returned confused and stated: “I’m sorry, it appears that we do not have your application.” Responding quickly, my mother replied, “if you have one available I could fill it out now.” She was handed the application, sat down in the lobby, and filled it out then and there. The clerk accepted her application and an admissions packet arrived in the mail several weeks later. Come the Fall, my mother began attending the University of California Santa Barbra, knowing full well the miracle that God had provided her.
With a love of linguistics, Mom chose to major in English and did very well in her studies. Her senior year, she had the honor to be elected the Mortar Board president. The Mortar Board was an all female honor society whose purpose was to recognize outstanding students “dedicated to the values of scholarship, leadership and service.” She was excited about the opportunity and looking forward to the year ahead. Soon after, however, she was stopped in a hallway by a man she did not know who suggested she apply for the University of California (UC) education abroad program. She had not thought about this opportunity before. Mom asked the Lord to guide her; should she spend a year studying abroad or serve the University through Mortar Board? It was a difficult choice, but her love of cross cultural experiences led her to apply for the education abroad program and she was accepted a short time later. That fall, she attended St. Andrews University in Scotland. My mother has a great many memories of her time in Scotland. I remember her telling us stories about her British and international friends, her studies in Anglo-Saxon language and literature and of the blackout curtains they used to sleep through the long daylight hours of late summer. Despite coming from a humble family, without resources, her hard work, God’s providence, and her interest in traveling had already taken her to Europe, twice.
My father also had humble beginnings; his father had been raised motherless by his father while his mother had been raised on a turkey farm. He grew up playing in the fields of the Oregon countryside, the oldest of five children. His family attended church regularly, and Dad attended catechism classes in the Lutheran church they attended. During his junior high school years, the family moved to Idaho where his father was working on a process to turn the legendary Idaho potato into French fries. In 1968, his father was issued a patent for the process in which “potato slices were steam-blanched, air-dried, parfried, and then frozen” to make McDonald’s French fries the uniform product we know today. His father had become the “Father of the McDonalds French Fry” and a short time later, moved the family to Chicago to work at McDonald’s headquarters. During his high school years, my Dad developed a love for astronomy and he and his father would drive down to the Alder Planetarium and take classes together. He also loved to play his trombone and played it in the high school orchestra. His senior year of high school, Dad was elected Student Body President and everything seemed to be coming together when suddenly his father announced they were moving to California. Dad was stunned. How could God be working out His plans for his life when it seemed to be so contrary to Dad’s hopes and dreams?
After moving to California, Dad graduated from high school and continued his quest to be an astronomer by attending college at UCLA. There, he took up an interest in fencing, playing in the orchestra and participating in Campus Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity, where he spent time with other Christians and read many books about the Christian faith. His studies however, were not going according to plan. His physics professor was so boring that in desperation Dad changed his to math, whose professor was vastly more interesting. In his sophomore year of college Dad applied to the UC Education Abroad program and was accepted for a year at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. It was during the UC Education Abroad orientation in London that my parents first met. The day before she went to Scotland and he went to Ireland, he helped carry her luggage to the train station. They shared a few postcards during their studies, but were nothing more than acquaintances. At Christmas Dad learned to ski in Switzerland and travelled to Austria where a family member was serving at the American Embassy. In the spring, Dad joined the British Union of Students on a trip to Russia, where he practiced his Russian language skills. Come the summer, Dad bought a touring bike and spent several weeks biking around the British Isles with his best friend from UCLA, staying in youth hostels during his travels. Dad had become a well seasoned, adventure loving traveler! Wrapping up his European adventures, Dad headed to the airport and his flight home. Whom should he meet in the boarding area but the same girl that he assisted to the train station in London after orientation. One random event followed another, and in Iceland where the plane had stopped to refuel, they swapped seats and shared stories for the remainder of their flight home from Europe. Dad spent his summer as part of a Hot Shot crew fighting forest and brush fires throughout Southern California and began dating Mom in-between fires. Sometimes he would arrive at her place for a meal only to be called back to work. By his senior year at UCLA their friendship had grown.
Unexpectedly, Dad received a letter that would change the course of his life: a notification for the draft. The Vietnam War was raging and Dad found that his draft number was low and it was likely that he was going to be drafted into the Vietnam War before he could finish his studies. In response, my father decided to enlist in the Navy. Doing this meant that his service could be postponed until after his graduation from University and he would be able to join the Navy as an officer. Besides, his father had served aboard submarines during WWII and Dad wrote that he wanted to follow in his fathers’ footsteps and join “the silent service”. His enlistment request was accepted and he was to report for Naval Officer Candidate School in September after graduation.
My Mother graduated from UCSB in the winter and began working with a linguistics research laboratory on the first generation of voice recognition software. The technology was basic, but Mom loved using her language skills. It was during this time – the last semester of Dad’s university and first months after Mom’s graduation that they began dating seriously. But it seemed that they were on divergent paths. Dad was heading into the Navy and Mom was slated to begin working on her PhD in linguistics. They were great friends, but were not ready to make the leap into marriage yet. So after graduating with honors from UCLA and spending the summer on a tanker crew fighting fires, Dad left for his Navy training. It was several months later, after earning his rank of Ensign that Dad decided to take the plunge and invited Mom to accompany him as he moved from Rhode Island down to his next duty station in Georgia. She obliged and it was during this trip that they decided that they had found the person they wanted to be with for the rest of their lives. Dad proposed, she accepted, and a wedding date was set for several months later. But there was a problem. The enormous cost of long distance telephone calls was taking its toll and they hastily decided to move up the wedding date. “It was cheaper to get married than to pay the phone bill” Dad said, laughing. So one weekend, Dad flew to Southern California for the ceremony and the night of the wedding, Mom and Dad flew back to Georgia as man and wife together. Mom left most of her belongings behind with family, only taking a suitcase and her pet parakeet, who sat in a cage under her seat during the fight.
Reflecting on those years, Mom commented that the start of their marriage and life together was precipitated by both of them letting go of their individual hopes and dreams (whether by choice or circumstance), in lieu of building a single dream together.
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