finding good in bad

Funerals—especially ones that involve flying across the country and back in a span of less than 72 hours—aren’t usually much fun. My grandfather’s was no exception. There were tears and formalities. Grandpa Joe was a Korean War vet. A United States flag laying atop his casket was folded and handed to my nana. She was sobbing.

I was crying, too.

A bugler played Taps. Outside, it began to pour.

So it goes.

But good things can come out of not-so-fun situations, too. Like the tales of Grandpa Joe’s lighter side that we heard from some of his tow-truck buddies after the service. Also, the letters I discovered later that night at my nana’s house. Apparently, my grandpa was quite the jokester.

Take, for example, the way he addressed this birthday card to my nana:


To: Mrs. Doris L. Wilson
Any place she is at
On her day


From: The one that loves her
But don’t understand her
And lives at the same place
Where the card came from

There was a Fathers’ Day card, too, from my nana to my Grandpa Joe. In it, she had scratched out text and replaced it with some of her own:

For my Hubby

A Fathers’ Day note about the finer things of life:

I can do without sports cars cranes

and fancy clothes tow trucks,

original sculptures tow motors,

and opening-night shows drivers’ dispatchers,

I don’t need ritzy clubs flat trucks,

antiques pickups,

mansions junk cars,

or yachts affidavits.

There’s just one thing I need, and I need lots of it—

You (and your love!)

Happy Father’s Day,


It’s not surprising, honestly, that such silliness could come from or be married to a face like this:

Grandpa Joe

Grandpa Joe in the 8th grade

It was also good to see Grandpa Joe’s old stomping grounds.


The old tow yard.


Shed where Grandpa Joe used to like to play tricks.

photo 4

Tow yard with scrap cars.


One of Grandpa Joe’s trucks.

And to see pictures like this one of my grandpa in action:


Grandpa Joe working on his crane.

So, you see, good things can come from bad situations. It all depends on what you’re looking for and how you’re looking for it. Will you focus on the negative, or will you seek the possible good angles of rotten situations, too? Grandpa Joe may never come back, but his memory will live on with those who loved him for forever.

We love you, Grandpa Joe!

P.S. A big thank you to my brother, Derek, for playing photographer with his iPhone for me on this trip. I forgot my camera!

For an interesting history lesson on the origin of Taps, check out this video. Pretty cool!

freelance fun

A few weeks ago, I contacted the editor of my local newspaper and asked about freelance opportunities. Veterans Day was coming up; I pitched him this article.

This was published on the FRONT page of today’s paper.

•          •          •

Herb Norton during our interview

Vet served in both Army and Air Force

There are some aspects of the Korean War that Herbert Norton, 84, a retired Air Force technical sergeant who lives in Placerville, remembers as worse than others.

“In mid-April, 1952, we were shipped to Korea. Twelve days on a ship — now that was miserable,” said Norton. “For the first few days I didn’t care if I lived or died. I was terribly seasick.”

Living quarters on the ship were tight — men slept in cots bunked four high, with only 18 inches between beds — and they weren’t much better when they landed in Korea, either.

“We stayed in tents with dirt floors,” said Norton. “And the food was terrible. All powdered stuff. I don’t think I ever saw a real egg.”

At that time, Norton was part of the 747 amphibious tank and tractor battalion in the Army. His primary job was to haul petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) from the military supply point to the 8063rd mobile army surgical hospital (MASH), just south of the battle lines.

“It was tough work, but when I went into the service, I told myself I would do whatever was requested to the best of my ability,” said Norton.

Following the Korean War, in Jan. 1953, Norton went on inactive reserve. But his service to his country wasn’t over. In Aug. 1958 he reenlisted in the Air Force and went to Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Ill., where he learned about aircraft maintenance and became an assistant crew chief, technical sergeant. Later, he helped train other crew members at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, and then spent six months on a temporary duty assignment (TYD) at Mildenhall air base in the United Kingdom.

“We worked on aircrafts that had four engines or more, including B47s and B52s,” said Norton. “It was a real kick.”

Air Force Days

In 1961, as U.S. involvement in Vietnam was beginning to escalate, Norton was transferred to an aircraft repair and reclamation shop at Zaragoza air base in Zaragoza, Spain. It was here that he met his future wife, Maria, through a friend.
“I spoke very little Spanish, and Maria knew almost no English, but language is no barrier in communicating matters of the heart,” said Norton, with a wink.

When he wasn’t “picking up planes when they crashed and putting them back together” at the shop, Norton spent his time with Maria driving through the Spanish countryside. The couple was married on Dec. 30, 1964 in Seville and will be celebrating their 48th anniversary this year.

After their marriage, Norton and his wife were transferred to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Piedmont, S.D. His daughter Carol was born in 1966, and that same year and in 1968 he took 6-month TYDs at Anderson air base in Gaum. This was more difficult than he had expected.

“The shifts in Guam were 12 on, 12 off, seven days a week, and the separation from family was hard on all of us,” said Norton. “We didn’t have cell phones and Internet or even videos back then. Instead, we sent letters and cassettes.”

After returning from Guam for the second time, Norton was assigned at Mildenhall air base in the U.K. from 1972 to 1975, and in 1976 he retired from the Air Force and settled his family in Rapid City, S.D. He and Maria moved to Placerville to be near their daughter in 2006.

When asked how he feels about Veterans Day, Norton is quick to respond.

“Veterans don’t get near enough recognition these days. Any time the government needs extra money, we’re the ones that get cut,” said Norton. “If we’re going to fight, we should fight to win. But for God’s sake, have the money to fund it.”

He also feels all U.S. citizens have an obligation to be good representatives of their country.

“Everywhere I went I tried to be the best ambassador that I could,” he said. “I treated people in other countries as equals and didn’t look down on them . . . You should always be proud of what you do, and if you see anything that needs to be done, do it, and do it to the best of your ability. Don’t wait to be asked.

To see the article on the newspaper’s Web site, click here.

•          •          •

Thanks for waiting! Next up, lessons from kids, dogs, Asia, and cooking. And anything else I come up with in between. : )