The Gift That Keeps Giving
This story was published on the “Life as Human” on-line magazine. It is reposted with the the permission of the author, Candace George Thompson.
“Your parents’ names sound familiar to me,” wrote someone named Linda in response to my post on a facebook page for people who have lived on Okinawa. She went on to say, “So I looked in my mother’s address book and there they were – Rex and Bettie George – your parents! Do we know each other?”
“What’s your mother’s name?” I asked.
“Leona Owen – she went by Lee,” Linda revealed.
Hmmm…The name was vaguely familiar to me. I dug out my now-deceased parents’ address book and there it was – Lee Owen of Austin, Texas. I didn’t think I knew Lee or Linda, but I had a nagging suspicion that I was missing a key clue.
I was still pondering all this when Leona’s daughter Linda (now a new fb friend) sent me a scan of a worn and discolored index card from her Mother’s recipe box. It was a recipe for ginger cookies. Instantly I knew this was the clue I was looking for, and that the answer would be in the 3-inch-thick binder of letters my sister Jennifer solicited for our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in 1991. Sure enough, Lee Owen had written a two-page letter that mentioned the ginger cookies she’d first tasted almost 40 years before at our home in Topeka, Kansas.
“Dear Rex & Bettie,
Congratulations! How wonderful it is that you have enjoyed 50 years together. I have always been a bit envious of your close relationship. Some marriages just survive, but yours has been special.
It was a long time ago in Topeka, Kansas that we became acquainted. We enjoyed many dinners together, as I recall.
One of my favorite memories is of eating Candy’s delicious ginger cookies on a cold winter day in the George home. I make those cookies often and always think of you all.”
The anniversary binder of letters that my sister solicited comprises 132 letters and poems from friends and relatives – many with photos (old and new). Other respondents included Congressmen and even President George H.W. and his wife Barbara. How my parents treasured this gift! And so do I.
Jennifer had asked people to “…think back on your relationship with Bettie and Rex. Then write something especially for them – perhaps remembering when you met, a special time shared, a favorite funny incident, what they meant to your life – write a poem, draw a picture, include a photograph, share your heart!” And so they did.
The binder was an invaluable resource for me as I was putting together the story that resulted in a book about my parents’ life adventure, “Still Having Fun, a Portrait of the Military Marriage of Rex and Bettie George, 1941-2007.” Talk about tidbits! The binder is full of them.
A childhood neighbor revealed that – on a bet – Rex once drank five 5oz. nickel bottles of root beer in one sitting. The high school friend who introduced Bettie and Rex sent a picture taken on her mother’s front stoop on Rex and Bettie’s wedding day.
Friends from Army Air Corps Cadet training days wrote a poem and told tales of Bettie and Norma as camp-following wives. I chuckle every time I read that Cleveland-bred Norma had mistaken the mooing of Oklahoma cows for Lake Erie fog horns.
A man who had been a young bachelor officer on Okinawa in 1947 still remembered the home-cooked ham with all the fixings that Mother served when Rex invited him to our 20’ X 60’ Quonset hut for dinner.
The binder is a true treasure trove and was the key for re-connecting with Linda who, we now know, was indeed a childhood acquaintance. The anniversary letters have also been a source of joy for friends of my generation whose parents have since passed on. I’ve been able to return original letters the parents or grandparents wrote. My cousin Rosemary confided that the letter I sent to her is the only handwritten piece she has from her British grandmother, Connie.
So, this year as I list the many things for which I am grateful, the 50th anniversary binder is up near the top of my list. I thank my sister Jennifer for conceiving and carrying out the creation of the binder – now a valuable historic document and a precious family heirloom.
It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.
- 2 cups sifted flour
- 1 tablespoon powdered ginger
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup molasses
- extra granulated sugar
Sift dry ingredients 3 times. Cream sugar and shortening, beat in egg and molasses. Sift dry ingredients over creamed shortening mixture. Blend well. Form teaspoon-sized balls of dough. Roll dough balls in granulated sugar and place 2” apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
All photos by Candace George Thompson – All Rights Reserved
Candace George Thompson
Candace George Thompson is the author of Gold Medal awarded “Still Having Fun, a Portrait of the Military Marriage of Rex and Bettie George, 1941-2007.” The book is a testament to the character and resilience of American military families, a history lesson and an entertaining romance.
Candace is the daughter of a 30-year career Air Force officer whose first mission as a B-24 navigator was on D-Day. She was born in Kentucky, as were both of her parents. Like most service families, hers moved frequently. By the time she started 10th grade, she had changed schools 13 times.
After college graduation with a BA in Spanish Literature, Candace served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela. Her rootless way of life continued upon her return – Vermont, San Francisco, Oregon, New Jersey. She and her husband have now lived in Chicago for over 30 years – eight times longer than any place before. She is happy to have finally found a home.
Her interests include reading, writing, sharing a good meal with friends, laughing, early morning walks, rock ‘n roll, feeding squirrels and collecting penguins. She likes all things Mexico and weird tidbits of information.
Candace’s stories have been published in several anthologies including those of the Puerto Vallarta Writers Group, the Off Campus Writers Workshop and the Military Writers Society of America.
Follow Candace: Facebook