Looking For Me, Finding Us - Chapter One
We all share a commonality. We all are seekers from the time we are born into this world and we are sought after in someway or form. We seek to find who we were born to be. It is in our seeking we often develop our passions. It is the appetite of our passions that sometimes leads us into an abyss. This seeking after becomes a balancing act of knowing when to be satisfied and becoming obsessed. While we may be wholly absorbed with our searching, others are seeking after us. We are sought by: lovers; friends; businesses; politicians; and even our own inner demons. We are players on both sides. It can come become a vicious circle if we let it.
I did not set out seeking someone: a stranger to become an acquaintance; to become a friend; to become a confidant; to become a lover; to become a partner; to become my life. In our searching for one thing, we sometimes find the unexpected. I now know I was only searching for completeness but in what form I hadn't yet decided. Bill was no different. He spent most of his life searching, settling, searching and then settling again.
We didn't know when we were meant to stop searching and settle. Thats' what we thought would happen. Settling. That was the demon we faced. The grass was always greener and we however were never any happier. Settling didn't bring happiness or satisfaction.
Bill's story had it's roots in Canada. His parents were both of Canadian descent. The Keneenwa Peninsula in upper Michigan was known for its' copper and iron deposits. With the promise of a prosperous life, families and men flocked to this beautiful but harsh region from Canada and the lower United States. The Beaudoin and LaFleche families left Canada seeking a better life. They moved from Canada seeking a prosperous life and then would move on with the collapse of the mining industry. Much of the area was abandoned and what remained, throughout the area, were small settlements that resembled ghost towns. Bill was born in 1920, two years after his infant brother Paul died in the great flu epidemic of 1918. His family consisted of his grandfather, mother, and father. They lived on the Keneenwa Peninsula in upper Michigan, forty miles from the end or beginning (respective of your direction) of US41. They lived in the house his father built and which his grandfather funded, located on the edge of Torch Lake and one block south of US41. This peninsula jutted out into the cold unforgiving waters of Lake Superior. His mother came from a large family of French descent. In fact, French was the only language his grandfather spoke. His father's family, also of French descent, lived in Canada. Bill would remember very little of his father's side of the family. After his father died, his mother would only make one trip with Bill to visit his father's relatives. He lost all connections with this side of his family. He was surrounded with his mother's side of the family. This side of his family would often provide more frustration than love or kindness. His thirteen uncles and aunts would provide relentless teasing, which lasted well into his adult years.
His father worked at the Tamarack copper stamping plant. This area known for its copper, thrived up until the Great Depression. Mining, as it was performed for over 50 years, would never recover in this area. The mining of copper would change to reclamation from Torch Lake well after World War II. Families and men who had flocked to this beautiful but harsh region from Canada and the lower United States seeking a prosperous life would move on with the collapse of the mining industry. Much of the area was abandoned and what remained, throughout the area, were small settlements that resembled ghost towns. Bill planned on doing the same, as soon as he was able. He wanted to shake the dust of Keneenwa Peninsula from his shoes. Very soon after graduation from high school, Bill left Michigan and settled in Chicago, Illinois. He would work and live on the south side of Chicago, until the WWII broke out.
At the age of seven he lost his father to pneumonia. His father was the tender and attentive parent. This was the beginning of his search for the needed comfort and security his father had provided him. This search for comfort and security became to feel like an impossibility that would last for the next four decades. He faced the never ending teasing and the harshness of his mother's brothers and sisters. His mother, who was now the sole provider for the household, would have less time and more worries than before. Then, in two years the depression would bring their family even less comfort and security. Uncertainty was becoming a permanent part of the life of this small fragile boy. Insurance money invested in the stock market in hopes of providing a cushion of financial security was lost with the collapse of the stock market. As the resources of financial security dried up, searching for the basic necessities became a major focus for everyone.
Everyone’s role changed with the depression. Mothers and fathers would no longer be the sole providers for families. Young boys would be counted on to become providers. Bill would spend his boyhood into his young adulthood searching for the necessities to survive for himself and his mother. He would search the wooded areas for berries and other fruits in the short summer months and hunt for animals to provide meat for their meals in the long winter months. His mother was able to provide meager meals. They wasted nothing. Table scraps became a stew for the next day. His search for safety and security became a complication to achieving his physical and social needs. This area now short on jobs had an over abundance of harsh weather. The winters were long and bitter. There was never a shortage of snow and cold. Even more limiting was the financial resources needed to supply warmth for a long harsh winter in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Bill would walk the railroad tracks picking up coal that had slipped from the train cars as it rumbled down the tracks or spend costless hours collecting and chopping wood in preparation for the long cold winters. Then in the mid thirties, as a result of Roosevelt's New Deal, WPA brought an opportunity to earn a very meager income. The program provided Bill and others work. Bill worked as a lumberjack while he was still in school. Most of us, prior to the downward turn in our economy, could not comprehend a life of searching just for basic need of warmth.
As a school boy, Bill developed a passion for history and social studies. He would seek out opportunities to expound on the arising situations in Europe and how the United States would be sought out for their military power. This would cause him problems in high school as he would often be sent to the principals office for voicing concerns that his teachers found disturbing. As it turned out, his belief that most of the boys in his class would serve in war did occur. Now, those seekers of the decade before were now being sought by their Uncle Sam. Men and woman were now searching for a place of belonging. Where did they belong in a world that soon would be consumed with war? They would belong to a cause. They became seekers of security, adventure, and freedom.
Bill's cause became the Army Air Corps. He sought his dream of flying and enlisted. If he was unsure in his young life about where he belonged, he found sense of belonging in flight school. He no longer had to seek his need for basic nourishment. He had three squares a day, as he called them, and pocket change. He also had something he lacked growing up, a sense of family. He now had a family of brothers, however, he was still lacking a need of belonging to someone special. At age seven, he lost his important someone and never found a replacement. His uncles did not supply the need of a father figure he sought. His mother kept herself at a distance emotionally from Bill. While Bill was still in high school she suffered from breast cancer and had a mastectomy. She did not allow Bill to offer his support during this difficult time she faced. He only learned of her condition and decision the day she would go to the hospital. She also had the responsibility of caring for her aging father. Her devotion to her father over powered and consumed her. He felt no maternal commitment, and was prevented from offering loving care. He was still searching to fulfill his need to find a relationship that offered a one on one mutual caring and commitment.
He was in training while the war was raging in Europe and the Pacific. Military men still stateside found an overabundance of available women and he took his full advantage. Women were seeking to collect silver wings and he was willing to supply their collection. He did however substitute the cheaper PX brand for his coveted silver wings. There was still the void of having just one person special. Before receiving his deployment orders, he sought a sense of security, a reason to return, a wife. This rush into a relationships or marriage was a part of the urgency, the turmoil, and the fear that war created for many. He hastily married a girl from the Upper Peninsula and was immediately ordered to San Francisco. He was being deployed to the Pacific Theater. He now belonged to a cause, a wife, and a band of brothers known as The Flying Circus. The 380th bomb group was nick named The Flying Circus by the commanding officer, a flying circus in the air and a sideshow in every tent.
We all have the need to seek survival. Faced with a myriad of possibilities for disaster and even death Bill sought physical rest and inner peace. Sometimes the peace came in the form of distractions. Alcohol, women, gambling, and solitude became the crutch he would rely on. A dire need for companionship would override the promises men and women made to loved ones at home. Bill, was no different. He sought his needs in this place the war had sent him. Bill became involved with a nurse, one that he would remember long after the war. Neither one of them remained in contact after the war. They each sought to return their pre-war lives.
Rest was elusive. Along with his crew, he was reminded daily of the perils they all faced. When rotation for their next mission was at hand there was a nervousness that they could not ignore. They would also suffer from survivor’s guilt if they returned from missions that had heavy casualties. They would be the surviving victims. He witnessed flight leaders being shot down, newly assigned pilots and crews being killed as they missed on take off or landing, experienced crews lost over the ocean because fuel was miscalculated or flight time extended beyond the plan. The unit would supply alcohol with every debriefing following their long missions. Alcohol, the crutch the military used to relax flight crews also became a crutch for just surviving the disasters they witnessed daily. Adding to the strife, even all the brain washing in the world could not erase the destruction caused to enemy civilians. He learned to bury any guilt that remained with alcohol.
Their only enemy was not the Japanese. They faced unfamiliar harsh weather conditions, diseases of the jungle, unpleasant news from home or no news at all. Sometimes, they became their own worst enemy. Even the isolation he sought would become his enemy. He was heading for the abyss that would give him years of pain and suffering. He was seeking relief in any form. The forms of distraction he sought would form a pattern that would continue well into his civilian life after he was sent home from the war. His need for relief from the disasters of the war would force him at first to seek distraction with solitude and alcohol in his civilian life.
He came back different. Those he had left behind could never understand what he shared with others while he was away. Service men and women can look into a comrade's (past and present) eyes with understanding and appreciation beyond our glimmer of understanding. Complete strangers who served in combat would be more of a source for understanding and appreciation than his own family. He no longer had an identity away from combat and war. Mixed with the guilt that comes with survival there was pride in his military accomplishment. He needed and sought his well earned recognition. It did not happen with his family, not a glimmer of understanding.
The war was over, it was what it was and now the future needed to be attended to. Everyone’s life had been put on hold and now it was time to seek a future leaving the war behind. A career needed to be established, a home settled into, and a family started. His uniform no longer identified his persona. He was captivated with that character and did not want to give it up. He was seeking an adventure without the perils of war. Alcohol would give him courage to face the demons of war and flirtations would give him the importance his uniform once provided.
Armed with good looks and a fun loving personality he sought understanding. An ulcer would force him to control his drinking while his flirtations gave him the signifiance he desperately needed. During this time he and his wife bought a home South of Chicago in Calumet City, Illinois and he returned to work in the steel mill on the south side of Chicago. After suffering an accident in the mill he sought employment in a less dangerous atmosphere. An Air Force buddy offered him a job in retail in downtown Chicago. The commute provided him the opportunities to pursue his so far innocent flirations.
They settled into the suburban life and started a family. He would come to find solace in his children. He could be the comfort and security his children would need. He sought to be the loving father he had lost. He needed the bond of a long term relationship that parenthood would provide. While he nurtured his children with fatherly love, his marriage did not provide the nurturing he needed. His flirtations would become the distraction he now sought from his marriage. He needed relief from the disappointments of another relationship. This would become his pattern, searching followed by disappointment, hiding one brief relationship after another and never achieving a comfort zone of who he was born to be. Driven to find security, he would continue his quest for that elusive something. Or, was it just adventure he wanted? He was in need of an identity. He wanted acceptance. He wanted to belong. He desired love. He was willing to accept short term. He had learned nothing lasted forever. His search was unending. He became convinced, he was born to be a seeker.
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