Things had not started out to well. Not well at all. My dad had gone into the Army at 17 because otherwise he was surely headed to jail. They lived next door to each other in the city of Detroit in 1957, my mother Joanne, and my father George. They were 18 and 19 respectively.
I have this vision of my mother sitting on the front porch watching the younger of her sisters while he was home on leave in his driveway next door washing his car. He squirts her with the garden hose. She gets off the porch to give him a piece of her mind, because she really could, and he, blue eyed and blond, flashes that million dollar smile. She melts, and the rest is history, sort of.
My mother is number 5 of 9 children, and number 4 of 7 sisters, so anyway she took it, she was the middle child. George was obsessive and Joanne was lost in the middle and needy. What a pair!
My mothers mother Sarah was a good descent human being. When she met her mistake, Joe, she was considering becoming a nun, and then she became pregnant. So in her Catholic world of good and evil, an alcoholic husband, sinners and saints, and seven daughters, she had a tendency to push them out the door to be wed before the bread in the oven began to rise. Truth was, I think they were all virgins on their wedding nights. Her fears were unfounded and those fears created something worse than a baby. Two of those marriages made it to ‘until death do us part’ and one more waits for that. The rest were dreadful and sad and ended in divorces.
So when they walked down the isle they took a right turn to the side alter because my father was not Catholic. While on the same day her older sister and her divorced groom went to the front of the church. Some double wedding eh? What a way to start a marriage. It turns out that my fathers father was Catholic by a Catholics definition and someone from his side of the family could have spoken up and saved them this humiliation.
George was stationed at Fort Riley Kansas. This Army base is in the geographical center of the USA. It is the place they believe the severe flu strains that killed so many soldiers in 1916 through 1918 started and spread all over Europe killing a few million people. Oh joy!
Right after the wedding George whisked Joanne off to Kansas to live on the base in the middle of cornfields as far as the eye could see. That young girl was born and raised in a city of 2 million people and rarely left it. I believe one of the older sisters husbands had a place on Houghton Lake. They occasionally went there but I don’t recall if my mother ever left the state before she went to Kansas.
She hated Kansas. She became pregnant on her wedding night. Home sick, and morning sickness! She was miserable. Then at her 6th week of marriage and pregnancy she had a miscarriage. She called her mother who called her oldest sister and her even older husband and they went to Kansas and took her back home to Detroit.
I believe my father was devastated. He had spent his childhood feeling abandoned by his father and now his wife left him. He already had an alcohol problem by this time for sure. He wanted to be with his wife and he could not follow anyone’s rules. The Army shrinks diagnosed him as a pathological lair. I’m not sure if he really did the following, or if it was done before or after his diagnosis, but he made sure he was discharged and he didn’t care how.
You know the story about how to clean the latrine really well, put a Baby Ruth bar in the toilet bowl and when the Sargent comes in to inspect, reach into the toilet bowl, grab the candy bar, and take a huge bite of it. That will get you thrown out of the military.
So the story is sketchy after this point until about 2 years into the marriage when I was born. While she was pregnant with me he was climbing up the back stairs in the middle of the night, stupid drunk hours after the bars closed. Hotel-motel time. I believe my mother knew for sure at that point that she had made a terrible mistake. I was probably listening to them scream at each other in utero. Thirteen months later another baby for a total of four children in 4-1/2 years. She had sealed her fate. She had a 5th child when I was 13.
So things became louder and crazier as time passed but on Veterans Day I always remember this event; One evening when I was about 7, George who was working at a gas station at the time, had run into 3 of his old Army buddies. He came home from work so excited. He took a shower and cleaned up because the three said they would stop by the house to visit. I remember him telling us kids and my mother about how great these guys were that he had been at Fort Riley with. I also remember feeling how sad and disappointed he was when they never showed up. He drank all of his beers by himself and went to bed.
People blamed George Wettig for many many things, most of which he did, but the Army had given him a chance to save face and because my mother had some serious issues of her own, he gave that up for her, to be with her, and to have the family he always wanted and needed. He was let down on many accounts.
He could have had job training, the GI Bill for education and housing, and something to be proud of. So this is what I think of every Veterans Day. I think of how miserably wrong a persons life can go. I think of the only soldier I really knew then or even now, and how tragic things can get. I don’t excuse him for everything, or anything really, except this.
Happy Veterans Day George Wettig….
(My mother said George was only 17 in the photo)