Monday, September 16, 2013

Stories of Dad

Last week on September 7, 2013, my Dad Leonard Earl Detwiler passed away unexpectedly at  the way too young age of 71. I wanted to honor him by telling stories and reading other peoples' memories of him, and it has really helped to read and to look at the pictures this week that friends and family have sent. Thank you to everyone who took the time to write and send pictures; there are some that are really hilarious but all of them are wonderful memories.

When we were growing up, we had quite a few station wagons. This particular time, we had a HUGE green station wagon that has since burned to the ground! Well, we used to all go to the woods in Heidelberg and go sledding on Christmas Eve morning. One day we went up the mountain in this station wagon and it did pretty well in the Snow. We spent a couple of hours sledding and walking in the woods. It was a beautiful day! When we returned to the car, it had slid down the road from its original parking space and just stopped along the side of the road. I remember that, in his paranoia, Len blamed it on the Germans. He said someone must have driven by and given it a shove down the road. Most likely, it just didn't have snow tires and slid on its own. 

One really annoying thing he used to do was, when he was an umpire for any type of sport, especially softball or baseball, he would just randomly walk into the infield in between innings and stare into the sky as if he was looking at something. It would get all the spectators and players looking up into the sky at nothing. He wasn't looking at anything in particular; he was just trying to see how many people he could get to look up with him, I guess.

I remember when mom and Len first married and we lived in Sharpe Army Depot in Stockton, CA. I used to tell Len to stop growing so I could marry him when I grew up. I was about 7 then and I told him that if he slept with books at the end of his feet that the books would keep him from growing any taller. I guess we didn't have to worry about that! I remember mostly that he was always there at everything we did, either as a spectator or a referee. We used to officiate volleyball games together.  He also used to tell me that if I ever stopped talking, my tongue would beat my brains out.  I guess I talked a lot. . . . . .When I think about these memories, I think about how much grief I gave him during my teen years. I hope that eventually he only remembered the good things.

Hi Julia, I do recall a few funny things that I remember about life with Len:
  1. His bright purple pickup truck with a stuffed Barney on the dashboard.  (Remember that annoying purple dinosaur?)
  2. In Utah, we went to the commissary at Hill AFB and Len was wearing bright pink shorts (I thought they belonged to Pam)
  3. In Canton, he used to have a piece of crap work truck that had rust holes in the floor and you could see the road.  The radio didn't work.  The windshield wipers didn't work.  The chassis was rusted so much that the truck bed collapsed forward and was pinched against the truck cab.  The windshield was cracked.  The tires were bald.  The brakes were bad. He was later given a ticket for an unsafe vehicle and he took the truck to the junk yard.
  4. He used to come home from the steel mill in the winter time and the driveway would be icy.  He would run that junky truck up the driveway for 20 minutes trying to get it to the garage.  I would hear those tires spin and spin and spin and think "when is he just gonna park on the street?"  But we know Len, and he would never give up until he got the truck in the garage and he would storm into the house madder than a hornet.....:-)
  5. He was trying to install  a shower insert one Saturday morning and I awoke to the gentle sounds of his fussing......I walked into the bathroom where he was working and he had cut no less than 9 holes in the shower panel (he needed 3 holes).  The new panel insert was ruined and after he calmed down, he realized he would need to call a friend and have them install a new shower insert.
  6. We would spend time watching football and he would complain about every play.  Apparently his referee days never left him.
  7. He had a love for animals.  In Utah, he stopped one time to rescue a baby kitten that, in his words; "was being attacked by a bird".    
Serious memories of Len
  1. He had a desire to accomplish.  He gave 110 percent in everything he did.
  2. He enjoyed helping others.  Look around.  He has helped us all in many, many ways.
  3. He had a sincere love of family.  He loved the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. (No names please.....:-))
  4. He loved the outdoors.  We were headed to work one morning in Utah and the sun was rising on the mountains nearby and they had a bit of snow on them.  He looked over and said "I never get tired of looking at those mountains.  They are beautiful".  He was content and I knew the Chief really enjoyed his time in Utah.
  5. He was the most avid reader I ever met.  He would spend hours reading and would read through books in a day or two.
  6. My most precious memories were when we would spend time at the kitchen table just talking.  He would have a cup of coffee and we would talk about everything under the sun.  He had phenomenal intelligence and a photographic memory.     

One thing I keep hearing in my head, which makes me laugh about Len and which I will always remember: Whenever someone asked him how he was doing he always responded with "Fair to Midlen". Well, I have to believe he is somewhere now having a "Fair to Midlen Day".


When Mom, Gert and I visited your family in Germany we had the best time.  Len was so happy to show us around- travelling to France, Luxemburg and all of Germany.  We stopped for a wine and cheese lunch next to a mountain stream (one of the pictures), had many a beer (at the time they had a beer dispenser like a pop machine at a military hotel that we stayed at).  We trekked up to Neuschwanstein Castle which was awesome and stopped at a hunting lodge/restaurant.  We totally enjoyed his knowledge of the German language and customs.  We were often mistaken for German citizens as tourists would come up to us to ask questions!  We walked a trail in a park and Len read all of the identifying signs for us.You were so cute and your mom, Gaby, was very hospitable to us treating us to a European breakfast.  Your grandparents prepared a dinner for us which included white asparagus.   We shopped til we dropped with your Mom- she knew the best of everything.  We also enjoyed time with John and Sandy. When we were relaxing at your home Len loved to throw in the video of "Airplane".  He could recite the dialogue almost word for word.  We loved his sense of humor!  He was a master at card games and we would still owe him if we had been playing for money as he was that good!

When Len was 4 years old we lived next to a car repair garage owned by Stan Freeman.  Len was wearing a pair of shoes that he called patent leather.  He told Stan that they were leather on top and "my feet were pattin' on the bottom!"  What a hoot he was from early on!

Julia as you know your dad and I were very close friends in Germany and remained close friends as the years rolled by with distance between us. We did a lot of things together in Germany and other European Countries, here is one of my favorites. In the mid-80's your dad and I were attending a military function for some British Officers at a British Officers Club near Monchengladbach, Germany. Len and I were having a beer at the bar and Len got everyone's attention at the bar and said he wanted to propose a toast to the Queen. A lot of cheers arose from those sitting at the bar and Len said loudly with his glass raised high "I propose a toast to Her Majesty The Queen--may God SHAVE the Queen". Some small applause was heard and one of the senior British Officers walked up to Len and politely said "excuse me, it's supposed to be God save the Queen", Len replied to the guy "really, have you seen her lately"? So ended the conversation and the guy just walked away. At the time I was 6 ft tall, 190 lbs and in excellent shape plus I used to coach boxing in the Army and Len knew I had his back. Len just looked at me and smiled that special Len smile and I laughed the rest of the evening. Now some 30 years later I still smile about how smoothly he handled that and how funny it really was in that total British environment. Every moment with him was another moment of a happy life and I cherish those special memories
I’m sure we all remember his 70th birthday as the card went around the world.  We all know it was almost impossible to hide anything from him, especially when a band was setting up in the front yard.  But somehow we managed to pull it off and surprise him.  When he realized that we had all signed the card he cried tears of joy.  I think he knew at that moment just how much we all loved him.  Not saying he didn’t know before but we all need a little confirmation every now and then.  I have attached pictures from that day.

Then there was the summer of 2005 (I believe that’s what year it was) when everybody was here with their families.  Whew, mom was a nervous wreck and so worried about how Len would handle it, but as always he pulled through the madness and was the strong one.  He talked about that summer many many times over the years.
The time we had to hide it from him that we were going to Houston to pick up Julia.  I will never forget his reaction when she walked through the door.  I believe his words were, "What the hell are you doing here!"   He always had a way with words. 
I will never ever forget the time Larry came, and I didn’t even say hello to him before he jumped all over my ass about the bathing suits that had been on the back of the bathroom door for 3 years!  I guess 3 years was long enough.  Of course I got my feelings hurt and got over it.
Me and mom were talking yesterday about the first time he ever whipped Emma.  He swatted her with a rolled up newspaper (you know, like you would whip the dog) on her diaper and she screamed like he beat her.  I think it hurt his feelings more than it hurt hers. 
The love he had for not only Emma and Sarah, but for all of his children and grandchildren was amazing.  I know he didn’t say it often, but we all knew it.  I’m sure we have all heard this a few times…make your own path in life.  So many things he said; he would tell Emma all the time even a fish wouldn’t get caught if he kept his mouth shut.  Be a leader, do your best, be caring, and so much more.  I think he told them every day how proud he was of them.  I know he felt that way about all of us. 
Last year there were some boys on the bus picking on the girls.  I remember the girls telling them they would tell their mom and they said they aren’t worried about their mom.  I told them not to worry because paw paw would handle it.That’s one thing we all know….you didn’t mess with his family.
Anytime he would talk about any of you he would say, "I did good" or "I did something right". 


This is a pretty familiar story if you know me and you know Len.  As everyone knows, Len was in the Army for a pretty large part of his life.  Judging from all his tales and memories of the military life he was very fond of that time.  I guess it inspired me to join when I became of age.  When we moved to Louisiana our family became neighbors and friends of an F.B.I. Agent.  I decided that particular career was exotic and intriguing.  Len would often recount stories of  the intelligence aspect of the armed forces and of being a member of certain aspects of the government. So that was my plan, join the military and serve in the intelligence field and when I get out I would be able to apply to the F.B.I.  I am pretty sure that Len was excited at that and he would be proud.  I joined the army while I was still in high school and set my course to action.  I scored almost perfect on my ASVAB test and was told I could choose any job in the Army by my recruiter. So, I did just that. I made my way down to the MEPS station in New Orleans, La. and signed up. After what felt like an eternity of arguing with the recruiter who placed you in an MOS (he desperately wanted me to join the infantry) a spot "opened up" in the intelligence school and I was granted the opportunity to start on my path.  Graduation came and went and the start of my basic training had arrived.  I sold all my stuff, turned off my cell phone, canceled my insurance, etc. and arrived in New Orleans where I would depart for basic. I went through screening process again and found myself in a small room with large angry man who was an F.B.I. Agent. He was to pass me on my security clearance.  I filled out a long and arduous questionnaire, asking me all sorts of question about where I had lived, what my personal life was like, if I do drugs, etc.  When I finished I handed it to him and he began flipping through it and grumbling.  I was sweating and my throat was so dry I felt as though I swallowed a cup full of sand.  For some reason I was nervous, not because I wouldn't pass this "test" but from the whole process of having a microscope staring down on you.  After he examined  my whole "test" with disapproval he began asking some questions. They were light toss ups at first but they began to pick up in intensity and so did he. "Have you ever done any drugs Mr. Craddock?" "No," I replied."Are you lying to me Mr. Craddock?" "No," I replied.  "You better not be fucking lying to me Mr. Craddock." "I'm not" I said.  "If you're lying to me Mr. Craddock I will NAIL YOUR ASS TO THE WALL!" screamed the F.B.I. agent.  "Well I'm not" I replied.  "What if I told you I know that you are lying?"  "But I haven't" I said shaking.  "Have you ever taken any Aspirin?" "Drank any coffee?"  I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes.  I didn't respond.  He flipped back through my papers, stopped then flipped a page back.  He almost seemed to smile. His face lit up and he seemed happy compared to the previous half hour that I spent with him.  He sat up in his chair, laid the papers on the desk and crossed his fingers.  "Do you have a drinking problem Mr. Craddock?" he said with a smirk. Shock ran through my body.  For some reason this dude doesn't want me to clear this test. Why? Why is he asking me if I have a drinking problem? "No Why?"  "Well the question was, In the past 12 months how many times have you been intoxicated? You answered 7" he said.  "Well I said 7 but it was probably more like 3, I just wanted to make sure I didn't lie" I replied.  "Do you drink when you are depressed?" "No." I said, at this point I felt a little defeated like I lost and he won.  Fast forward several hours, past the hour I spent back in the room with the recruiter that I argued with the first time, who magically had a "spot open up."  Past the hours I waited to catch a ride back home.  I was pretty distraught.  I felt like I let me parents down and that Len would be pretty angry that I failed to pass clearance that he made it through without a hitch.  After arriving home I went straight to Len and Vicki's house.  I had to tell him what happened, had to tell him my side of the story.  I hoped that maybe I could fix this some way. Len and Vicki were sitting at the table like normal and they both looked a little surprised to see me.  I thought, of course they don't know what happened.  For some reason I thought that Len would have already known what happened, like he picked up some red telephone that old grizzled vets used to stay in touch.  "What happened? Vicki said, as I walked through the front door.  "I couldn't pass the security clearance" I replied.  So she offered me a seat. (and a Coke like normal) I sat and talked, I told them the whole story.  When I finished, Len asked me what job I would be doing now.  I told him "Some communication repair guy."  Len said, "That is the guy that runs around with a giant antenna strapped to his back!"  "He is the first target because he holds the radio."  "You are NOT FUCKING DOING THAT!"  I just stared at the table.  He sat silent for a long time.  I thought he was mad but he wasn't.  Len did that; he would sit quietly and think for awhile, a long while.  Two hours later he would come back and have everything mapped out, what to do next and what was going to happen.  He picked up the phone and made some calls.  Vicki and I just talked for a while.  The phone rings and all hell breaks lose.  Apparently, it was the Sergeant Major that was over the MEPS station in New Orleans.  He was playing golf and called Len from his cell phone.  I can't remember everything that was said but it started out as a normal conversation and I started out sitting calmly in a chair.  The conversation escalated into a verbal assault that basically turned this sergeant major's ear into something that comes out the end of a meat grinder. I went from sitting in a chair to pacing back and forth through the kitchen with my hand covering my face while I drenched my shirt in sweat.  Here are a few quotes from that phone call.  "THIS IS NOT THE FUCKING ARMY I LEFT"  "WHAT KIND OF SADDAM HUSSEIN SHIT ARE Y'ALL RUNNING HERE!"  "YOU AND I BOTH KNOW THAT HE DOESN'T HAVE TO JOIN YOUR FUCKING ARMY!"  He was right and I never did.  Looking back, I was stupid for thinking he would be upset at me and I wish I had his confidence in that room with that agent.  I don't know if confidence is the right word to use.  Len had an unflappable knowledge of what was right and what was wrong, what was acceptable and what wasn't, what you stand up for and what was minor details.  God help you if you tried to break that.  Maybe one day I can have half of what he had and I am grateful to just  say that I knew the man.
P.s. Len used to say a prayer  or a phrase every time he drove past a car with only one headlight. I remember seeing him do it as a kid and he would never tell me what he was saying. Does anyone know what he would recite?
 Dad with his Elvis haircut
 Dad & me 1997

 Dad & Joshua 1999
 Dad & Vicki 2011
Dad at Country Fair Lanes 1990
 Dad & Larry 1987

Dad,Vicki and me 2011
I have a lot of great memories of my dad and I had just written about things that he had taught me here.
One of the things that I don't have to question is whether or not he loved me or was proud of me. I know that without a doubt. I will miss him always and be grateful for the time that I had. 

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