This spilled out of a very old folder in the mouse infested file cabinet I was cleaning out this weekend. I’d forgotten completely about borrowing a thousand dollars to get a truck to haul wood and country-boy stuff from Sonoma County to San Francisco after the 1940 Chevy died on me. It was a powder blue, 1964 Chevy C/K long bed with a 293 cu in inline six and three-speed transmission. Absolutely nothing fancy about it; it had been a working truck for a carpenter, not abused but not pristine by any means.
The money was paid back, the truck thoroughly enjoyed for the ten years I used it, and I’m floored to find it could sell for over $20,000 today in restored condition in 2019. The note evoked a strong feeling of thanks to my mother for the Grand Adventure she — and my dad — set my family on. I just grasped how much of an extraordinary adventure my life has been and continues to be, and a fairly wonderful one at that. No life is without darkness and miasma, but on the whole, mine has been full of light, laughter, beautiful days of sun and rain and fog and snow and twilights and dawns …
My Dad, Adventurer
Col. Jay F. Gamel — not yet a Senior — went to serve with the 10th Army Air Corps in the China-India-Burma theater, sometime in late 1943 or early 1944. I was conceived somewhere around Thanksgiving in 1943 and he was in Burma when I was born in August of 1944, so that dates his departure in a vague way. I remember him recounting that he’d served under Montbatten and Stilwell, and I’ve always harbored romantic notions of the the war — WWII — in China and Burma. Dad earned medals for feats and service flying The Hump over the Himalayas in cranky new C-46s, as Chief Surgeon of the 10th Air Force — a Command Flight Surgeon — and in charge of building advanced medical facilities for Vinegar Joe’s ill-fated and often glorified sortie into Burma. I’m reading Barbara Tuchman’s Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-1945, a work that earned her second Pulitzer Prize. The book puts some real-time perspective on the enormous egos and insights at loggerheads in this thoroughly misunderstood and murky theater of war. With nearly 75 years of perspective, some of the fog can be lifted, though the monumental national polities at loggerheads remain and continue to cloud insight and reason throughout the area.
I grew up listening to tales of planes full of medical supplies headed for both Chang Kai Chek’s Kuomintang and, eventually, Chou En Lai and Mao’s Communists, being shot at by Japanese, crews freezing to death at altitudes over 15,000 feet, balky and badly designed new air frames disintegrating mid-flight. Dad had the ribbons to back up those stories. He once told of being berated for not carrying a side arm in forward areas. Having finally secured a 1911 Colt .45, he managed to bag a tiger that was marauding the local chickens while sitting in a latrine. These stories electrified my 11 year old brain, let me tell you. A frequent visitor to our dining room was Johnny *** a survivor of Bataan who remained emaciated throughout his life, a living, breathing example of what the flashy Hollywood movies could never really portray, lest audiences be repulsed by the real consequences of war.
Mom was one of two girls left fatherless at a fairly early age, left to be raised by a none-too-hardheaded, opera trained, southern belle, with ‘notions.’ Let me be clear here; Jayne Doris Estes was a beauty and given to no little drama in her days and hours. That I know from personal experience. I have come to doubt much of what I heard from her and learned from her sister and mother, but what I know for certain is that she loved life, her children, her husband for all his martial ways, and being on the grand adventure she chose, an adventure that led her to England, a life in mansions with many servants, married to a diplomat/officer serving in the highest ranks of American policy making (at times) in the capitals of England and France. And, boy, did we have a time of it.
My Mother, Adventurer
What she said: She graduated a fine girls school at 16, went on to read law but never obtained a degree. There were some other essays I do not know about (talk to sisters), but she headed to Hollywood in 1932 or so, with a stop in Carmel where she made silver jewelry in a swimming pool and played tennis with a young Pancho Gonzales (though that is patently impossible, since he was born in 1928 – though she may have met him later. What do I know; I was a kid when I heard this stuff.) She wound up marrying an Army General, Fred Gardner(?), a doctor who lived with his wealthy mother who convinced him never to have children (short version). She divorced him, met my father (though the order of these events was never clear), and they were married in 1939, honeymooning at the Awhanee in Yosemite.
There’s a whole lot more, but that can wait. What’s clear is that I have come by my adventurous nature legitimately and that I have carried on a family tradition with abandon and joy. I no longer have to be frustrated, confused or sad about not having decided to “settle down” or any of that other nonsense people spout to justify becoming fossilized by forty. I yam what I yam, and that’s a fact.