This spilled out of a very old, chewed up manila folder in a mouse infested file cabinet I was cleaning out this weekend. I’d forgotten completely about borrowing a thousand dollars to buy a truck to haul wood and country-boy stuff from Sonoma County to San Francisco after the 1940 Chevy Special Deluxe died on me. The truck 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, and the truck was thoroughly enjoyed for the ten years I used it, and while looking online to find a picture of one like it, I was floored to find a fully restored version could sell for over $20,000 in 2019.
The note evoked a strong feeling for my mother for the Grand Adventure she — and my father — set our family on. I only recently have sensed just 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 — was posted to the 10th Army Air Corps in the China-India-Burma theater, sometime in late 1943 or early 1944. He was in Burma when I was born in August of 1944, so that dates my conception using Kentucky windage to somewhere around Thanksgiving in 1943. He served under Mountbatten and Stilwell and told stories about both of them. I’ve since harbored romantic notions of the the war — WWII — in China and Burma.
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 pre-pubescent brain, let me tell you. A frequent visitor to our dining room was Johnny *** a survivor of Bataan whose emaciated body never recovered, a living, breathing example of what Hollywood movies would never portray, lest audiences be repulsed by the reality of war. His impact on me lasts to this day.
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 — staffing advanced medical facilities for Vinegar Joe’s ill-fated though 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 and insights into the enormous egos at loggerheads in this thoroughly misunderstood and murky theater of war. With nearly 75 years of perspective, some of the fog has been lifted, though the monumental national polities remain locked into eternal conflict over how best to enrich their owners and continue to cloud insight and reason to further their aims.
My Mother, Adventurer
Mom was one of two girls left fatherless at a fairly early age, 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 to fill 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 and France, a life in mansions with many servants, married to a diplomat/officer serving in the murky regions of American policy making (at times) in the capitals of England and France. And, boy, did they have a time of it.
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 stories 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 married an Army General, Fred Gardner, a doctor whose wealthy mother convinced him never to have children (short version). Mother divorced him, met my father (though the order of these events was never clear), and they were married in 1939, honeymooning at the Ahwanee in Yosemite.
There’s a whole lot more, but that can wait. What’s clear is that I came by my adventurous nature legitimately and 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.