Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Charles Loucks and 99 Reasons We Love Him
Ninety-nine years ago in tiny Tipton, Indiana, a middle-aged farmer’s wife named Mary Frances Loucks gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. She and Charles Sherman Loucks would call the infant Charles Francis Loucks. Charles Loucks became the youngest of many children this sizeable farm family would welcome into the world.
Now, as all of us – including his 14 great grandchildren and 9 great-great grandchildren (with another on the way!) – proudly celebrate our beloved Gramps’ 99th birthday, I’m using the occasion to pay tribute to this wonderful man by expressing 99 of the countless reasons why we love and adore him so very much. We’re so very blessed to still have this exceptional man in our lives.
So, in no particular order, I give you my 99 reasons:
1. He loves dogs and currently has an adorable Chihuahua named Lady as his very faithful companion.
2. He remains open to learning new tricks.
3. He once emulated magicians by pulling a table cloth out from under a table full of glasses without moving a one. He decided not to try and tempt fate twice.
4. Over the past ten years, he taught himself how to operate his own personal computer, which he continues to use in emailing family and friends.
5. He continues to volunteer at his local cable access television station in Bella Vista, Arkansas, and has even operated its camera from time to time over the last dozen years.
6. He has mastered his church’s sound mixing board.
7. He is a man of immense faith.
8. He still believes he can drive a car, and yes, he continues to possess a valid license.
9. But he will acquiesce when we insist on taking the wheel.
10. He’s traveled to all 50 states, and driven in 49 of them.
11. He used to enjoy getting our adrenaline pumping by driving us across Minnesota’s frozen lakes during the wintertime.
12. He continues to purchase a new automobile each year, whether he needs one or not.
13. He just renewed his passport, so he’ll be good to go for the next ten years.
14. He recently told me he’d love to go to Chile next.
15. In 2006, he ventured to China for his first time in just over 60 years.
16. Shortly after the close of World War II, he was part of a detail that swept mines from the Yangtze River in Shanghai.
17. He served his nation proudly during World War II, enlisting in the U.S. Navy even though he could have avoided service altogether since he was already aged 32, had a wife and two children, and was already serving his community as a St. Paul firefighter.
18. He would be honorably discharged after having been promoted to the rank of Carpenter - Second Class.
19. He’d serve in the waters around Europe, Africa and Asia during World War II.
20. He and his shipmates onboard the destroyer U.S.S. Baldwin proudly escorted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Yalta. He even caught a glimpse of Winston Churchill once there.
21. He is the epitome of a true patriot and exemplifies the very best in America.
22. While the navy was on a six week hiatus in New York City during the war, he took in countless performances of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
23. He is an exceptional storyteller and is always pleased to regale me with highlights from his life.
24. Knowing how much I love his stories, he once sat down in front of a video camera and chronicled much of his life for posterity (and me).
25. He’s always been drama-free, which has been a good thing given the drama his descendants have indulged in.
26. When he was just 17 years old and a senior in an Indianapolis high school, he performed alongside other minors as orphans in a play headlined by Ethel Barrymore.
27. He also performed in a high school production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”
28. He has personally met Frank Sinatra, even though he admits that he wasn’t particularly a fan.
29. He’s also met Milton Berle, who made him laugh.
Anne Murray (pictured left), so I arranged a backstage meeting with the Canadian singer after a concert stop in Tulsa. Gramps was stunned.
31. He can be a bit shy.
32. He was supposed to personally meet and greet President Harry S. Truman, but was so overcome when observing the president’s uncanny resemblance to his deceased father that he retrenched into a corner of the reception room.
33. He learned how to pilot a plane after World War II, but because he was $12 short of the final payment necessary to enable him to fly solo, he never received his license – and he never told my grandmother that he had even been practicing.
34. He has only ever been married to one woman, my grandmother, in a union that lasted 63 years until her death in 1995.
35. He met my grandmother on a blind date.
36. His pen “slipped” as he was signing his marriage license. Back in those days, the minimum legal age to get hitched without parental approval was 21. But he feared his parents would not approve, even though he was just shy of 21 years. When he signed the marriage license, his pen “slipped” so it appeared that he was born in 1910 rather than 1911.
37. He spent half of the money he had on his honeymoon – an exorbitant $15 on a trip to Brainerd, Minnesota. It was exactly half of all the money he had to his name.
38. He was so in love with my grandmother that he was clearly heartbroken when she died. He still tears up when he talks about her.
39. After her passing, he uprooted himself by moving to a remote part of Arkansas where he owned some land. He built a new home for himself – at age 85.
40. From 1939 through 1975, he served with distinction as a proud St. Paul firefighter.
41. Out of hundreds of applicants to become a St. Paul fireman during the Depression, he would earn the third highest scores on the civil service examination.
42. By the time he was forced to retire, due to the mandatory retirement at age 65, he had been promoted to the position of Fire Chief in St. Paul.
43. He once loaned his trumpet to his nephew George Myers, who would not only go on to become one the military’s most revered players, but he would also play taps at funerals for many dignitaries.
44. He has always been a great instructor.
45. He helped teach me how to water-ski.
46. He was patient with me even when I tried learning how to play golf.
47. He continues to actively play golf to this day.
48. He regularly shoots a golf score under his age (and typically beats his younger golfing buddies).
49. He scored his first hole-in-one back in 1935.
50. He scored his last hole-in-one as recently as 2004 – at age 92.
51. All totaled, he has scored five holes-in-one. Although he nearly scored a sixth, the ball bounced back out of the cup landing just a foot-long putt away.
52. One of his earliest memories is smoking a cigar at the age of 8 at his eldest brother’s wedding reception (his brother Noel was a World War I veteran). He ended up rolling down a hill in a tire and was briefly knocked out, coming to after the reception had ended.
53. As children, he and another brother were thrown from their family horse because they were a little overeager in trying out the spurs they received as a gift. The duo wanted to be cowboys.
54. He can be a bit of a daredevil.
55. He went parasailing in Mexico at age 79.
56. He became an expert ski jumper back in the 1930s.
57. After he went home from his first planned attempt at ski-jumping, he couldn’t help but kick himself for not trying. When he went back for a second attempt, he saw teenagers skiing off the jump with ease and thought, “If they can do it, so can I.” While his first jump proved dangerous (he landed on his head), he dusted himself off and went right back up to the top and tried again. Successfully.
58. He is a model of perseverance.
59. He succeeded in learning how to build houses when moonlighting from the Fire Department.
60. He helped my father build the very first home I ever lived in.
61. He and my grandmother purchased their first residence back in the 1930s for a whopping $2,500. (When I was just a child, I took comfort in knowing that they were just blocks up the street from us.)
62. He sold that same house during the 1970s for over $75,000.
63. He built his own lake home, which was one of our family’s favorite gathering places for special occasions, including a couple of mine.
64. He and my grandmother made every attempt to attend virtually all major milestone events in our family – everything from graduations and confirmations to performances in musicals and concerts to weddings – even after we moved to Milwaukee.
65. He is tremendously fit for his age.
66. In addition to playing golf, he stays in shape by clearing brush from the woods adjacent to his home.
67. He’s routinely mistaken for someone 20 years younger.
68. He makes more money now through his pension than he ever did via his regular paycheck – proving that living long is the best revenge.
69. When his own mother died, he received an “inheritance” totaling $15. He always jokes that the longer he lives, the less inheritance there will be for us. But we all implore him to spend it.
70. Nonetheless, he is a very frugal man.
71. Yet, he is exceedingly generous, as he proved yet again last Christmas.
72. He likes to pick up the check at restaurants.
73. He became an expert woodworker before he was a firefighter.
74. His work from over 70 years ago can still be found in both the Ramsey County Courthouse (St. Paul) and the city’s First National Bank Building.
75. He also designed the single most beautiful inlaid wooden table I’ve ever seen.
76. He likes Peanut M & Ms.
77. He likes his ice cream, something his son and this particular grandson inherited.
78. He is still very spry.
79. He is exceedingly lucid.
80. He cries every time we say goodbye.
81. He possesses a spark in his voice whenever we talk on the phone, beginning with his boisterous, “Hello, there!”
82. He maintains a terrific sense of humor.
83. He continues to be admired by the ladies.
84. He was quite mischievous growing up.
85. He can still recall when everyone had a horse and buggy, as well as when his father bought their first car.
86. When gas prices hit $4 per gallon two years ago, he recalled how a tank of gas was costing more than his very first automobile, a used Ford Model T, which he purchased in the 1920s for a mere $40.
87. He also remembers gasoline-free Sundays, when autos were only used on Sundays in case of emergencies.
88. He remembers how awkward it was to use party-line phones with everyone knowing his family’s business. But by the same token, they knew everything about their neighbors, too.
89. He grew up without electricity, but they heated everything with coal.
90. He understands the virtues of sacrifice.
91. He recognizes just how far he’s come.
92. He’s honest.
93. He has immense integrity.
94. Although he’s consistently voted for Democrats in presidential races beginning in 1940 right through 2008, he voted Republican during his first time at the polls because his farm family was strictly Indiana GOP.
98. He loves us.
99. He gives us countless reasons to love him right back.
Happy birthday, Gramps! With love, sincere appreciation and best wishes for your 100th year!
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).