So my dad is an interesting cat. Born Hans Albert Linnemann to German immigrants, he didn’t start learning English until he was 5 years old. As he started school around 1940 in New Jersey, the Principal advised my grandparents to change his name to “John”, presumably to avoid getting his ass beat every day.
Fast-forward to growing up a Jersey teenager, delivering groceries for Helmer Bros. and escaping with friends to Nayak, N.Y. because they could drink beer across the state border. Catholic high school, Catholic college (St. Peters), and catholic Sundays didn’t prevent him from slinking with the same friends to Newark to see Lili St. Cyr at the burlesque show. He worked every day he could while finishing school, with no real solid idea of who he wanted to be despite the fact that my grandfather owned a prospering import business.
From college to the Marine Corps, where he began a decorated 25-year career that included a tour in Vietnam, time in the Philippines, and god knows what else. As he began his service he and a group of fellow Lieutenants rented a home outside of the base in Camp Pendleton, a den of wolves I imagine as four or five Marines at a time would rotate in and out. Complete with a swimming pool, the weekend parties were a regular occurrence, much to the chagrin of neighbors and landlords alike. At one of these parties my mother showed up and it was love at first sight.
Wait. No, it wasn’t. She went out with his roommate first. That’s right, she first went out with fellow Marine Gil Meeker, who according to my father “didn’t get to first base with your mother.” Good to know because if he had then I wouldn’t be here to write this blog. Thank you, Gil Meeker, for having zero game with my mom about 60 years ago. Hopefully, your skills have improved.
I’ve grown up believing that my father had concussed my mother by landing on her, in a pool at a party, whilst attempting a cannonball. Turns out that story is half-true. My father did land on my mother in the pool during any one of the weekend soirees, which I’m sure was unintentional (not). What was not true was the concussion nor the whole stay at the hospital where my father showed up to offer his sincere apologies. I’m learning at 52 years old that the contents of my mother’s story were, well, slightly embellished.
But my dad did land on my mom in a pool at his house that he rented with a handful of other young Lieutenants outside of a Marine Corps base in Southern California in the late 50’s.
They eloped to Vegas and 6 months later my older brother was born. Then came Paul, then out pops me a few years later. It took them three tries to get it right.
Now let’s fast-forward the next 50 plus years of marriage, kids, war, transfers, broken bones, thrown food, retirement, job-seeking, drunken Christmases, and teenagers who want to be rock stars. Suddenly empty-nesters, with three boys who all went to The University of Texas and all went on to careers. My oldest brother is a rocket scientist with the CIA and the second is a dentist in San Antonio. Aside from the one Realtor in the family, my folks did great. Now it’s quiet again and you try to find yourself and remember who you were. So what do you do? You go back to California.
And that’s where my folks stumbled upon this little condo in Palm Springs, a small piece of real estate that will play such an important role in the story yet to unfold. They enjoyed it for years, something frivolous and extravagant that they had never allowed for themselves while I was growing up. Every penny was pinched to provide for college for us and retirement for them. Life was controlled and joys were set aside to make sure they could do the right thing. Now, years later, they would finally spend some of those precious dollars on a luxury they would never have allowed themselves during my youth. I fondly remember getting calls in the evening back in Texas, where I would either still be working or would be exhausted from another day of trying to slug out a living in real estate. They would be poolside with dear friends, perhaps tipping one too many, and calling just to brag. Those calls always made me smile, knowing that they were finally living their dream.
But life changes and dreams end. As she aged, my mother found it more and more difficult to travel and they stopped going to their beloved condo in the SoCal Desert. After a year or two, they offered the place to us for a song – largely based on the fact that I had always shown such an affinity for the area and partly because I don’t think they could truly completely part with it. Priscilla and I took over the Palm Springs condo about a decade ago and I dreamed of the day that I could bring both of my folks back here so they could once again experience that pronounced joy of their successes.
But that dream also didn’t work out. We lost mom in 2016 to cancer and, since that time, I’ve watched my father amble along through life with little purpose and even less reason for the happiness and fulfillment that we so badly want for him. Dinners at our house almost every night, fun times with the grandkids, visits from extended family – while it works on the surface the light in my father’s eyes has dimmed and the laughter isn’t what it used to be.
Ok, wait. I’m not going to let this happen. This man is a hero of this nation and probably has another 20 strong years ahead of him. He put up with my stupidity for years so who the hell am I to give up on him? Moreover, he put up with my brothers and their stupidity – which was far beyond anything I could deliver, I promise you. He put up with my mother for over half a century, and I say that with love! My mom was one great piece of work but you try bearing three boys to a Marine officer who’s gone all the time. You might find you’ve got a grievance or two after a few decades. He never gave up on anything, so neither am I. So, after the dust had settled and after some convincing, he finally said he would go back to Palm Springs with me.
And that, my friends, is where our story begins. My father, Retired Lt. Col. John (Hans) A. Linnemann, USMC, returning to Palm Springs for the first in over a decade and without my mother. To enjoy a great meal, to sip cocktails under the desert sun, to reunite with old friends. To find joy again. Let the adventure begin…