It has been 16 years now since my grandfather’s life came to an end. He had an amazing run and quite a story to tell.
He was born into poverty in Des Moines, Iowa. One of four children. At a young age, he juggled both school and work. Hard work. Sometimes he filled pot holes for the city of Des Moines. Other times he worked as a butcher’s assistant. Still other times he made bread and other baked goods in a large commercial bakery.
Perry Weatherly was by no means a good student. By his own admission he barely skated by. But later years would show just how smart he was. At an early age, he found the love of his life. A woman named Lorraine Keller; who was alternately his biggest fan and his unabashed critic if she thought he was wrong. In his junior year of high school at Des Moines North, Perry told Lorraine he was thinking about dropping out of school and going to work full-time in a butcher’s shop. Lorraine’s reaction was blunt; “I would never marry a man who didn’t graduate from high school.” Needless to say, Perry stayed in school.
He eventually became an apprentice to Lorraine’s father who was an electrical contractor. Perry quickly picked up the finer points of electrical and mechanical engineering. His mind keen to the dangers that came with working with live power. His heart on the future with the woman he loved.
Perry and Lorraine married in October 1941. About 6 weeks later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. And about seven months after that, Perry was drafted into World War II and left his wife, his hometown and everything he knew behind. He would not return for four years.
Perry was assigned as engineer to the 5th Army, alternately under the command of General George Patton and General Omar Bradley. He ended up seeing things he thought he never would and wished he never had.
He helped fight the Germans in a ground battle in Ethiopia. He had to keep tanks running and guns firing in a desert; where sand can jam everything and where heat can make motorized machines grind to a halt. He visited places with strange names; Morocco. Algeria. He was with the 5th Army when they moved into Italy and began to liberate the country from the Axis stronghold imposed by dictator Benito Mussolini. The 5th set up shop in the Roman Colosseum and there were many nights where Perry woke up to air raid sirens and the sounds of German airplanes overhead. There were many nights where Perry made peace with God in case his time had run out.
But the 5th Army secured Italy and returned freedom to the land. Perry was in the square in Milan in April of 1945 when Mussolini’s dead body was hung from a rope for all to see.
It was while in Italy that Perry developed a love of lasagna, spaghetti, pizza….and Opera. Perry loved Opera. If you just looked at him, you would have no idea that he had a passion for music.
He returned home from war. He helped his father-in-law grow the electrical contracting business. Six years later, he and Lorraine would have their only child; a daughter, Kathy. My Mom.
He spent the next 30 years working hard….and loving his family. This man had his priorities straight. It is one of the reasons he was my hero. He remains to this day the most focused man I have ever known.
In 1991, he lost the love of his life to Pancreatic Cancer. It remains the only day in my life where I ever saw him shed a tear. It scared me. I didn’t know what to do. I think he was crying because, in addition to be terribly sad…he too was scared and didn’t know what to do. I have seen a lot of heartbreaking things in my life; but the sight of that man with tears in his eyes hits me in the gut to this day. And I think it always will.
I grew up with my Grandfather always being present in my life. Anything good in me comes from the influence of my Mother, Grandmother and Grandfather. He did not want any of us to ever be sad or frustrated…and while he realized there is a certain amount of life where struggling can’t be avoided….he didn’t want us to struggle either.
My Grandfather was pleased with his life. He felt like he had done a lot of things and learned a lot along the way. He once told me that he didn’t do too bad “for a boy from Iowa”. I don’t think so either.