My Dad’s Story Told to a Friend at Age 66

Found this yesterday while rummaging through some drawers.  It fills in a lot of missing details for me and I am grateful to Lane for choosing my father for this interview in May of 1983.  A year later my father died of heart failure in our home in Manassas, Virginia.

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Getting ready to be deployed.

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Mom and Dad Married on September 10th, 1949

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OKDeanpho7My dad with my mom and Paul, my older brother.

OKDeanpho3Me and Dad hanging out on a sunny day.

OKDeanpho1Dad doing what he does best with my brother.

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Manassas Has Lost a Friend

I dug this out of a drawer today for my daughter to reference for a school assignment on her family.  Sarah has never had the chance to meet a lot of her family members.  I’m hoping this will give her a little background on the kind of guy her grandfather was.

After retiring from the government, your grandfather found some of his happiest times in the towns of Nokesville and Manassas Virginia.   He never missed a Sunday church service.  He attended The Church of the Brethren when we lived in Nokesville and The Trinity Episcopal Church when we later moved to Manassas.  But most of all he fulfilled his passion for books by collecting and selling antiquarian books and going to book shows and auctions.  He had a mail order business and would publish catalogues of books for sale from his Zen Americana catalogs.

Here is a photo of dad at one of his jobs in  Washington DC office before he retired.  Note he doesn’t look super happy.

Otto at his desk

I dug this letter out of a drawer today.  Dad had a lot of friends around town and a lot of people attended his funeral.   We appreciated that one of his friends took the time to write down his thoughts.  This letter was published in April of 1984 just after his death.  I so wish he had the chance to meet you Sarah.  He would have been very proud of you.  I’m sure he would have been bragging about you all around town.

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When One Gravestone is Enough!

I received two comments on my post “Letter from my father…” on Monday night.  When I saw these comments I thought it was some sick joke and part of some awful scam.  So I marked the comments as spam.  I was thinking all along this would not end well.

Submitted on 2012/12/03 at 9:51 pm

Hello, my name is Curt Harding. I live in Murfreesboro, TN. If your father is Otto Kirchner-Dean, June 2, 1917 – April 5, 1984, I need to talk to you about something I found. Email me at…  Thank you.

I need to talk to you about your father. Call me as soon as you get this.

A phone number was included in the second comment but I chose to email him to ask what he had found.

This was the response I received from his iPhone.

Thank you for responding.I found his gravestone lying in a ditch in Franklin,TN. I found that odd and I wanted to find a family member to tell them.  - Curt 

Well, at this point I was really losing it and thinking this man is crazy (and not in a good way).  I was wondering what kind of person would engage me in this kind of sick and painful joke.  Then a second email came to me with the photograph and I was just about to totally lose it.  How much of a coincidence could this be that at the very time I started to blog about my father someone would contact me saying that they found his gravestone in a ditch.  I was wondering where this was going.  Somehow this photo had to be photoshopped.

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The man even provided a Facebook url and I checked his Facebook page but was totally convinced someone evil had hijacked his Facebook page.  I was thinking at this point I should stop blogging and cancel my Facebook account.  This just is not worth the headaches.  I went to sleep with all these thoughts running through my head.

The next morning at 10:30 I received another note from his iPhone.

I have new information today. Apparently Quantico was supposed to properly destroy it, when Otto’s wife died and a new stone was placed, but didn’t. No one knows how it wound up 700 miles away in a Franklin, Tennessee field. The Nashville Veterans Administration has offered to properly dispose of it. I found another one and possibly more. Someone really dropped the ball here. Our veterans deserve better. What would you like me to do? Apparently the veterans dispose of head stones in a similar way as the American flag. 

I was wondering how he is getting all this information.  So today I call Quantico National Cemetery and to their credit a real person picked up right away.  I told him my story and he said a guy called yesterday wanting details on my father’s stone and asking all kinds of questions.  He didn’t know what to make of it.  At this point I was more than a little upset.  The guy told me I should speak to a man who works in the room where the stones are kept and maintained.  His name is George Truslow.  He gave me another number to call to speak to George.  So, I hung up and called George.  He picked up the phone right away.  He told me that the only way anyone could get possession of my father’s stone is if they drove up there and committed an illegal act.  That said, George has worked in this capacity for only 5 years and my dad’s stone was replaced 16 years ago.  George told me he would have the director call me within the hour.  Sure enough a short time later my phone rang.  It was from a Mr. Patrick McGrady.  Patrick didn’t know what to make of the story but said he’d send a man out to my father’s gravesite on the spot.  We traded email addresses and I told Patrick I would send him a copy of the notes I had received from “Curt” and the photograph of the headstone he said he found.   My note to Patrick.

Hello Patrick,

As per our phone conversation, these are the emails this person from Franklin, Tennessee  sent me.  I am using an account that is not associated with my name.

Please call me with any detailed that can shed some light on this.  I still need to know where Quantico destroys of its unneeded gravestones.

Thank you for your help.

Patrick’s note back a short while later included a photograph of the gravestone that is in place today.

Hello Erica,

As of todays date of Dec 4, 2012 this is the stone that is at the gravesite.

To answer your question about the old stones, we break them up and dispose of them.

Patrick

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So I started looking at this guy Curt’s website and I am amazed to see my dad’s photo posted there along with comments from Curt’s friends on how this could have happened.  So at this point, especially as “Curt” has not tried to hit me up for any money, my husband and I are thinking this guy and his story are for real.  So on Wednesday, I emailed him again, this time asking for more details and letting him know my feelings on his Facebook post.

I am still in shock that this could happen. Please give me the details of when and how you came across this. Since the stones were swapped out 16 years ago a whole lot of time has passed. How long did it look like these stones were lying there? Was it overgrown around them? How did you find them?    

I have to be honest with you I do not feel comfortable that you posted my father’s tombstone on your facebook wall.  I would like to have it properly destroyed.  I am wondering why are you focusing just on my father’s stone since you say there are many others.

To his credit Curt apologized and honored my feelings and removed the photograph from his facebook wall.   His note back to me.

I saw someone in a van dumping something back in a secluded area. After they left, I went back and made the discovery. It does look like they’ve been there a long time. The only reason I focused on your father is because he’s the only name I can make out. Others are stacked on top of one another and I was in a suit at the time. I would never want to offend by putting it on Facebook and I will remove it, but without posting it, I never would have discovered where it came from, how to get it taken care of, or found you to notify you. The Nashville National Cemetery is coming today to properly dispose of the stones. 

Curt also sent this additional photograph of the site where my dad’s stone was found along with pieces of many others.

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My email to Curt yesterday.

Thank you for removing the photo from your Facebook page.  I thank you and appreciate what you have done to make sure these are properly destroyed.  Hopefully, with some media attention they will know not to let this happen again.  They tell me they are all destroyed on site now at Quantico.  To have one survive intact is inexcusable on their part.  Not sure why the VA did not get involved in finishing the job properly that they botched in the first place.  Why they would cart them all the way down to Tennessee is crazy and irresponsible.  I wonder on whose property they are being dumped.  Looks like there are railroad tracks nearby.  Maybe that is how they got there in the first place.

Again, thank you.  Maybe now I can rest in peace.  I feel certain that my father still is.  

Happy to report that this story has a happy ending.  On Wednesday, December 5th, thanks to Mr. Curt Harding, the Nashville National Cemetery workers came and properly removed my father’s gravestone to be destroyed along with all the other pieces at the dumping site.  And sometimes good things do happen when personal information gets posted on the internet.

God brought Curt, my dad, and me together this Christmas.  And now thankfully, my father and mother only have one gravestone today, the one that sits on their grave in Quantico National Cemetery.  I need to revisit this beautiful place and when I do, I will never, ever forget this story!

Annoying New Trend for Retailers

Seems like lately it is not enough to patronize a store you have to be a good citizen to boot and donate to their favorite charity while they get all the credit including tax incentives for their business.  Do you remember the good old days when you got to choose your own charities?

Lately it seems that you cannot go into a store to make a purchase without having a sales clerk ask you if you want to give to the charity the store is sponsoring.  I shop regularly at Wholefoods, Petsmart, and a few other places where they do this on a regular basis.  Petsmart at least allows me to choose quietly at the payment kiosk so if I want to opt out without embarrassment I can do so, but I usually give a dollar or two each time because I love dogs and cats.  Recently, at an upscale clothing store I was asked in front of other customers  “So would you like to donate to St. Jude Children’s Hospital?  How much would you like to give?”   That was a pretty open-ended question. Roger and I laughed that maybe the appropriate response should have been, “Yes, and I am thinking of a nice round number…” It makes me wonder if they are even training the sales clerks how to address this?  At Wholefoods this morning the clerk was even apologetic about it saying she didn’t feel comfortable asking for donations all day long.

The Charity Navigator is a website designed to help people evaluate charities. In the process they hope to help the charities by shining lights on truly effective organizations. St. Jude is certainly a worthy organization, but according to the Charity Navigator it is not a 4 star charity.  They get dinged for high program expenses and executive compensation.  Here is a list of  Ten Charities With The Most Consecutive 4-Star Ratings. You can feel good giving to these organizations because they have a positive track record over the long-term.

And if these companies paid more in taxes I might be inclined to have a little more sympathy.  Who thinks companies are paying their fair share of the tax burden?   I would love to find out which organizations would sign this Petition for Positive Corporate Tax Reform.  There are some truly great ideas here for businesses that want to be more responsible corporate citizens.  According to this source, the corporate tax share of federal government receipts has dropped from 32% in 1952 to 9% now.  They advocate reform based on three principles:

  • First, all businesses – large and small – should contribute responsibly toward the costs of government and the well being of the economy.
  • Second, businesses should not be rewarded for shifting jobs and investment overseas or disguising U.S. profits as foreign profits to reduce their taxes.
  • Third, by ending unproductive tax loopholes and subsidies benefiting large corporations, we can level the playing field and raise revenues needed to restore economic vitality.

According to David McGrath, charitable donations can be a method used for retailers to dodge state taxes.  In his article,  Should Supermarkets Solicit Charitable Donations?,  McGrath indicates it is often not the store manager’s fault because “He or she is likely being strong-armed by their boss at corporate headquarters to meet a charity-collection quota for the sales quarter.”

It is also true that many of these stores end up sponsoring charities that end up boosting their own bottom lines.   I for one would like to choose my own charities.  Sometimes I get ideas from friends or wish to support or honor a dear friend by contributing to a charity they care about.  But I don’t like being asked every time I shop at a store if I want to give to their charity.

I hope you feel good about donating to your own worthy causes this Christmas and that a reasonable percentage of the dollars you give directly goes to serve the audience you care about.

Happiness Is Being Under Water!

Today, I swam laps at the pool after too long a time avoiding the gym.  It felt wonderful to feel my body suspended weightless in the water with nothing to think about but the cadence of my strokes, kicks, and breaths.  Despite any aches and pains, this is one activity that I always know will make me feel better afterwards.  Seems like I am a natural for swimming as I am always so relaxed in the water.

Roger and I had our first ever snorkeling experience when we went to Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay.  I will never forget the wonder of this first experience and seeing all the different kinds of flora and fauna in Hanauma’s corral reefs.

Hanauma Bay Snorkeling — talk about beautiful!

But I would most love to go back to the corral reefs in the Cayman Islands and go snorkeling again.   It was here that we chartered a boat to take us to Stingray City where we played with the rays!  I must admit, that was just a little bit scary.  While we were playing with the rays we also saw a barracuda in the water (a little scarier)!  And we took our first ever submarine ride in the Cayman waters!  I will never forget these experiences and how beautiful the marine life is in the reefs.

Absolute peace and tranquility…

Why can’t I do more of this?

I love Stingrays, sort of…

Stingray at Grand Cayman

Wonderland of tropical fish!

We rode in a submarine!

Even though I haven’t been snorkeling since our trip to the Grand Cayman Island in 1994, just going to the beach and swimming in the ocean is a joy I always look forward to.  These days the only chance I seem to get to do this is in August when my very special women friends get together to go to Emerald Isle to practice yoga on the beach and catch up with each other on happenings since we last got together.  The only participation requirement and dues we have to pay (you can say the dues are pretty steep) was having had breast cancer.  I have gone to 3 of these retreats now with my Pink Ribbon Yoga friends.  One year we saw sea turtles hatching and making their way down to the water.  Another year we saw a huge exotic sand castle which could have easily won any sand sculpture competition during one of our evening walks on the beach and on this same evening we were thrilled to see a full moon glimmering on the water.  Mostly we just like to get together to share stories, do relaxing yoga, and swim in the waves.  It’s nice to be able to take the time to do this each year with some of the nicest women I am lucky to know. If you are reading this and you want to learn more about this wonderful organization or  consider making a tax-deductible donation here is the place to go.  Pink Ribbon Yoga

So lucky to have such wonderful friends!

I’m thinking when I die they should throw my ashes somewhere in the ocean since that seems to be where I am happiest!  Just make sure the water is warm please — 72 degrees year around should be just fine.

Thoughts from my father about America in 1964.

My father, Otto Kirchner-Dean was an Austrian-born-disabled-veteran of WWII. He came to America after both his parents died and was adopted by an Episcopalian minister–Father Stanley Dean of Kingston, New York. After the war Otto walked with a wooden leg. He loved talking to people from all walks of life to find out what made them tick. He attended Seminary School but did not graduate. Instead, he became a librarian with a passion for books. He was a church activist who seldom missed a Sunday service. When he retired on disability he became an antiquarian bookseller.

Having come to this country as a teen he had already experienced a feel for what life was like in Austria.  He told stories of life in Austria and of the Hapsburgs almost like he knew them personally.  After all, his father was a civil servant and helped to care of the horses at Laxenburg (now known as Laxenburg Water Castle)  in Laxenburg, Austria.  I remember him saying how different it was in America versus Austria and how people in the old country knew their place in life.  Everyone understood each other but of course it was never easy.  I always wondered when I visited the Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC whether the servants quarters in the basement were anything like the accommodations my father’s family experienced at Laxenburg.  I hope not.  But I do remember him saying that those damn castles are cold and both his parents succumbed to Tuberculosis.

This is an untitled, unfinished paper my dad wrote after he moved to Washington, DC to start a new job at the Library of Congress.  We soon were to join him and take up residence in Maryland.  Both my mother and father commuted daily to their jobs in Washington, DC.  Oh the sacrifices they made for us kids!  This illustrates some of my dad’s thinking relating to life in America and the state of this country in 1964 or thereabouts.  I think it still rings true today.  At least we still hear people who dislike President Obama constantly squabbling over which label fits him best — Communist, Socialist, or Nazi.  And surely, none of these labels represents the American way.

My father would have so loved to be around to see Barrack Obama elected.  I do think there is nothing that would have pleased him more.  He died at 67 years of age in Manassas, Virginia and now deservedly rests in comfort at Quantico National Cemetery.

 

Capitalism?  or What is Americanism and what do we believe?  (My title)

There have been several recent attempts to rename the system which produces and distributes goods and services in the United States. (This Week Magazine and more recently the President of the American Motor Corporation have both given their attention to this engaging problem.)  Capitalism and capitalists have had a very difficult time of it — both terms have been used by both friends and foes in so many non-endearing ways.  Karl Marx predicted that capitalism would destroy itself but since he also promised that the state would wither away in Communist countries — it may be hoped that he was wrong on both counts.  Like any term of abuse it begins to convince people whom the term supposedly describes that it is essentially unclean and derogatory.  History, to be sure, bears witness to the opposite tendency when terms of abuse become badges of honor.  However, the institution of capitalism has changed so radically that it is hardly surprising that there should be a movement to abandon the old name.

Although the words capitalism and capitalists are but seldom used in the American press, the search for another word has not been very fruitful.  (True, the only place where the words are still used is in the press of the Soviet Union.)  In America capitalists have become captains of industry, industrialists and guardians of our much prized prosperity.  Therefore although no new term has really replaced the old ones we do find them dropping from popular parlance.

So in America people are no longer asked to be loyal to capitalism — and it is getting more and more difficult to identify a self-admitted capitalist.  However, the whole question has been dropped by disregarding the technical difficulty of renaming a radically changed set of institutions by our being asked to be loyal to Americanism.  Because of its lack of precision this is an excellent bridge word until a more suitable word emerges.  This is really a choice word because it is so completely honorific that it serves as an excellent term for politicians, for even to question its meaning might be interpreted as an act of serious disloyalty.  If Americans visiting Russia meet few real communists, the chances of a Russian visitor to these shores coming face to face with a real capitalist are equally remote.  By changing our loyalty from capitalism to Americanism and if the Russians could be persuaded to adopt the same principle both sets of tourists would be much happier as both countries contain fairly reliable samples of both Americans and Russians respectively.

Some 30 years ago an English clergyman suggested a word which I think very descriptive of what we otherwise call the American way of life and that is “consumptionism” — a term not likely to enjoy much popular favor.  Whenever anyone suggests that the current passion for consuming might deplete our resources — both natural and human — to the danger point — we are assured by the most respectable journals that this is the most reactionary kind of nonsense.  We are told that we have enough coal for X years and enough oil for Y years and that when this gives out we can always use inferior deposits whose use is not now economically feasible.  Sometimes included in these comfortable words and often omitted is “enough proven reserves to last 50 years at the rate of current consumption.”  Since coal, oil, and gas are still our chief sources of energy — everyone was much relieved that at last any repressed shame about our generous use of them could be forever forgotten because here was atomic energy.  And now we come to our curious ambivalence toward the scientist.  Let the scientist warn us of the danger of tobacco and he is a fool — but everyone has faith in his black magic.  Scientists themselves are not sure when atomic energy will really be harnessed sufficiently to take the place of conventional fuels.  And atomic wastes cannot be dumped into our rivers or even the oceans.

In this happy mood of euphoric optimism over an ever increasing Gross National Product, only the rare economist would risk his reputation by questioning the wisdom of an ever increasing prosperity which means providing more and more people with more and more goods and services at ever increasing costs.

Whatever we call ourselves I think it safe to say that what we really want and strive for are comfort and convenience.  Homes, appliances, cars, clothes are all designed to offer the maximum in comfort and convenience.  If we really want other things, at least there are the words which most often are used by the sales promotion people.  Just about the only aspect of discomfort which still plagues us is the weather when we are out of doors and this of course includes out of car doors.  And even, here science — that is, the weather reports have been so simplified (in order to make them understandable to the seeing and hearing public) to include the happy term “comfort index”.

It is of some interest that this index was at first to be called the discomfort index — but this was felt to be an affront to suggestible listeners — and it was finally decided to change the name to the comfort index.  Certainly in the comfort station our scatology and our eschatology are in perfect harmony and accord.

As often as we hear about the “know-how” of the American worker and the aggressiveness of the free enterprise system it might be supposed that our daily announcements of our growing productivity were somehow natural and inescapable results of our happy combination of capital, labor and management.  Nothing could be further from the truth — our government with its monetary and fiscal policies and its assumed responsibility for prosperity and growth — may take a lion’s share of the credit or blame.  In a real sense the salesman follows the internal revenue department — the tax structure stimulates and the salesman sells the product.  This is generally known by all informed persons and even the much abused man on the street is getting wind of it.  The trouble is that the growth is stimulated but not directed to any end except full employment.  In the days before atomic weapons — this was all well and good.  Whether our goalless society was good or bad depended largely on one’s taste.  But today America is faced with a competitor who is outpacing — whose rate of growth is staggering and who is directing this growth toward expansion and conquest and toward technological advances in significant areas.