I miss him most in March.
His birthday is March 25, 1927, and he died on March 29, 1995.
My siblings and I could write volumes about our dad, Tom Burnett. Born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas, he traveled the world courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, but never lost his slow Southern drawl.
While stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base, he met my mom, Shirley Schmidt, who’d grown up in Hayden, Idaho. They both believed it was a “God thing.” He saw her singing in the choir at Glad Tidings Assembly of God and said the Lord told him, “That’s going to be your wife.”
It didn’t take Dad long to convince her.
To know my dad was to love him – and as an unabashed extrovert, he knew a lot of people. Mom and I would leave him on a bench at the mall. By the time we returned he’d say, “Hey girls, I want you to meet my friend …”
Young moms with babies in strollers, teenagers, other dudes waiting for their womenfolk – he’d befriend them all.
When people share their memories of Tom Burnett three things are invariably mentioned: his sense of humor, his devout faith, and his abiding love for my mother.
Recently, I got to see him through someone else’s eyes. While writing a story about a North Central High School reunion I was put in touch with Christine Glenn. Her parents, Chuck and Dorothy Glenn were my parents’ closest friends in the early 1950s.
In fact, if not for my dad, Christine might not even be here.
“My father would often recount his memories of how your father invited him to church and introduced him to the Lord, and also to Dorothy, my mother,” she said.
Chuck was from Montana and had enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to Fairchild. He walked into his new quarters and looked for a bunk. The place was empty except for one G.I. relaxing on a bed and reading his Bible. That G.I. was my dad.
“Tom greeted him and said, ‘The top bunk is empty. You can have that one,’ ” Christine recalled her dad saying.
The pair quickly became fast friends though initially, they didn’t seem to have much in common.
“Dad said Tom was always reading his Bible or talking about his Jesus and inviting him to church,” Christine said.
Chuck wasn’t a Christian and always had an excuse to avoid church until one day he didn’t and agreed to attend with Dad.
Two things happened quickly, Chuck became a Christian and he badgered my dad into introducing him to a cute redhead – my mom’s best friend, Dorothy Nicholl.
Mom has a scrapbook filled with photos of the four of them double dating. Picnicking at Manito Park and Tubbs Hill, posing by the falls, dressed up for church, and playing croquet at my grandparent’s Hayden home.
By this time my parents were already engaged and Chuck soon proposed to Dorothy.
“They picked out an engagement ring and Mom loved it,” Christine said.
But then my dad stepped in.
“Tom went with my dad to make a payment on the ring,” she said. “And he said, ‘Oh! I know a place where you can get one a lot cheaper!’ ”
I should mention my father’s Scottish ancestry. Tom Burnett loved a good deal and he always seemed to “know a guy” who could get him deals on everything from autos to asparagus. In this case, he introduced Chuck to the jeweler who’d made my mother’s engagement ring.
“Tom and Dad picked out Mom’s new engagement ring,” Christine said. “She never liked it. She was so disappointed.”
Dorothy died in 2014 and Christine now wears that ring. “Well, I dressed it up a little,” she said.
Another story Chuck liked to tell was how my Dad helped him find his wallet.
The four of them had been on a date at Lincoln Park. After they took the girls home, Chuck realized his wallet was missing.
“He and Tom went back to the park with flashlights and Tom found his wallet,” Christine said.
The two couples were in each other’s weddings but gradually lost touch when my dad made the military his career and was posted everywhere from Kansas to the Philippines.
Dad died in 1995, and Chuck died in July, but he never forgot my dad.
“He always said Tom was his best friend,” Christine said.
I think a lot of people felt that way.
I know I did.
Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available at Auntie’s Bookstore and bookstores nationwide.
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