My parents lived in the same house in southeast Michigan for almost 60 years, the house I grew up in. Over the course of the final 10 years they lived there, my visits increased as their needs increased. I live in western Washington. My sister was always there for them, but I’d show up now and then to give her a break. There was a period of time when I would extract a big box of stuff from either the large hallway cupboards, the drawers below it or the attic. My mom would comment on things as I pulled them out of each box. The real attic was filled with shredded newspaper insulation by this time but the place we called the “attic” was a small space off the upstairs bedroom on the east side of the house. It was dusty and rarely visited. That’s where I found Uncle Bill’s slides. They were in a metal box, covered with crumbling insulation and … other stuff.
There were a few prints there as well. I brought them downstairs, but my mom wasn’t showing too much interest. I asked her about him. “He didn’t like Jane.” Jane was her youngest sister, my aunt. “Bill gave us a hard time.”
My mom and I sat at her table near the window that overlooks the “lake” (it’s really a pond now) as I held the slides up to the light. The conversation about Bill dwindled, so I gave up and put them in the room I was staying in upstairs. I’d look at them later. We moved on to funner memorabilia. Why she kept some of the stuff she kept, I’ll never know. There were scrapbooks and letters, old greeting cards and we kids’ elementary school records. In a pile that wasn’t nearly as old I found a letter to my mom from Dick Palmer, one of my Uncle Bill’s friends since childhood. Written in 2008, he’d remarked on some newsy stuff, then there was this, “Sometimes I wonder if the rest of your clan ever wonders if Bill may still be around and living incognito somewhere. I don’t any longer think about it often but I do still recall, the last time I saw him in Archbold, that he mentioned that sometimes people simply disappeared never to be heard from again…”
Rekindling the Bill conversation, I read it to my mom. She immediately knocked Dick’s idea down. She didn’t believe anything of the sort. Uncle Bill had worked for RCA, in the Bahamas, tracking missile launches from Cape Canaveral AFS. It was June of 1958 and Bill was supposed to come home, but he stayed one more day to go skin diving. He disappeared on the dive and nothing was ever found. Though she had originally been hesitant to talk about Bill, she warmed up and told me about receiving the news. Evidently Bill had “borrowed” a friend’s diving gear without asking, Bill’s gear having been packed off the day before – the day he was supposed to go home. Grandmother had had a hard time getting information about the disappearance. The sources-that-be had trouble understanding that the incident took place on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. Not San Salvador, El Salvador. It was very frustrating and she eventually contacted her state representative and a reporter at the local newspaper, The Archbold Buckeye. They were able to obtain confirmation of Bill’s death. My mom also told me that my grandmother was contacted a few weeks later by the person Bill had “borrowed” the diving gear from. He requested she send $100 to pay for his lost gear. I just shook my head and we moved on to other memorabilia.
My parents went to bed really early. Sometimes I’d meet up with friends downtown but more often I’d go upstairs, sip a little bourbon, and mess around with junk I found in the boxes.
Bill’s prints were 8×10’s of tropical places. They were mostly color images, though a few black and whites were taken with infrared film.
I started going through Bill’s slides. The images were all over the board. Some were apparently taken in various places in the U.S., some were in tropical locales, some were seemingly nondescript cities. The photos of people intrigued me.
But who were these people? How did a kid from Ohio make his way to these places, temperate and tropical? Late night ponderings led to late night phone scrolling. My first hit was a bit from the Buckeye’s “Golden Notes Of Archbold’s Memorable past” from July 7, 2008.
Fifty Years Ago
Wednesday, July 2, 1958
“William Scales, 25, is reported missing off the shore of San Salvador in the Caribbean Sea. William and a friend went skin diving off shore in coral reefs. They failed to return. Three weeks ago he visited his mother in Archbold. He was employed by the RCA Service Co., tracking missiles fired from Cape Canaveral, Fla., downrange into the Caribbean Sea.”
William and a friend?
More to follow.
Also visit Installment # 1 , if you haven’t already.