04 Jul July 4, 2011 Happy Birthday Rol
For today’s post, I would like to pay special tribute to my father Rollin Herschel Neibauer, who was born on July 4, 1911 in Esmond, North Dakota. Rollie would have been 100 years old today.
For those of you who have been following my postings of his letters from WWII, I thought it would be interesting to share a brief overview of his life before and after the war, so you have a context to understand his writings. With this said, I have to admit there’s a great deal I still have to discover. Like many folks who are interested in their family history, I’ve been able to find the dates and places that he’s lived, but don’t often know the motivations or reasons he moved from one place to another. This is why his letters are so profound – they’re helping me understand him from the inside out. And the man I’m discovering is someone I am now more respectful of then ever before!
Rollie landed in Seattle, Washington at some point in his young life – I believe his family moved there from North Dakota, but haven’t discovered the exact dates. He attended the University of Washington and was very active in the Drama Department. I found many photos and newspaper articles from theatrical productions amongst the files of letters in the newly unearthed boxes. One of the people he met there that had a big impact on him was Frances Farmer, who he later shared the stage with in the 1937 production of Golden Boy on Broadway. In one of the letters to his father I discovered that he hopped a freight train to New York City after graduating from the U/W, and began his career in the theater with just pennies to live on.
I believe he met his first wife Mary at the U/W, and they somehow ended up in the same big town, NYC! They were married in 1938 and their only child Karen was born in 1942, one year before my Dad joined the war effort and was shipped off to basic training. I think I will discover more of the unraveling of this story, as you will, in reading these letters with me – but at some point in my father’s absence, Mary fell in love with another man. I am waiting to see when in the letters, his presence becomes known, if ever. Where I am, with you, in the story as it unfolds presently, is that he is very frustrated at the lack of mail from home, and in his wonderful stoic way, is continuing to tell his story, despite feeling neglected. I have such admiration for the way he plucks along, making the best of each day despite the hardships!
Fast forward to his coming home, Mary leaving him and taking the child, a few years of trying to make it in the world of theater and becoming disenchanted, broken. I know I’ll learn more as the letters unfold, but in the meantime, all I know is that he eventually comes “home” to Seattle and reunites with his best buddy’s sister that he’s known his whole life – my Mom – Marge Grimes! The rest is history – and that’s why I’m here today writing this post!
So here’s to you, dear Rol! Did you poke me from the other side a month or so ago? To finally drag those moldy boxes out of the shed and reveal the carefully saved record of your life? I wonder sometimes if you’re smiling broadly – your energy and love all around me, as I carefully document and save your precious letters. You so diligently recorded your life, and those time capsules have sat mute until now. Is it any accident that your offspring would have the same passion for documentation that you had? Perhaps it’s just that it took me this long to be able to truly open my heart to you, and hear the message that you’ve been wanting to share with me my whole life. I’m finally listening Dad. And so are other people that didn’t even know you. Now they do, and we all love you.
Happy Birthday to you, Mr. America!