April 20, 2012

Charles Robert Latteman (1932--2012)

Bob Latteman was many things, but I called him Grandpa.

According to author Daniel Taylor, “Our stories are inextricably interwoven. What you do is part of my story; what I do is part of yours.”

I remember the little things about him: he always had steak and Boston cream pie for his birthday dinner; he liked to tease everybody, and would say things just to be ornery; he was nothing if not thorough, especially when it came to any kind of work (his motto was, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” a maxim which my father often repeated to me).

I remember staying with him and Grandma at the Lake, watching Grandpa break up a giant, old-fashioned shredded wheat biscuit in his cereal bowl. I had never seen one so large or without frosting, and he told me that was the only way he ate his cereal.

I remember my brother and I would be running around the house and he would always stop us and ask why we didn’t have any shoes and socks on.

I remember that he taught me a special way to tie my shoes so that the knot would never come undone until I wanted it to.

I remember his hugs: one-armed, he would squeeze tight with all the unspoken “I love you”s pressed into one.

My aunt Lori wanted to learn more about Grandpa’s life, so she bought him the book A Father’s Legacy--Your Life in Your Own Words. She gave him “assignments” but, characteristically, he didn’t really want to do as he was told. So, she cornered him on car trips or during his chemo treatment (when he couldn’t get away) and asked him the questions, writing down his answers.

I’d like to share with you some excerpts from Grandpa’s story in his own words.

What chores did you have to do when you were growing up? Did you get an allowance?

I had all the chores. Empty the newspapers and burn them. I took the newspapers from the lawyer on Main Street. I asked him if I could do something for money. So I took care of his trash every week and would burn it because he wanted it burned. The office was between Main Street and the entrance to High Street. I also swept the offices for him. He might have paid me 50 cents a week. I didn’t get an allowance. Allowance...what the heck was that? We didn’t have any money.

During childhood, who was your best friend? What were some fond memories you shared?

Karl Jacobson was my best friend. He lived in Phillipsburg, New Jersey and we walked to school together every day. He was a center and I played guard for our basketball team. He was a very good student. I just made average grades, mostly Bs.

Did you ever go to a dance? Tell me about it.

Oh yeah, I learned to dance at the youth night in town where they taught the kids to dance (at the Old Mill on the 2nd floor). The dances were every week. They did round dancing (slow dancing).

Where did you live when you were going to college or developing a career? Describe an unforgettable experience from that time in your life.

I went from high school to the United States Air Force. I was 19 when I graduated in early June that year. The draft was going on for the Korean War so I decided to enlist to have a choice in what I did rather than being drafted. I had drafting 3 years in high school so I applied for Pritchard Co. after the service and they hired me. Don Hulst was a mentor to me as a squad leader. He didn’t have a degree but had been an assembly line supervisor at the GM plant building airplanes, and he taught me a lot about piping. Refineries were being built so there was a big demand.

If you served in the Armed Forces, describe how your time in the service affected your life.
I had an excellent service career. I was First Airman at Richards Gebauer Air Force Base. I even won Airman of the Month: It was an award to entice good morale and keep everything quality and spruced up. You had to do all the right things consistently. I was the ranking man in my room of 3 so I had responsibility for that as well. I won the award and they flew me to the East Coast in a T-bird (2 seater) for 2 days and back. My lieutenant got to see his family at the same time. It was a landing by instruments only. His first GCA landing.
Have you ever been in an accident, had surgery or a long illness? How did this
affect your outlook on life?

Never as a kid, except when I jumped on the banister on the second floor porch while playing horse and I missed one day and fell off onto the porch roof and rolled off onto the slate sidewalk, landing on all fours and my chin hit the sidewalk. It really bled a lot. Dr. Bostwick put 2 clips and a bandage on it and it seemed like I had it on there forever. (Did it teach you anything?) Yes, not to jump onto banisters! I was always pretty cautious after that.
(It is interesting to note that this was his answer despite surviving quadruple bypass surgery, an accident that permanently altered his ankle and lower leg, and enduring 6 rounds of chemotherapy)

What is your favorite way to spend a day of leisure?
Golf. I learned golf when I caddied on the golf course at Blair Academy. I had that job before the newspaper job. Second would be hunting. My favorite animal to hunt would be deer.
What is your most treasured possession and why?
My most treasured possession is my 30 aught 6 rifle because I was never in a position to own one in the past. So when I was able to buy it, I enjoyed it. I think I’ve shot a couple of deer with it.
Describe the most fun you ever had on the Fourth of July.
Fourth of July at the Lake of the Ozarks, watching the fireworks on the water.
How would you describe yourself: Tender-Hearted or Tough-Minded?
Both! I have a soft spot in my heart for some things but there are other things I just won’t tolerate. I like to make my own decisions. I don’t like things forced on me. In the military, you have to have a mindset about the work you’re doing regardless of the nastiness. You just make up your mind to do it. But I only lasted for 4 years. I could put up with it until the end but then I wanted to move on.
These are just a few of the many stories Grandpa told throughout his life. They give a glimpse into his strong, conscientious work ethic and desire to do the right thing, how he liked to spend his free time, and his independent, stubborn, and strong-willed spirit.

He also loved to listen to stories and would spend hours listening to Paul Harvey’s radio show, often reciting those stories to anyone who was willing to listen. Just like Paul Harvey used to say, Grandpa now knows “the rest of the story.”

We’ll miss you, Grandpa.

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