A ONCE IN A LIFETIME GUY


I always knew that I had to write about Uncle Henry; one of those uncommon men who enter your life quietly and remind you that goodness abounds in unlikely places.

Uncle Henry married my mother’s sister, Aunt Corrine, in Saudi Arabia sometime in the 1950’s when both were working for Aramco. It was a fortunate union for both of them.

During the 1950’s I was involved with family and work, so I missed most of the good stuff as I like to call their life over there, but later, when they returned to their native soil after 30 years overseas, I caught up.

Henry Alisch was born in New Jersey to a German-American family, and whose cheerful Bavarian mother was often ill. Henry, much like his mother in personality, was her loving caregiver.

Late in the 1920’s when he finished high school, he and his best friend met a man who gave them his business card and offered them jobs in the movies if they wanted to come out to California.

Saying goodbye to family and New Jersey, they hopped a train and came to Hollywood to become movie stars. When they presented the business card to the person at the gate of the movie studio, they found that their benevolent “producer” no longer worked at the studio.

Friendless and out of cash, they quickly found jobs as bell boys at one of the hotels in downtown Beverly Hills, where they were paid 25 cents plus tips per bag to carry them up to the rooms. Both boys being good looking and personable, they amassed a small stash of extra cash.

Lindbergh had already made his flight across the ocean in the last decade, and the barnburners were on each corner offering flying lessons for $5.00 each to eager young men. Feeling brave and optimistic, Henry, or Hank as he began to be called, took a few lessons and got his pilot’s license.

The war had started in Canada, and Hank’s friend went off to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Henry’s eyesight prevented him from joining up, but he spent four years in MATS, Military Air Transport Service, ferrying planes to Europe during the war. Being highly intelligent, he became an expert in airplane maintenance.

In 1946 the War was over and Henry saw an ad for Airplane Tech, top pay, overseas. Knowing he was qualified, and looking for new adventure, he stepped off the DC-3 and onto the hot tarmac in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia into 124 degree heat. Wishing him well as they picked up their suitcases and stepped onto the waiting airplane were two young men on their way back home.

Aramco, or American Arabian Oil Co. had a few planes, and Hank was in charge of their maintenance. Dhahran had an American community where he met a beautiful blonde secretary who had arrived in 1949. On a two year contract with Standard Oil of California; this was my Aunt Corrine.

For the next 30 years they lived an exciting life while traveling around Europe for work and pleasure. While Aramco had very few planes when Henry arrived, through the years that number greatly increased. They went often to the Rolls Royce factory in England, and to the Hague to KLM Royal Dutch Airline to check up on engines and parts for the Aramco planes.

During their travels, my Aunt, who had extraordinarily good taste, was able to collect first edition books in England, lovely Persian rugs, handmade furniture in Copenhagen, and china wherever she found it.

Children were only allowed to stay until they reached high school age, and my cousin went off to school in Cannes, France. Years later, while shopping a younger woman remarked on my gold bracelets. When I mentioned Saudi, she immediately said “Oh, Aramco!” I asked where she had gone to boarding school and she had been sent to London.

In 1953 Corrine and Henry’s son Kendall was born. Kendy was Henry’s first born child, and with Down Syndrome it was apparent that he needed help. Henry’s early skills as a caregiver kicked in and through the years he devoted much of his time lovingly trying to give Kendy a happy life. While my Aunt was frustrated much of the time, Henry never tired of taking care of Kendy before he went to live in a school in California.

Years later, after they had moved to Brookings, Oregon, Henry looked at his computer and saw a puzzling message from a long lost and nearly forgotten friend. “Hey, are you the same Hank Alisch who went out to California from New Jersey and learned to fly?” His boyhood friend had found him on the internet.

There are things a born caregiver knows that the rest of us don’t. They know if you need your pillow plumped, or a bite of out of season fruit, or whether you want to talk or just sit and stare at the empty TV. Henry Alisch knew all that, and when each of my parents became ill, they were living next door to Henry and Corrine in Brookings, Oregon, he was able to give them care which I could not while living in California. Later on, after their passing, my Aunt needed someone kind and loving to help her through the days, Henry Alisch was there. They both passed at the ages of 98 and 99. I’m glad I knew you Henry Alisch, you helped me through the pain of losing my parents and were a kind and altruistic friend.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

16 thoughts on “A ONCE IN A LIFETIME GUY”

  1. Dearest Mama,

    This was so beautifully written and filled in some of the unknowns I had about Uncle Hank’s life. What I do know, however, is that all of the talent he had as a caregiver you also came by naturally. I am always grateful of how much caregiving you always devoted to me, Jan and our friends….oh yes…and still do….so please don’t stop!

    With love,
    Cori

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    1. Thank you my sweet girl. Love is the key word in whatever care we give to others, as you exemplify in your own life. It makes difficult tasks easy. We are all caregivers in some way. No one stands alone. Uncle Henry certainly lightened my load for which I will be forever grateful.

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  2. A fascinating story, very well told. We used to have friends in Brookings and we visited often in the 70’s and 80’s. Our children were close in age and got along well. The trip down I-5 and then through one or another of the lovely river valleys to the coast was a treat for our family. Lots of happy memories.

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    1. Brookings was a nice place for my parents and aunt and uncle to retire. Being so close to the water it made y father happy to be close to the fishing and it was called “the
      Banana Belt’ because the weather was so mild. I was surprised because my parents had lived in Grants Pass so long. That trip through the mountains is lovely.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I heard from my cousin today regarding this post (the one who went to school in Cannes.) She said she had been bitterly unhappy when she went over to Saudi and missed our grandmother. She and her mother quarreled a great deal and she wanted to come back to the States to Grandma. That did not happen, but after she went to Cannes and learned to speak French she was happier. She was curious to know if I would hear from any other “Aramco Brats”. Not so far but it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s funny how we adjust to wherever life places us—eventually.

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  3. You mentioned that children only were allowed to stay in Saudi until high school. About what year was that? I know two young women who were raised in Saudi (their parents also worked there, although i’m not sure of the company). When they hit high school age, they demanded to be repatriated to the States. My impression always has been that they could have stayed if they wanted to, but that they had had enough.

    The story of your uncle’s quite marvelous. He certainly had more than his share of care-giving, although it sounds like he was more than up to it. I do think that care-giving is a skill, as well as other things, and that when someone manages to master the skill, it becomes easier for them than it is for many other people. I suppose that’s true for a lot of things: coping with disaster, living without fear, and so on. There are techniques that help with them all, and they aren’t exactly mysteries. They can be learned: albeit with great difficulty sometimes.

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    1. It was always my understanding that there were no high schools for the American children so they needed go somewhere else. I would imagine that they could have come back home just as easily as going to Europe. I think in my cousin’s case it made it easier to come to her parents (or vice versa) for holidays. She hated it over there too.

      There were several incidences of kindness my uncle did during my mother’s last days that I was so happy about; my mother wanted watermelon in February, and there was none to be found in their community. He drove several hours into Grants Pass to find it. Amazing.

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