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.

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GOD’S SPECIAL CHILDREN


My cousin Kendall passed away this past year at the age of sixty-one years as we count chronologically, but he never grew up. Kendall was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and had Down Syndrome. His parents, my aunt and uncle, lived over seas for thirty years, and nothing much was being done at that time anywhere in early education for the mentally handicapped or the parents. Abnormalities in a birth always come as a surprise to parents happily looking forward to a life filled with so-called normal expectations, but to older parents living in a third world country, Kendie’s birth was heartbreaking and unexpected.

Their initial and common reaction was to take the blame. “what have I done?” “How could I have prevented this?”

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability.
The average IQ of a young adult with Down Syndrome is 50, or equivalent to the mental age of an 8- or 9- year old child, but this varies widely. Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life, ideally from birth on. In the past, the life expectancy was about 30 years, but now it is about 50 or 60. Down Syndrome is the most common chromosome abnormality in humans, occurring in about one per 1,000 babies born each year. It is a lifelong condition, but with care and support, children who have Down syndrome grow up to have healthy, happy, productive lives.

Fortunately so much has changed in public acceptance of the mentally challenged. A hundred years ago, these people were kept in a back bedroom, and lived out their brief lives alone and unseen. It was assumed that they were incapable of learning, and even their existence was kept a somewhat shameful secret.

Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life. My daughter earned her college degree in the study of the mentally challenged, some of whom had Down Syndrome. Specialized education is a wide open field and now some children with Down syndrome are educated in typical school classes. Some individuals with Down Syndrome graduate from high school and a few attend post-secondary education. In adulthood, about 20% in the U.S. do paid work in some capacity with many requiring a sheltered work environment.

Kendall’s life fell in the middle of an “enlightenment” period in that though he was ubable to participate in an early-childhood education in Saudi Arabia, he was later sent to a school in the U.S. where he lived throughout his life. He never grew beyond the size of a 9-10 year old, and he was always cheerful and happy as a small child, with a big smile lighting his face when he was pleased or when he recognized a friend. These people live at the very pinnacle of innocence. It is we who need the education to accept them for what they are, God’s Special Children

About 35 years ago, a friend with two young sons called early one morning to tell us of the birth of a fourth son. This family prided itself on building good health, strength and athletic ability. Each was proficient in sports. As Dr. Advice answered the phone, I caught a slight change of expression as he said “Maybe God thought you needed a cheerleader for your basketball team.” He had promptly diverted the conversation from one of mixed feelings into one of positive anticipation. Their fourth son had Down Syndrome.

At the time the University of Washington had a concentrated study of the condition, and the mother of this child went there from California and learned what was being done to educate babies from birth. Instead of waiting for several years before teaching basic skills, Blair began immediately being prepared to live in the mainstream of society. Before speech, he was taught sign language, which hastened his communication skills.

As soon as possible, Blair’s mother took him into school classes and introduced him, explaining to the students that he had Down Syndrome and what it was. When old enough, he was enrolled in school and treated just as any other student. He was never made to feel “different” or out of the loop. His mother organized a baseball club made up of mentally challenged children, which developed their concept of team play, and their natural joy in physical activity. She even went to members of the Oakland Athletics professional baseball team and appealed to them for pieces of athletic equipment, which they gladly donated, taking the little team under their wing.

To see Blair today, with his show of confidence and compare him to Kendall, a lot can be attributed to his early training.

Years ago, when Blair was about 5, I received this poem from one of his older brothers while he was a student at U.S.C.

My brother Blair, was born with Down Syndrome, a form of mental handicap. December 1990

BROTHER, by Sean Hogan

Brother so kind, how can it be?
Brother “What happened? How come he can’t see?
Brother I’m sorry; you will never be like me.
Brother your life will set me free.

Mother please, the blame will never be known.
Mother in this life, the harvest can not be resown.
Mother worry not so much for him.
Mother cry more for me and Tim.

Father others expectations may run too high.
Father friends will come, fear, and say goodbye.
Father they say patience and time can only tell.
Father without you, his life will surely be Hell.

Grandpa, has Peter now become your best Friend?
Grandpa, how come you never stayed till the end?

(As Peter denied the knowledge of knowing Christ, Grandpa tries to deny Blair’s existence and relationship to him.)