CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER GELORMINE
Editor’s Note: Author Candace George Thompson provided a complimentary copy of this book to Heather so that she could take a look inside and share her thoughts with our readers. The opinions below are all hers. Amazon affiliate links are embedded below; if you purchase this book through these links we will earn a few pennies on the dollar at no extra cost to you
Still Having Fun: A Portrait of The Military Marriage of Rex and Bettie George, 1941-2007
by Candace George Thompson
305 pages, paperback; also available in e-book format
Publisher’s Description: “Still Having Fun: A Portrait of a Military Marriage, 1941 – 2007,” covers Rex and Bettie George’s life together until death. Despite Rex’s long absences, Bettie approaches every obstacle with a positive, upbeat attitude. Rex, the ultimate handyman, can do just about anything: plumbing, baking a pie or piercing Bettie’s ears.
The George’s marriage survives the death of a child, a murder, absences that last from three to fourteen months, a family suicide, frequent uprooting, and health crises. Their religion and faith are a source of strength that guides their lives.
Rex becomes Bettie’s sole caretaker as Alzheimer’s disease begins destroying her mind. When concerned friends and family ask how he is holding up, Rex’s refrain is, “We’re still having fun.”
My Thoughts: This book was an absolute delight to read. It is the tale of those who would become among the first of what we might consider to be the modern military family, facing wartime deployments, overseas moves (with and without dependents), and a tight budget, all while attempting to make time for one another in a culture that believed, “If the Army wanted you to have a family, it would have issued you one”.
I was initially drawn to the premise of the book because there are several chapters that discuss their time on Okinawa. The Georges were among the first families to arrive on the war-torn island, arriving just a year-and-a-half after the 82-day battle that took place largely on Okinawa’s southern shores. From the letters written by Bettie to her mother – who saved nearly all such correspondence for decades – we are able to see how truly stark their living conditions were at that time:
“Sunday – March 16th 
Okinawa – Kadena Air Force Base
Dear Mother & Boys,
…Been here about two weeks now. … We have a 9 ft. Servel [kerosene-powered refrigerator]. We are the only ones on the street with a refrigerator. Good thing it is big. Everything is scarce & we all share. I borrow a roaster to bake & roast in and neighbors use our refrigerator. Thank goodness it’s not an electric one. The electricity goes out from midnight till 6 or 8 A.M. & several times during the day.
Now, the water is off more than it’s on. Usually we carry water. But today Rex put up a storage tank & we’ll always have water. He also piped the fuel oil into the space heater so we wouldn’t have to carry it in.
Hot water – tsk what’s that? If we ever had water long enough & enough pressure we’d have it. So far there’s been none.
We’re eating fine. Nothing fresh. Every morning I open the refrigerator & the butter is so strong that it comes carrying the eggs out. They are too old to come out on their own.” (page 83)
Thompson has punctuated these letters with her own memories and those of her parents through interviews she conducted with them years later. One example is this explanation about the family’s first house on Okinawa:
“Our family of four lived in a Quonset hut, a pre-fabricated, semi-cylindrical building made of corrugated metal. Ours was 20 feet wide and 100 feet long. We occupied 60 feet of it; the neighbors at the other end had 40 feet. Many of the Quonsets in the area where we lived had not been finished on the inside. Fath’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, and his carpentry and plumbing skills came in handy.” (page 84)
Bettie’s letters are comical and made me audibly laugh at times. Written by a young mid-twenties Army wife who was already fairly seasoned in this life – she had moved herself every few months, following her Soldier from one training base to the next before he deployed for his job as a B-24 Navigator during the WWII/D Day era, his actions during which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross award – these letters discuss everything from parenting her two young daughters, her daily life as a wife and Army spouse, and the experiences they had in this overseas assignment. Despite living under what we might today consider to be hard conditions, Bettie’s writing reflects a perpetually matter-of-fact yet positive attitude about everything from naughty children to disease-carrying insects that were only fumigated from family living quarters once several people contracted and died from encephalitis.
There were many passages that I couldn’t help but read aloud to my husband, making him pause from working on his own Honey-Do list and saying, “Listen to this!” We both especially appreciated a section where Bettie detailed the work her husband was doing to improve their house while on leave, commenting, “Tuesday was yesterday. Rex labored on. He’ll be so glad when his leave is up & he can rest at the Bomb Group again“. (page 93)
Though these letters about life on Okinawa spanned just under 100 pages, the rest of the book was no less compelling to read. Thompson has interspersed brief spurts of topic-relevant military historical facts right alongside the minutia of this couple’s life, from brief (unclassified) descriptions of her father’s various jobs within the Air Force, to the way her parents kept track of every penny they ever spent, even creating a column in their accounting spreadsheet for pennies “stolen, lost or misplaced” by Bettie. It is likely because of their habit of recording everything that this story is as detailed as it is, but I never felt bogged down by these details. Thomspon has done a careful job of omitting that which is unnecessary to propel the story forward, while injecting tidbits that help readers feel invested in the lives of the George family.
In all, I was so happy to have been introduced to this book, and I’ve already informed my husband it’s one for him to put on his reading list as well. Whether you are a history buff, someone who has ever lived the military life for a little while, a member of “The Greatest Generation”, or even just a romantic sap, this book will likely fit the bill for anyone with those interests.