Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Around the World with Homer Whittaker

“I’m not trying to make the world over. What happens, happens. Nothing I can do about it. Life happens and it shapes you and the world. You don’t shape life,” replies Homer Whittaker when asked what advice he would pass on to people coming along behind him. Instinctively, I know that listening to Homer share about his life, is going to stretch and shape my very own. Born in Brooklyn, New York on August 27, 1920, Homer Whittaker, is just two days shy of his 90th birthday. Homer is introspective yet surprisingly light-hearted. Although he easily displays the depth of emotion which comes from experiencing the serious side of life, he believes life is best not taken too seriously. He shares and jokes with ease.

Homer describes his early life in Brooklyn as typical. His father owned and worked a lumber yard and his mother ran the house. He is eight years older than Mae, his only sister. His father was strict and very much about business, while his mother was the ‘touchy feely’ one. With a mischievous grin Homer laughs, “She was so touchy feely she broke her wrist across my back as she and my father were going to meet with my teachers.” She was none too happy about being called to talk to his teachers. After that she resorted to chasing him with a broom! Not because he misbehaved mind you, merely because he enjoyed life! “Didn’t you enjoy life at that age?” he teases. Homer’s enjoyment of life didn’t stop him from scoring the highest marks in history and math on the New York Regents exam. He credits his older cousin Dorothy for having his back and keeping him out of trouble. They were very close and always knew what the other one was up to. “Everybody needs someone like that and I was lucky to have her.”

At 17 years old, Homer decided to leave Brooklyn and Kelly’s Bar behind. He joined the US Navy with the clear goal of becoming an aviator and earned his wings at 22 years of age. The next twenty-three years found Homer ‘going to sea,’ flying countless combat related missions, piloting myriad seaplanes and bombers. When asked about the responsibility of commanding planes and people, he says, “I didn’t think about it. It can be a grueling day, 18 to 20 hours, with a B5M patrol plane strapped to your ass…” In a flicker it appears as if people and experiences march swiftly through his mind and across his eyes, “If I’m safe, they’re safe, so we were sure as hell gonna be safe,” he adds with his unique mixture of seriousness, care and humor.

While Homer was in the Navy, he married and had four children, three boys and one daughter. “I credit their mother to really doing a beautiful job raising them… I was always out to sea.” His children have gifted him with wonderful grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. When asked what makes for a successful life, he says that generally being pleased with one’s life. What pleases Homer? “My kids. I didn’t get all gooey over them, but I like them. They’re all very different and they’re nice people. I want them to know that I do respect them and their thoughts and I’m sure I don’t always get that across.” Acceptance is what Homer believes makes life and relationships easier and more enjoyable. “But don’t expect it to happen over night,” he adds dryly.

Acceptance has been a deep and important theme throughout his life. Mag, Homer’s wife, enters the room and when asked what keeps them together after 26 years of marriage, they both have quick and different answers. “Old age, neither of us can run away,” laughs Homer. “Inertia,” Mag delivers with comic excellence. Yet, they both agree that acceptance of each other and the other’s ideas and purpose is essential. Homer adds, “It’s important to accept what your partner feels and encourage and support that.” Homer is an exceptionally warm and inviting man, with an openness and ability to touch and be touched on many levels. Life has indeed happened to and around Homer during these 90 years. It has touched and shaped him and he continues to gift others with his touch. Happy Birthday, Homer!

- Mary Hill

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