Saturday, August 1, 2009
The Sandrift “Wilbur, You Did Such A Wonderful Job”
“Wilbur you did such a wonderful job!” These were the words cried out by the loud boisterous nurse with the southern accent moments after my father, Wilbur, died in his hospital bed, September 28th 1998. As she spoke these words she threw open the curtains which protected us from the outside world during our private moment. What a wonderful move it was on her part and I will never forget it. As the curtain parted I almost expected the appearance of a great entertainer, it was that dramatic to me. The healing of the living started as the sun emerged from behind the clouds. A large cross had been formed by the passing of two jets miles above the earth and we as a family looked at it as a sign meant specifically for us. The nurse was referring to the manner in which my father had managed his death but I now look at it as a representation of the way he lived as well. The following is a short story of one of his iteresting accomplishments while serving in the U.S. Army in Khorramshahr, Iran, during World War II.
Laughter is carried in the dry breeze across the nearby railway tracks into the forbidding desert. For the locals who did not speak English, a curiosity of the content of what was being viewed by the Americans must of made for some interesting conversations, after all who the hell was Humphrey Bogart? The location was Iran, 1943 - 44. I never asked my dad if he ever fired a shot during the war. I was too impressed to learn that he built a theater in the middle of a desert to really care. My dad, Staff Sgt. Wilbur G. Cole, was a carpenter during the war. A man with limited education but endless in his abilities to design and construct functional things that made ones life easier and more pleasant. Wilbur had to leave school when he was in the 10th grade to help his father run a ranch and cut ties for the Great Northern Railroad in Northwest Montana. Like most families back then they had to survive with little. During the early part of the war, my grandmother who I never met, used to panic when she saw a dust being kicked up by an approaching car. She was always worried that the government had learned of her extra 10 pounds of sugar she had stashed. Wilbur, while helping his father with the orders from Great Northern prior to the war, saw the need for transportation of the school kids to and from the Iron Creek area outside of Troy, Montana, including his younger sisters and brothers. The result was a make shift school bus made from the flatbed stake truck used to haul the railroad ties. He incorporated fold down seats along the sides, of his own design and made regular runs as one of the areas first school buses. That is the kind of thing my father did.
Dad joined the Army during the war and had worked his way to Staff Sgt. when he was sent to the dry deserts of Iran. He built many projects that he used to talk about, officers clubs, barber shops, including barber chairs of his own design. We grew up in a house that my father had built, and outside next to the house dad had constructed benches for enjoying the Montana evenings. These were benches he designed for the officers club in Iran but worked very well for a bunch of kids with growing pains.
The theater which was named, “The Sandrift,” offered movies of the day starring western movie stars under the stars of the middle east. It is so American and I am sure it was the focal point of many romances between American soldiers and maybe female support staff. The photos shown are taken out of my dads Iran photo album. A treasured piece of history for our family. It would be interesting to know when the theater met its end. It would also be interesting to have a glimpse of the stories that had there beginning under the stars while the films ran. I know how at least one story ended. You did do a wonderful job Wilbur!