If you read nothing else, Ray Pere was a wonderful father and proud grandfather.
When Dad opened his eyes for the first time—in my grandparents' bedroom, in Chaular, Calif., most Americans didn’t have cars, or radios, and farmers did their work looking at the rear end of a horse. Social media was listening to other people’s phone calls on the party line.
As a kid, when Dad heard the sound of a plane, he would dash outside and watch it cross the sky. His first flight ended abruptly when the engine in his brother Harry’s open-cockpit biplane quit and the sound of the engine was replaced by Harry cussing in French and English.
While the Pere family prospered in California, hundreds of miles to the east dust and the Great Depression ruined dreams. Families in dilapidated cars overflowing with household goods on the run from misery began to stop at the Peres’ gas station. Sometimes when those people were out of money, tires paper thin, the Peres, knowing what it was like to be poor, helped. Dad saw his family give Dust Bowl refugees used tires on credit and offer proud men work in trade for gas and food. Like his parents, Dad had a big heart and supported many charitable organizations throughout his life. (To my chagrin, he picked up rough-looking hitchhikers and gave them money well into his 50s because “they looked like they needed help.”)
Dad remembered when his family got their first radio. He remembered listening to Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats and, sometimes, the angry voice of Hitler. He remembered listening to opera. Often when opera music wasn’t playing on the radio, his father sang opera. He also remembered getting his first bicycle, a bike that took him on adventures far out of town down dusty farm roads to visit surprised family friends and relatives.
At 15, Dad began to drive for his 73-year-old father, who after driving through fences, trees and finally the garage door, out the rear wall and into a tree behind it, yelling "Whoo!,” accepted the fact that he would never be an automobile driver. Dad loved seeing how fast a car could go.
When Dad was 17, Pearl Harbor was bombed. A year and a half later, the Army Air Corps gave him a new wardrobe. After graduating from flight school, Dad found himself in America’s newest fighter, the Black Widow. When he arrived in Italy, to his dismay the flightline was filled with worn-out Bristol Bullfighters, a plane the British didn’t want. In the air, Dad often heard his radar operator in the back of the plane bashing his equipment in frustration. More pilots died as a result of mechanical failures in the Bullfighters than in combat. As his squadron crossed Europe, Dad took time away from carousing with other pilots to go to operas, where he heard beautiful music inside of bomb-scarred buildings. In France, he visited family members who had been unwilling guests of the Germans. After the war, he visited a concentration camp. Back home, he set his eyes on “Honey,” who sat in front of him in history class at college. On their first date, they danced. They continued to dance for 60 years. Their last dance was at the Duchin Room in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Theirs was a mixed marriage of sorts—Honey, the daughter of a Prohibition-supporting minister, Dad from a family that made their own brandy and wine (for friends and family). As in all good marriages, they blended, and except during football season, Dad went to church. Honey learned to enjoy a glass of wine and they both loved opera.
Dad planned to become a teacher, a job that at the time was better paying with more security than that of a pilot. Honey could see that a man who stopped what he was doing to watch planes fly overhead and ran off the road looking at planes when driving past airports wouldn’t be content in a classroom. She told him she could work to make up the loss in pay.
Dad got a job with United Airlines and they landed in Seattle. They had four children, George, Suzanne, Guy and Nina. In Seattle, Dad taught my brother and me how to fly, and all the children how to ski and swim. Soon he had four kids on swim team. When the pool's sewer pump began to act up, Dad volunteered to fix it and became the go-to repair man for the finicky system at Marine Hills.
Tragically, George and Nina died early. In April 2019, Honey passed away.
Dad leaves behind children Suzanne (Jimmy Mulenos) of Sun Valley; Guy Pere (Wanda) of King Cove, Alaska; and two granddaughters, whom he adored, Arielle Mulenos and Rika Pere.
In a recent phone call, Dad said, “I had a good life.” And he did.