The earliest memory of this military brat has my Dad stationed at Donaldson Air Force Base. Our family lived in a small, wooden framed house located at 201 Maco Terrace in Greenville, South Carolina.
Our across the street neighbors were Don and Doris Bedford. Don was a propane route salesman. Doris was a homemaker, part-time school crossing guard, and sometime honky-tonk girl guitar player and singer. They had three children. The oldest two were daughters Donna and Cheryl. The youngest was son Dee.
Doris Bedford considerably influenced my family and me. She sang like Kitty Wells and played an electric guitar. She frequently worked at area honky-tonks performing to earn the extra dollars her family needed. She would become my Mother and I’s first guitar teacher. That is a story for another time.
Doris also held an FCC Extra Class Federal Communications Commission Amateur Radio license – K4AOH. She was an HAM. She had learned Morse code and obtained her license as a teenager during World War Two while working for the US government.
Mother became enamored with the possibility of talking to people around the world via Morse Code or voice on a radio. My father already held an Amateur Radio license earned through his primary military job specialty as a radar technician and secondary specialty as a radio technician. When Doris suggested Mother get her license, Dad encouraged her as well.
About this time, my Dad reenlisted in the United States Air Force, He also had a new duty assignment that transferred the family across the USA to Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona. My parents were buying the house at 201 Maco Terrace in Greenville and decided to keep it. Their thought in 1958 was to move back to South Carolina in 1967 when Dad retired from the USAF.
The transfer to Arizona motivated my mother to study harder and faster. No, she didn’t pass the tests and get her license before we left Greenville.
After we arrived and got settled in our rented house in Glendale, Arizona, Mother continued studying in hot pursuit of her HAM license. Doris Bedford introduced Mother to Ken and Gertrude Pond. They were an older couple who lived in Phoenix and both held their FCC license.
I still remember mother buying 78 RPM records that had the familiar dit dah of Morse Code as she studied her radio theory and Morse Code. I helped my mom learn the code by playing the records for her and sometimes sending the code for her to practice using an old military surplus Morse code key. I was proud of how she learned the code. I also learned the code, but at five years old I couldn’t send or receive it as fast as was required to pass the license. I eventually would.
I remember how excited we were when mother passed her Novice Class license. She received the call sign KN7JYX. The N meant she held a Novice class license. It meant she could only be on the airwaves using code. She would have to pass the General Class exams before she could use voice communication. The General Class license required sending and receiving the code at 25 words per minute, as well as additional electronic theory. She passed the exam, and the call sign dropped the N, becoming K7JYX.
We built the first HAM radio from military surplus parts. I still remember the first antenna. It was an inverted V. It had a center conductor and wires going down from each it, one on each side. I helped put up the antenna. The first time we tested it under a radio frequency load we took a Florissant light bulb outside and held it near the antenna. With a good foot between the glass tube and the wires, the antenna light up like a spotlight!
With her license Mother was able to talk to Doris back in South Carolina. Mother would remain active in Amateur Radio until her death. She went on to earn Amateur Advanced and Extra Class license. Her Morse Code speed was over 75 words a minute for the Extra Class license.
She was proud as I went on to earn the HAM radio and Morse Code merit badges as a Boy Scout. I also passed the exams for the Novice Class, Technician Class, and General Class FCC license. My call sign is N5FRJ.
Over the years, I have run a two-meter repeater from the steeple of one church I served and had my HAM rig in my office at three churches I served. For years and decades, I was also a National Weather Service Skywarn Certified Weather Spotter – a storm chaser.
One of the fun things about being a military brat was all the interesting people and lifelong friends you meet and make. The Bedford’s were friends until Don and Doris died.
When we moved back to Texas in 1963 Mother had her HAM call sign changed for Texas and became W5MWK. HAM radio was so important to my parents that their call signs are on their tombstone. It was wonderful sharing a lifelong interest with my Mother.
Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.