Off Like a Herd of Turtles

By Faith Herbert

Paul and I had a good long run.  We were married nearly 66 years.  We met at the weather bureau in Parkersburg, West Virginia, when we were 20 years old.  My first impression of Paul was not a good one.  I found him with his feet on my desk while he was reading PM, now a defunct newspaper.  I wondered who he was to be so bold and why he was at MY desk, reading MY newspaper.  I was a bit annoyed at his rudeness.  I learned he was a new employee. Once I got to know Paul better, my impression changed.  We would go for walks, see movies and go to dinner.  Paul was tall, dark and handsome … the look of that day.

The first time Paul took me to meet his family in Mystic, I remember sitting with Grandma Herbert after dinner.  She took me through a scrapbook of photos of the Herbert Eight.  She was very nice and welcoming to me, as was the whole family.

Paul had quirky sense of humor.  At his high school graduation, he gave the Valedictorian speech.  While he talked, everyone laughed and he did not realize why.  We later learned that it was because instead of saying  ‘full to brim,’ he said ‘frim to the bull.’  This became a much-told family story by Paul. He always laughed at himself when he told the story.   For some reason, the song Yakety Yak (don’t talk back), by The Coasters, made him laugh.  He got a kick out of playing it on the car radio for the grandkids on the way to school or their sporting events.  After patiently waiting for me and the three girls to get ready, Paul often would say as he drove the car away, ‘we’re off like a herd of turtles.’  This is an expression we all use to this day.

Paul had a keen intellect, was a voracious reader and loved history.  He was avid about politics.  He was a devout Democrat. When we lived in Massachusetts, he ran for selectman.  The police and fire department in town were seeking salary increases that year.  Paul took up their cause as his campaign platform.  He had a great time campaigning, but lost the election.

Two of the qualities I admired and counted on in Paul were his unending patience and trustworthiness.  He was a thoughtful man and very kind to other people. A few years after we moved to California he was picking up his clothes from the cleaners.  He found the owner quite upset because her equipment was broken.  He offered to help.  Paul went home and got his tools and went back and fixed the equipment and it is still running today.  He offered that kind of help all the time.  He regularly repaired the toys and bikes of John, Faith, Eileen and Annie and their friends.

He had an unyielding curiosity leading him to seek many hobbies over the years – learning how to repair and build things (he often said, why would I pay someone to do what I can do myself!’), becoming a self-taught HAM radio operator and building and piloting an ultra light plane.  And, as a child of the depression, he never lost his love of a deal, always seeking out the lowest gas price in town.  Oh and of course, he loved peanut butter!

We had a good life.  We experienced so many things together.  We worked for the U.S. Weather Bureau in Gamble, St. Lawrence Island Alaska in the early 50’s. We moved west and explored California with the kids, attended Herbert Family reunions in Berkeley and Portland, lived through a flash flood in the desert, experienced an overturned trailer accident and heard unwelcome bears at night when camping in Yosemite, to name a few. (Paul swears I broke one of his ribs from poking his chest in fear!) He took pleasure in seeing his four children grow up.  He was a proud grandfather.  He was ahead of his time in supporting women’s rights.  He always supported my interest, education and working outside the home.  He respected all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or social status.

The crowning grace of Paul’s 25-year career at TRW was that his name, and that of others who worked on the U.S. lunar landing program, was etched on a disk that was left on the moon.  He’s now a man on the moon.

Paul was a treasure and I still feel his presence in our home.  I think of things I want to say to him and then remember he is not here.  He is greatly missed.

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