In Loving Memory of Dad

Written by Lydia Benedict.

August 21, 1946 - August 24, 2021


World War II had ended just a year earlier. The average cost of a new house was $5,600 while the median family annual income was about $3,000. A dozen eggs cost just $ 0.64. And television was limited to two networks, and 12 hours of programming a week. The year was 1946 and my father, Dwight Paul Hansen, was born on August 21, in Rockford, Idaho. He was the third youngest of a large family and spent his childhood working and playing alongside his brothers on their 640-acre-farm west of Blackfoot.

Young Dwight and his brothers

Because the family’s farm house wasn’t yet built, the family moved into the three-car garage Dwight’s father had built . There wasn’t sheetrock on the walls, so they put up cardboard. While living there, Dwight learned to love the sound of rain on a metal roof. And their garage-house had just two rooms: one for their parents, one for the seven children.

When it came to the occupancy load in their small home, Dwight and his brothers took matters into their own hands in the summer: they moved their beds into the empty grain silo on the farm. Referred to as “The Desert Hilton,” the granary would remain their summer lodging until the boys were evicted to make room for the next incoming grain harvest.

From left to right: Roland, Dwight, Lanny, and Andy

After a farming accident left Dwight’s father with chronic backpain, he sold the farm and bought The Oasis Motel in Farmington, New Mexico around 1960. If Dwight obtained his work ethic and self-sufficient lifestyle from growing up on a farm, his love for flying began while living in New Mexico. After attending flight school, Dad’s older brother, Andy Earl, went to Salt Lake City to purchase a small airplane and invited Dwight along for the ride. The airplane had tandem seats, one behind the other. Dwight sat in the front seat with Andy right behind him. When they flew over Moab, Utah, they hit some turbulence and the little yellow Piper Cub aircraft began bouncing around. Andy, who as a child would vomit just from spinning on a twisted up swing, tapped Dwight on the shoulder and told him to fly the plane, saying, “Just follow the road.” Andy promptly went to the back of the plane, opened the top half of the door, hung his head out, and vomited. When the famous landmark, Ship Rock came into view, Andy told Dwight to fly to it. Next Dwight was told to follow the San Juan River to Farmington. Upon reaching Farmington, Andy mustered enough strength to land the plane. Dwight was only fourteen!

Andy’s yellow Piper Cub Aircraft

Beyond discovering the joy of flying while living in Farmington, Dwight found the love of his life, Shirley Jackson. However, Dwight was shy and Shirley initially doubted that he would ask her out. She even had a bet with her best friend that Dwight probably wouldn’t date her. “I think he will ask you out,” her friend said. Eventually, this six foot teenage boy got up the courage and invited Shirley to take a ride with him on his Cushman scooter, starting a lifelong romance. With his dark hair cut close to the top of his head, and the longer sides standing up to create the classic flat-top style, this tall, dark, and handsome boy had caught Shirley’s eye. Dating during those high school years, Dwight and Shirley enjoyed water-skiing, tubing, and sometimes they sat out on the hood of a car in the desert, shooting prairie dogs.

Dwight’s Cushman scooter.

Dwight and Shirley (on right side of car) after a day of tubing in Colorado

With the Vietnam War and its draft looming large during his adolescent years, Dwight enlisted along with his two older brothers, Andy and Lanny, in the Army Reserves the fall after he graduated high school. Andy, Lanny and Dwight hoped that enlisting would spare them the atrocities of war, something their much older brothers had experienced in World War II and the Korean War, respectively. Dwight never went to Vietnam, but unlike his brothers who left the Reserves after their enlistments had ended, Dwight remained in the Reserves throughout his adult life. While in the Reserves, he was an aircraft crew chief. On January 9, 1973, he was in a Huey helicopter doing night operations over Whidbey Island, when the engine stopped. His crew spotted one light and headed for it. After safely landing the aircraft, the crew realized that the streetlight that had guided them down was the last light before reaching the Puget Sound.

Dwight Hansen’s high school senior portrait

After marrying in the spring of 1966, Dwight and Shirley moved frequently. Later that year, Boeing came to Farmington to recruit workers for their Seattle plants. Both Dwight and his brother Andy signed up, taking Dwight, Shirley and Andy to Renton, Washington where they shared a small house to reduce living expenses. Later, Andy got laid off at Boeing, and was about to move back to Farmington. Dwight and Shirley were homesick as they watched Andy prepare to leave the Northwest. Late one night, Andy and Shirley drove to Boeing Field to pick up Dwight at the end of his shift. Dwight exited Boeing carrying a toolbox in each hand and wearing a huge smile. He proudly announced to Shirley that he too had been laid-off. Dwight and Shirley were going home to New Mexico.

Wedding photo of Dwight & Shirley

 Eventually, however, Dwight and Shirley would make the Pacific Northwest their permanent home. About five years and three children later, they moved into their new house at 147th Avenue Northeast in Lake Stevens—never to move again. There, they had six more children and raised all nine of us. Our family quickly outgrew the three-bedroom, one bathroom ranch. As kids, we learned the meaning of the word “wait” when it came to the line for the bathroom. It was only after having seven children that dad expanded the house to include a second bathroom.

Dwight and Shirley with first four children. From left to right: Douglas, Lydia, Kimber. Paul between Dwight and Shirley.

Always self-sufficient, Mom and Dad taught us kids likewise. For Dad, this translated to hours regularly logged beneath the hood of a car, the boys eventually joining him. Sometimes, Dad even brought a child with him to his job as an aircraft sheet metal mechanic at Paine Field, now Snohomish County Airport. Paul remembers Dad taking him to work where Paul sat on the work table, watching Dad work. Doug recalls actually working alongside Dad there to remove and replace old rivets in the sheet metal of army chinooks. Sometimes, Dad also worked a second job. One time he used his sheet metal skills working for a company that made dehydrators. And for nine years, both he and Mom delivered newspapers for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, starting their route around midnight, not finishing just after the sun came up. Sometimes us kids would take a night shift with Mom or Dad. One night, Travis and Ethan were in the back of family maxi-van stuffing flyers into each newspaper as dad made the delivery rounds. There was a big hump in the road at one of the old railroad crossings and rather than slow down, Dad sped up. Dad was undoubtedly grinning as Ethan and Travis went airborne momentarily.

When it came to the family garden, and mowing the grass, the girls too worked alongside Dad and Mom. Before Robin was big enough to reach the handlebar of the push mower, she would walk in front of Dad, holding onto the lower bar of the mower, “helping” dad. And each spring, Dad revived the old rototiller, and made slow steady passes back and forth in the large family garden for the promise of fresh vegetables and raspberries—always raspberries. Us kids were to follow behind Dad and the tiller with 5-gallon buckets to collect the rocks. Over the years, the garden soil became soft and pliable. We didn’t know it then, but Dad was teaching us the value of hard work.

Robin helping Dad

In between the work, though, Dad took time to play with us. Callie and KC—just small children at the time—would each sit on one of Dad’s feet. Dad would then walk around the house, lugging his little leg weights along. And then there was always the famous (or sometimes infamous) Hansen family water fights. Dad would get right out there with us kids and our buckets and garden hose, even if it was Mom who started the water fight. Dad and Mom also started the long-lasting tradition of hide-n-seek at Fort Casey, the old military fort on Whidbey Island. Mom and Dad played alongside us kids when they were young, and watched us play when they were older. I can still see Dad’s long legs running across those wide open fields, laughing so hard it sometimes gave us kids a chance to escape his long reach. To this day, it remains a favorite even among the grandchildren, and with 40 grand-children, the Hansen Family Games at Fort Casey have become epic.

From left to right: Paul, Robin, Ethan, Callie, and KC at Fort Casey

Every summer or two, our parents would load us into the family car and trek to Idaho, Utah, and New Mexico to visit their families. Seat belts were optional in those days and air conditioning a novelty. One hot summer, we took our road trip in our Ford Mercury station wagon and my siblings and I made our own cooling system. We drenched a towel in water, and stretched it from side-to side across the second row of the station wagon. We rolled up the windows to hold the towel in place, creating a wet curtain that hung between the second row and the rear of the car. Then Mom and Dad rolled down their windows in the front row. As the wind whipped through the car, it hit the wet towel, misting us kids in the back.

The Ford Mercury station-wagon and some of the Hansen children

On those summer trips it was a special treat when Dad and Mom took our whole family to Wild Waves, a waterpark in Utah. Dad, along with the help of us kids, had saved extra money by collecting aluminum cans, squashing them in the driveway, and bringing them to a recycling plant where payment was based on weight. It took many huge garbage bags full of squashed aluminum cans to fund our waterpark trip. I still remember accompanying Dad on the weekends to Flowing Lake where we searched the garbage for soda pop cans. He even took the smallest of the children, lifted them upside down holding onto their legs, and lowered them into the large dumpsters—holding them mid-air to retrieve more cans.

But the real privilege of those long summer-time road trips happened at night. We often drove through the night as it was cooler and quieter because the children would sleep. I still remember sitting up front in the passenger seat next to Dad, keeping him company on those dark, lonely highways.

All nine Hansen children from left to right, bottom row: Travis, Ethan, Paul, KC. Middle row: Doug, Kimber, Callie. Top row: Robin, Lydia.

As teenagers, Dad was always available to listen to our problems or rescue us from our own mistakes. One night, the Fiat I was driving broke down on a dark, unlit road. In an effort to move the Fiat out of the middle of the road, I accidentally rolled it into an unseen ditch. I went to the nearest house I could find, knocked on the door, and called home. Dad dropped what he was doing, ordered a tow truck to pull the car out of the ditch, and brought me and the Fiat home.

Another time, Kimber was driving home from then Rick’s College and took the wrong exit off of I-90. Wandering around on dark roads until she was thoroughly lost, she stopped at a gas station and called home on a payphone. Even though Kimber could not tell Dad where she was, other than to describe the gas station and surrounding area, Dad found her and brought her home.

Besides being our childhood hero, Dad’s sense of humor provided us kids a little slack. When he would try to scold us, his eyes grew wide, like Don Knotts. So us kids would listen to Dad’s speech, and then open our own eyes as wide as we could—sometimes using our fingers to prop them open in an exaggerated wide-eyed look and simply say, “Really, Dad?” Dad tried to remain stern, but almost without fail he started laughing. Dad was a softy.

Hansen family. Left to right; top row: Callie, Shirley, Dwight, Kimber, Robin. Middle row: KC, Douglas, Lydia, Ethan. Front row: Paul, Travis.

More than anything, however, Dad was an example of love, often exhibited through service. In the two years between Dad’s retirement and his stroke, he spent many days working alongside Paul who was renovating his Everett home. Of that time, Paul felt like Dad was his best friend. However, no matter where they were at in the project, Dad unfailingly left Paul’s each day in time to be home when Mom finished her own work shift.

The love our parents shared is the stuff of fairy tales. Boy meets girl in high school and become sweet hearts. They marry young and raise the family they dreamed of building together. Money was scarce for their large, young family, but they relied on each other, building a solid team. And even after Dad’s stroke, when he could no longer fully express his thoughts in words, Dad spoke with his eyes. Perhaps this quiet man had prepared his whole life to communicate without speaking. His eyes particularly spoke words of love to Mom, who cared for him these past 13 years. Dad’s quiet, enduring love for Mom shined right to the end. Like the words of perhaps their favorite song “From a Jack to a King,” Dwight Hansen felt like a king when he was with Shirley Jackson.

From a Jack to a King
From loneliness to a wedding ring
I played an Ace and I won a Queen
And walked away with your heart