My parents, Joe and Florence Hertell, met in St. Louis, Mo., in the second decade of 1900. Each of their families had been part of the massive surge of German immigrants coming to this country at the turn of the century to start a new life.
Over the years, the couple welcomed two sons, Robert and Alan, five years apart. Then, five years later, they had a daughter, Marilyn Ann - Lynn to the family. It was another four years before I appeared, the designated "baby of the family."
In a way, ours was a strange home situation. Since we kids were born so far apart in years, it was as if we grew up in four different families.
By the time I came along, brother Bob was well into his teens. When I was 10, he was already serving as a bomber pilot in the Air Force, flying missions over Europe. Later, he flew during the Korean conflict, was shot down and, though wounded, managed to save his co-pilot's life. He was a big brother to be proud of.
By the time I was 12, brother Alan was attending medical school. After he received his medical degree he, like brother Bob, joined the Air Force, becoming a Major.
When I was 13, a heart attack claimed daddy's life. Mom and Lynn and I carried on together.
Sister Lynn was a beautiful blue-eyed blonde who was blessed with a fantastic voice and an artistic eye. I was happy to serve in the role of her kid-sister fan club.
When I was 15 and Lynn was 19, she married her sweetheart, a tall, handsome ex-airman, Keith Yeager, and together they moved to California to be near his family. Lynn never looked back.
For many years, the big Hertell house on Carleton Street in Ft. Worth was home to just mom and me.
Years later, while I was in college at TCU, mom volunteered at the Servicemen's Center in downtown Ft. Worth. I often dropped by to see her on my way home from classes. That's when she introduced me to George Schenk, a shy young airman with warm brown eyes.
Before long, George and I fell in love, married and moved to his hometown, Erie, Pa. The following years flew by, bringing with them three children and many life changes.
It was in the late 80s when I got a call from brother Bob's family. He had spent his retirement years in Missouri. Sadly, he had been diagnosed with throat cancer and, after a brave battle, it had claimed his life.
Brother Alan, who had become a respected Atlanta physician, dearly loved his adopted southern city. In 1995, he was eagerly looking forward to Atlanta hosting the Summer Olympics in 1996. But, he was never to see his city welcome the world. For on Christmas Eve, 1995, my beloved brother passed away in his sleep.
Lynn and I were the last two of the original four Hertell kids.
In January of this year, Lynn celebrated her 81st birthday. She had begun smoking as a teen and the lifelong habit had taken a heavy toll on her lungs. She was on oxygen 24/7.
Last week, I received the call I had been dreading. My beautiful, talented sister had passed away. Although I was broken hearted to learn of her death, I'm so grateful that her long, difficult struggle is over.
So now, as I look back on warm memories of growing up in that big house on Carleton Street, I'm so grateful that God blessed me with a special trio of siblings to share my early years.
But, as the last leaf on the Hertell tree, I'll not waste much time looking back. Instead, I'm determined to continue looking forward, savoring every minute that lies ahead.