Art Miller is 91 and, six days a week, waits on his daughter’s front porch for the shuttle bus that will take him to Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community, and to Norma.
“We met in high school in Kansas in 1938. I lost my heart when I saw her twirling a baton with the drum and bugle corps,” Miller said. “I told a friend, ‘That’s my girl. I’m going to marry her.’ ”
Sixty-eight years ago, he did, in a midnight wedding on Jan. 1, 1946.
It would have been sooner, but World War II took Miller away from his girl for three years. While in the Navy, the Japanese sank his ship.
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“I was a machinist and spent most of my time in the engine room,” Miller said. “We were in a convoy and a Japanese submarine sank my ship. I have no memory of getting out, but I found myself covered in oil, clinging to a piece of wreckage.”
Two days and a night later, the Navy picked him and two others out of the water.
“I thought about Norma the whole time,” Miller said. “I knew she’d be looking for me at home, and I didn’t want to disappoint.”
The Millers married in Kansas, had their first daughter, Ardith, and moved west, first to Portland, then Tacoma, where they had a second daughter, Deannia.
“Mom was the disciplinarian, and one time she said, ‘Wait until your father gets home!’ I’d done something wrong, and I knew it,” Deannia said. “Dad took me up to my room and took off his belt.
“He said he knew I’d done something bad, but that it was his fault for not being a good enough father. He handed me the belt and said, ‘You spank me.’ ”
Married to husband Ron Kirkevold for 40 years, Deannia said the blueprint for a happy marriage was her parents.
“Dad always called Mom his queen,” she said. “He is completely dedicated to her.”
When Art retired, he and Norma kept their North End Tacoma home and did a little traveling. They drove the United States, saw Mexico, Hawaii.
“After we’d seen those places, I didn’t want to do them again,” Miller said.
Two years ago, they went “home” to visit Kansas — and took the whole extended family with them. Neither Art nor Norma was in great shape, physically, and at 86, Norma had begun forgetting things.
“The first day there, we had such a good day,” Art said. “We all went to the hotel that evening, then met in the restaurant for dinner.”
Deannia realized something was wrong.
“I noticed Mom was eating with her eyes closed, and she wouldn’t talk to us,” Deannia said. “We took her outside and she was struggling, so we took her to the hospital. She’d had a vascular stroke. We flew home with her.”
Art took Norma home to the house they’d bought in 1958. Before long, he realized he could no longer care for her by himself.
“I’ve had three strokes myself,” he said.
Norma went into the Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community. Deannia’s husband, Ron, drove to Art’s house.
“Ron came over and said it was time to give the house up, that they wanted me to live with them,” Art said. “He was right.”
So Art moved in with his youngest daughter, and works in their garden, watches television and occasionally disappears on a small scooter when the weather is good.
“The folks at the Lutheran home love him and watch out for him,” Deannia said. “A few weeks ago, he hopped on his scooter and rode down there. He picked up pizza for the staff on the way.”
Most days, Art takes a Pierce County transit shuttle, reserving a 9:30 a.m. ride from the house to visit Norma. The shuttle picks him up for the return trip at 2:30 p.m.
“Six days a week,” Deannia said. “And that’s only because I won’t let him go all seven. I make him take Wednesday off and stay home.”
What does he do on Wednesdays?
“I wonder how my girl is doing,” Art admitted. “She has good days and bad now, but she’s a delightful person. I’m so proud of her. What a life we’ve had!
“Every afternoon when I leave, I leave a piece of my heart there. I’ll always say, ‘Honey, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ The next morning when I come in she always says, ‘There you are!’ ”