Then it hit me. I should write a reverent remembrance of my father who was a pilot during World War II.
Frank was 19 when he enlisted in the Air Force leaving his 17 year-old bride, my mother, back home to keep the fires burning.
I’ve read some of their letters during that time that really break your heart. The yearning, the I miss yous…the fear of not coming back, is all there between their now brittle pages.
When I read them it’s hard to believe how their marriage, years later, crumbled into a heap of such unrecognizable debris.
Time…they say it heals, but not before it does unbelievable harm.
My father was very handsome in his youth…all legs, natural muscle and cheekbones. No one would have believed that, however, when he died in his 40s of cirrhosis of the liver as a result of too much alcohol, but that’s another essay.
The war did two things to my father: it robbed him of his hearing in one ear, and made him a passionate patriot. I grew up with the American flag flying proudly from our front porch along with reruns of Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Best Years of Our Lives. I thought my mother must have been just like Myrna Loy welcoming my dad all dressed up with a roast in the oven. Turns out she wasn’t even home, but at a Tupperware party at her friend Min’s. Apparently, no one was there waiting when he walked through the door.
This would come up from time to time, according to my Aunt Tillie, my mother’s eldest sister…usually when my father had too much to drink.
He never stopped being mad for my mom or mad at her since her jets cooled considerably during the four years he was away. It would have been six, but they sent him home early due to his chronic deafness.
I’m sorry I never asked him about the war. It was as though it never happened, but it did. And how remiss was I to gloss over it as though it were nothing. But I know we do that, even now when we see a veteran asking for a handout holding a sign that says…HUNGRY…PLEASE HELP.
Their eyes, if you can bear to meet them, say it all.
To be forced to enlist whether you wanted to or not. To leave your loved ones to fight an enemy more or less going through the same pain as you. To wonder, if I hadn’t gone, would my wife still love and want me?
I’m only guessing what my dad might have seen in his highball glass all the times he sat by himself in the yard with the cat on his lap. He didn’t say much when I was little. An occasional, be careful…walk don’t run, and you know I love ya curly. That’s what he used to call me, and shrimp, and nudnik and Miss apple pie.
My mother could still make him happy yet so sad all at the same time. She had a knack for that along with a heartless streak I’m grateful I didn’t inherit gleaning his tendencies instead…to love another more than yourself.
I don’t know what happened to our American flag. When my mother died and they emptied the house, I’m pretty sure it was stuffed in a box somewhere.
Not that anyone asked, but it was the one thing I would have wanted.
I could have unfurled it and hung it from my window, knowing, if those stars and stripes could only talk, what a tale they could tell.
Happy Memorial Day Daddy. I’m proud to have had a father who served, suffered for it and was still proud to be an American.