Dad (21 years old)
In 1975 nobody learned to read in kindergarten. Reading was a first-grade subject then, and kindergarten was for learning how to make friends and drink milk out of cardboard cartons. But somehow I could read before starting kindergarten. I remember sitting on my sister’s lap at age four and reading a Cookie Monster book from start to finish. Sandy tossed me off her lap and ran away yelling, “Mom! Al just read a book!” My earliest memory is being described as smart.
I was a hit in kindergarten. We would watch Sesame Street in the classroom, and when the part of the show arrived where a word would magically come together my classmates would sit breathlessly until I proclaimed it aloud as if royalty making a grand decree. “The word is…CHICKEN!” And the class would cheer. Heady stuff for a five-year-old kid.
My “smarts” had an obvious genetic component since both mom and dad were intelligent, although dad had some special Rainman-like quality when it came to mathematics, something I apparently inherited to a lesser but notable degree. Dad was also a high school dropout.
Dad studied Latin in high school in Missouri in the 1930s and hoped to be a physician. Without his knowledge, his principal worked to secure him an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy sometime around 1937, but Dad turned it down since it was the Great Depression and he was the oldest child. He then dropped out of high school to work.
Pearl Harbor was bombed the day after Dad’s twenty-first birthday. He had heard horror stories of trench warfare from old men in the “Great War” and was enamored with the Navy anyway, so he chose to enlist. Dad took a train from Union Station in St. Louis to Chicago for processing and did so well on a particular test that the Navy wanted him in an electrician school that was starting right away in San Francisco, so he boarded another train and left for war. He was gone for four years, but thankfully for many of us, he was among those who did come home.
Dad served on a variety of battleships and carriers in the Pacific Theater, and I regret never recording which ones since I believe his records were among 16-18 million files destroyed in a tragic fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in July 1973 (although I haven’t given up hope yet). What I do remember is that he served in the Battle of Midway, the turning point of the war in the Pacific, and the subject of current feature film at the box office—a movie I obviously have to see.
Today is Veterans Day. And if you can’t tell, I am thinking about Dad. I suspect many of you have someone to think about, too.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged battle of midway, family, fathers, great depression, high school dropout, kindergarten, naval academy, navy, pearl harbor, sesame street, sons, veterans, veterans day, war in the pacific, world war two
SCENE 1: It was August 2012 and the worst moment of my life. My mother was dying more rapidly than I and my sisters imagined, and I had spent the last hour holding her hand while she dozed in a special lift chair. The clock taunted me like an executioner. I knew that I had to fly back to California and leave her for the final time, and eventually, that time arrived. I went to grab my bag, but when I returned to say goodbye it was obvious that this would not go well. I stepped into another room to gain composure but failed, so I simply collapsed in loud tears into her shallow, yellowed chest, and through my sobs could hear her raspy, comforting, motherly voice whisper, “It’s going to be alright.” It sure didn’t seem so. When I stood to leave, I strode quickly out the door knowing that I would never leave if I looked back. A man should never have to turn his back on his dying mother, but I did.
SCENE 2: Three weeks later, I am on an afternoon flight from Los Angeles to Memphis. That night, through the miracle of air travel, I would sleep in the bed my mother died in that morning, two thousand miles from where my fateful day began. I reviewed the eulogy fortunately written the day before and fought off tears on what otherwise appeared to be a normal flight. Troubled and weary, I put away the notes and plugged in earbuds in a futile attempt at distraction and scrolled through the flight’s music offerings. For some reason, I selected Three Little Birds by Bob Marley and soon heard his hopeful, comforting, spiritual voice say, “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright.” The tears flowed easily now, and if anyone noticed, I didn’t give a fill-in-the-blank.
SCENE 3: It is February 2016 in Malibu, California, and I am driving down the Pacific Coast Highway for a lunch appointment with a good friend. It is sunny, blue skies, seventy degrees, and heavenly. Lunch will be served by the Pacific Ocean with surfers bobbing in the waves. It has been a bit of a rough month personally, physically, and professionally, but I am recently feeling better on all fronts. Per usual, my Legend CD by Bob Marley & the Wailers is playing, and my old friend is reassuring me once again that every little thing is gonna be alright. Mom was right. Of course. She always seemed to be.
Posted in Original Essays, Uncategorized
Tagged bob marley, confidence, death, hope, life, malibu, mothers, pacific coast highway, sons, three little birds