He really was a good guy – you just didn’t want to piss him off. I was an expert at pissing him off, whether I meant to or not. If there was a way to screw things up, and piss my dad off, I would manage it.
Before Kyla was born, her dad and I would go down to Teeny-Tiny Town for Christmas every year. He had two kids from his first marriage, so that made arrangements difficult. Worse, I worked in retail – in a mall – and I had two days to celebrate in: Christmas Day and Boxing Day. And those poor kids had a lot of places to be.
My dad died in July of 2008. It’s still really weird to say that. I’ve been thinking about him a lot, lately, and I haven’t yet told the story about the first time he died, which was a few years before I was born.
Except he wasn’t really dead… just… the whole town thought he was. It’s like a sitcom episode.
In three days’ time, my father will have been dead for a year. I have a hard time believing that.
Sometimes, it feels as if he’s been gone forever. Other times, I hang up the phone mid-dial, when I remember that he won’t be there to answer whatever question I wanted to ask him – usually about World War II.
Instead, I will publish just this one – which my mother has given to me to keep, as it seems to have just a little bit of everything in it. It’s very strange to read my father’s words while he was courting my mother (while my mother was courting somebody else – gasp…!); he sure was a tease – I can just hear his voice when I read this.
Anyhoo… I’ve kept the syntax the way he wrote it – some sentences may need to be read twice to get the proper gist – but I’ve taken the liberty of breaking things up into paragraphs. I guess paper was at a premium, and he didn’t want to waste it.
He was training in England when he wrote this.
July 19, 1944
#1 C.O.R.V. C.A.O.S.
Dear Teacher –
I received your letter and pictures to-night so here goes for a start at least. I don’t know when I’ll finish this.
Say how do you manage those pictures anyway? That ‘close up’ of you alone looks like Dorothy Lamour. They were all very good and Thanks a million for sending them. Now I’ll have something to spend my spare moments at gazing.
There was a buzz bomb went over a few minutes ago and of all the jobs I had to doing. By the time I realized what it was and got outside it had gone past.
I thought it was a squadron of our own planes until it was right above us – one of the fellows here has had his camera ready for a couple of weeks intending to get a picture of one but they seem to be too fast.
They make a terrific noise and fly very low and fast. It is only a few seconds from the time you first hear them until they are gone out of hearing and at night look like a ball of fire in the sky.
This place seems to be charmed or something. There has been any number of them went over but none have taken a notion to stop here yet. The closest were a mile or so away and just shake the windows and doors.
Well I wouldn’t mind if I could get a couple of weeks leave on the Island now. I can imagine the nice weather you would be having there. I am kind of disgusted with the weather over here. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in the winter and summer.
We had a few weeks nice weather the last of March and since it has been raining about three parts of the time. The fogs are beginning to start now & also the blackouts again.
I wouldn’t mind so much but through what nice weather there was we weren’t allowed any leave and by the time this course is over the fog will be so thick we’ll have to carry a shovel with us to make a way for us. Of course that shovel would be handy to have along for the B.S. too wouldn’t it?
This is a sort of gloomy letter I guess it’s the army blues.
I hear they are going to give the 7 day leaves soon (I hope. I have 16 days coming now). They have already lifted the ban on train travel & the 20 mile limit. Before we had to ride on the buses or hitchhike as the trains were supposed to be reserved for the evacuees. I guess all the small towns are filled with them now.
Bill (Ahem…* Sorry to interrupt: Bill is my mother’s brother)thinks England is O’K. eh? To tell the truth I like it a lot better than Canada too as far as army life goes. I’d sooner be in Canada just for the sake of being in my own country though.
The stuff isn’t rationed as much now as it was. We can get most of the things you can in Canada but only in small amounts and they use you more like a human than an animal.
With the odd bomb around and France not far away you’d be surprised the difference it makes to the N.C.O.’s & officers. There are very few A.W.L’s here. Fellows that were always away in Canada never think of going loose here.
For one thing there really isn’t anything to go on the loose for like Canada. No means of travel and no place to go or stay or eat if you did go.
Say I hope you don’t get tired of reading this monotonous thing supposed to be a letter and throw it away before you finish.
I had a letter from Edith, my sister-in-law last week. You should see some of the queer English expressions but I’m getting used to them. I suppose if I’m over here another year I’ll be completely “Limetized”. There is a Limey camp right near us and we see quite a few of them often.
Did you know Jack MacMillan from Cockburn Island? I met him in the canteen last week. He is here on an A.F.V. course. I had quite a chat with him. It almost seemed like going home.
Well I haven’t been out of camp for a month now. I think I’ll go on a “bender” at the wet canteen and then settle down for the duration of the course and get ready for trade test Bay. It is only 4 weeks away now. It’s nearly three months since I came here and it only seems about three weeks.
By the way don’t let Eiro tickle you too much (I HOPE). It makes me nervous and I’d hate to have to tell the instructor some day what is wrong with me. ha. ha.
Let me know how your pictures of you and Helen and you and Helen and you and you and Helen, turned out eh? If I were you I would move my shorts around and get all sunburned the same. That would feel too much like shaving only one side of your face (Of course I’m not you though).
How are you and the cows getting along in the mornings?
Well I guess I’ll close as there isn’t anything else I can think of. In fact there was nothing to write about in the first place: Write soon & long.
I’m getting so I can almost start an argument with myself eh?
A Doctor in Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee was called to examine the young wife of an elderly, deaf mountaineer. “Your wife is pregnant” he told her husband.
Mountaineer, hand behind his ear, queried, “eh”?
The doctor shouted, “I said your wife is pregnant.”
Finally the doctor screamed, “Your wife is going to have a baby.”
The man walked to the edge of the porch, spat out a mouthful of tobacco juice, and drawled, “I ain’t a bit surprised. She’s had every opportunity.”
Excuse the writing. It is slightly worse than usual as there is a poker game going on, on the next bunk & every once in awhile somebody just has to step back & shake my bunk.
I would dearly love to know what “job” it was that my dad was doing when that buzz bomb went over. I don’t know if he started writing the next sentence without realizing he hadn’t finished the last, or if it was something a little embarrassing and he didn’t want to say. Perhaps, he was in the latrine…?
My mother still remembers writing to him about that sunburn she got, from laying for too long in one position. And how her father used to give the girls holy hell for going out in public wearing shorts. He thought it was shameful.
And I guess one might have to be a man to figure out how shaving one side of your face might feel the same… does shaving hurt like sunburn?! I wanna know.
Can’t you just smell the testosterone? Taken July 8, 2009 with Kodak DX7440
My father had a quirky sense of humour. More than anything, at least it seemed to me as a child, he liked to get one over on me. Especially if there were witnesses. And every time he conned me, I fell for it.
Every single time.
When I was oh, maybe 9 years old, I remember sitting in his attached garage watching him do something or other while visiting with somebody or other.
They were trying to get something off of something else. Or on to something else. These details are hazy to me all these years later, most likely because of the psychological damage done to me that afternoon.
I see the funny side of this.
Way back then, though… Actually, I can still feel my stomach shrivel up a little bit at this memory.
And then I laugh, because it really was funny.
Whatever my dad and… ummm… let’s call him “Dave”… were trying to do, it wasn’t working out the way they wanted it to… These two big strong men couldn’t get whatever-it-was on or off whatever-the-other-thing was, and my dad was getting pissed off. He was starting to cuss under his breath.
I waited, anticipating the ultimate in my father’s pissed-off-ed-ness to culminate in his utterance of the ultimate of swear words.
He rarely got that upset, but when he did, that’s the word he would invoke to make whatever he wanted to happen, well… happen.
He never raised his voice when he said it. He said it like he would tell the dog to sit. There was command in his voice, but he would say it as if he knew without a doubt that the command would be followed, and the command was generally followed immediately.
I grew up knowing that “C***T” was a Magic Word.
My dad never said it to people or animals. This Magic Word was reserved for uncooperative inanimate objects only: the car that wouldn’t start, the window that wouldn’t open, or the thingamajig that wouldn’t come off of the whozawhatsit.
And it almost always worked, like, well… Magic.
Not that day, though.
Dave finally said, “Matt, ya gotta put some elbow grease into it.”
And my dad laughed and replied, “I’m all out of elbow grease, Dave – used it up on the lawnmower last weekend.”
And then he turned to me, dug into his pocket, and came up with a $2 bill…
“Hey, Diddly-Doo. Run on down to Western Tire and pick me up a can of elbow grease.”
And I fell for it.
Down I walked to the Western Tire, and marched up to the counter. I presented the money to the proprietor, and asked for a can of elbow grease for my dad.
I don’t know how that guy kept a straight face, but he did. He told me he was sorry, but he’d run out. He didn’t expect to have any back in for another week. Hoped he wasn’t inconveniencing my father too much.
None the wiser, I went back home and told my dad the Western Tire was all out of elbow grease. I couldn’t figure out why that was so funny. I didn’t care much, either, because my dad told me to go ahead and keep that $2 bill, to compensate me for my trip.
It wasn’t until we were all at the supper table that I discovered I’d been had. My dad told the story to my mom, laughing to beat the band. My Brother the Trespasser had to leave the table, he was laughing that hard.
Mom gave Dad holy hell for making me go downtown and embarrass myself. Up to that point, I hadn’t known enough to be embarrassed, but the more my Mom told him off, the more I wanted to crawl under the table. I think she might have been more embarrassed to have birthed such an idiot, than the idiot was to realize that you can’t buy elbow grease at the Western Tire store.
I don’t think I ever had the nerve to walk into the Western Tire ever again. It’s no longer there, now, but if it was, I still wouldn’t go in.
I’m sure the owner would laugh and ask me if I needed elbow grease.
I drove down to Teeny-Tiny Town today, having had no sleep since… well, I’m not certain when, but I’ve been writing – really writing – for real writing, so No Sleep Disease isn’t exactly a bad thing. This time.
On the way down, I saw a small plane tipped over on the four-lane median strip, surrounded by a single fire truck and a couple of cop cars. I thought I might be hallucinating at first, but then remembered that if that was the case, my imagination would have turned it into an airliner. I ought maybe check the news to be certain (I assume a plane landing on the highway might be considered news around here, anyway), but I think it’s safe to say I actually saw what I think I saw.
Yup. It’s good to know I’m not completely nuts. Ahem…*
When I got to Teeny-Tiny Town, though, and saw that photo of my mother in leathers on a motorcycle… well…. that was something I was pretty certain was all in my own mind.
Until she started to laugh, and told me the story…
Seems My Brother the Trespasser (or maybe it was a nephew – I’ve had no sleep, and my mom can’t remember…) bought himself a new ride this past spring, and went down to show it off to my mom and my sister, who were both suitably impressed. Mom was so impressed, in fact, that she told one of the aides in the Nursing Home that it was her hog.
I don’t know why, but the aide didn’t believe her!
Mom said she would prove it, and got the Trespasser/Nephew/Whoever to fit her up, put her on the bike to pose, and then had [somebody] get a couple of copies of this pic printed up. The aide displays her copy on her fridge at home. I stole the other copy, to show you all how cool my mom is…
Look real close now… she’s not pointing at you. She’s giving you the finger (yeah, yeah, she’s flipping the bird backwards – give the ol’ lady a break – she’s 85).
We had a visit to the graveyard (my dad’s monument is finally in place – his boat, sailing off into the sunset lasered into it somehow – he would have been right impressed, I think – and it’s an odd kind of comfort to see that boat on there, sailing away…), and went out for lunch before I sneaked off back home, pilfered photo safely tucked away.
On the way back, I saw an upside down tractor-trailer in the ditch, which my brain turned into a crash-landed Borg ship for a minute. The lack of armed militia tipped me back into the real world soon enough, but not before a whole ‘nother story clicked into place, waiting for me to start writing when the current project is put to bed.
Which is where I’ll be going… once I’ve pecked out a few more scenes.
Ky’s finally sleeping again, and is back to school for her morning classes, which is good. I’m assured by the school that she’ll manage to get those credits without a problem – music class, which is hardly surprising (the principal tells me she’d have passed that one based on her talent, never mind that she doesn’t bother with any assignments – I don’t know whether to be proud or pissed off), and geography. Now, that surprises me.
Two credits is better than no credits, though, I guess, isn’t it? I’ll try to be proud.
My own sleeping is not happening again, now. I’m a little concerned about my job. I’m getting there, but it’s difficult. Luckily, I don’t have to drive to get there, so no lives are in danger – unless I blow the place up, but there are safeguards in place against idiots, so maybe that’s not such a big worry…
I need to finish the latest novel. That’s that “hard” one I mentioned a while back. It’s still got a lot of the same elements that the sitcom had in it, but the entire pilot plot has pretty much disappeared, along with a character or two. I’ve kept the bare bones of what would have been the first season. I tried to change the main characters’ names, but they just will not be renamed. All I’ve managed to do is steal away their last names completely.
I had a lot of false starts trying to pick this project back up again. There was a time that I ate, slept and breathed it. That turned into boozing and smoking it, and I think I just wanted it to go away. Working on it kept bringing up nasty, bad thoughts that I didn’t want to think.
I lamented about this to Ky one day, and she surprised me by telling me I should be getting it done and over with. When I told her I didn’t want to listen/watch/write my main characters anymore, she rolled her eyes.
I told her I’d noticed she wore the one and only promotional t-shirt made for the project all the time, even though she’d once told me she was glad it was dead in the water so what’s up with that, huh?! And then, she made me laugh by paraphrasing Holden McNeil:“They’re fictional characters, Mom. Fictional characters. Am I getting through to you at all…?”
So I’m working on it. And it gets a little easier (and a little closer to done) every time I sit down to it.
My blog is turning back into a place to air my grievances, and although that’s part of what it’s for, I really want to get back to telling the Ruby stories (there’s a ton of them), and The Father Chronicles (there’s a ton of those left, too).
And I talked to my Mom today, and she’s feeling a little lost and lonely without my Dad. She said it’s gotten worse, lately, and she’s been rereading his letters from World War II. At first, they made things worse, but now she finds them a comfort and is glad she saved them…
Wait a minute…. “You have letters from Dad during the War…?”
All his letters…?”
Wow. I didn’t know this….
“Can I read them…?”
“Ummmm…… can I blog them…?”
So as soon as I can get myself down to Teeny-Tiny Town, I will have a new category here: Dear Maude…
Another worry is my imminent move. Far, far away.
I’m not certain how imminent it is, now, considering new and ugly turns of events of legal and financial persuasions that may (shudder) bankrupt me (not if I can possibly avoid it), but I will be moving to Vancouver and will be there for at least a year, once I manage it.
I’m going to be going back to school (yes, again), in an accelerated screenwriting program at the Vancouver Film School. I chose this program, because a Canadian school somehow seems more “doable” than trying to get into one in the States – although I’d rather be in the States. I have more friends there. 🙂
It’s going to cost me a mint, though. I don’t know where the money’s going to come from, yet, but then again, I bought the Prissy-Van with money I didn’t have yet, and so far, so good, she’s still mine. I’ll manage this. Somehow. Gulp…*
I didn’t think I’d be able to convince Kyla to go with me, so was working out an alternative arrangement for her, but when I told her about it (actually, I let it slip in a moment of upset over all this stress), she surprised hell out of me by telling me she would love a change of scenery.
I’m busy. It’s a good busy, that I am, and I’m happy not to have too much idle time on my hands. I’m not so happy that it’s my blog that has to suffer first, but I’m hoping to alleviate that over the rest of the month.
Hope springs eternal. Sigh…*
I’m off the night-shift – that move was not my idea, and it pissed me off, at first, but holy ol’ shit, Blogosphere, did you know there’s a great ball of fire in the sky for a short period of time every day?! I KNOW!!! I’d forgotten all about that! Good to know it’s still there.
Now that I’m actually dancing in the parking lot* in the daylight for eight hours at a time again, I seem to have more energy left over for other stuff… like cleaning house. The Idiot Child (AKA The Evil Hypnotist) was tiring of being the housekeeper all the time, so she prefers me on the day shift, too.
I’m still not cooking, though. Methinks, that will never change. The kid turns out to be a not-too-shabby chef, anyhow. Granted, she hates it as much as I do, but prefers eating to starving, and so continues to make my meals. Life is good. 😀
Sault Ste. Marie has, for the first time in possibly a decade, NOT had a January thaw. There are no complaints about the lack of snowmobiling/skiing/snowshoeing snow among the 5-Minute-Conversationalists in the parking lot – just fears of frostbite.
My father speaks to me in the middle of my head at some point during every shift: “Stamp your feet so your toes don’t fall off!” – his mantra during the winter Cockburn Island treks of my youth. I’ve taken to saying that to “my boys” – the young fellas with whom I dance every day – some of whom The Conversationalists mistake for my children, which I’m trying to find funny. I’m failing at that, but the boys think it’s right hilarious. If they were my kids, they’d be grounded for laughing at their mother.
Back to the snow, though…
The photo above was taken in March of last year, but that snowbank was even higher the other night – I know because I took a photo on my way home from Ruby’s, having forgotten I’d already done so last year. Thankfully, I don’t have to shovel (except that J.O.B. parking lot, but getting paid for something makes it less of a chore, doesn’t it) – my wonderful landlord has the Prissy-Van’s security parking area plowed every day, and Prissy has no trouble getting over the build-up the plow leaves around her, so I see no need to do much of anything about it other than gun through it in reverse and try not to hit the fence behind me.
Nine times out of ten, I hit the fence. Hitting fences in reverse at high speed is nothing for Prissy – another plus to having purchased an “All Plastic Vehicle” circa 1992, which, I understand, they don’t make anymore. I did see a similar mini-van marked “MPV” the other day… what’s that stand for, do you think? “Mostly Plastic Vehicle”?!
But, I’m spending too much of this post talking about snow, when I wanted to create my own January Thaw with a story from a late summer event that I wasn’t even in existence to witness. So on with it…
In 1962, my father tried to kill the entire family.How’s that grab ya?
The only reason I’m here to write about it is because everybody lived, and nobody called the cops.
No, he wasn’t trying to kill them all on purpose – it was one of those moments of brilliance-turned-stupid. He tried to asphyxiate the family, himself included, at the family cottage.
This was the Before I Was Born Camp – I wasn’t around, then. My parents bought a camp on Basswood Lake down the line, right next door to my dad’s nephew’s lot. Dad’s nephew, Lorne, was a good buddy – his dad, Marvin (yes, that Marvin), was a lot of years older than my dad, so Lorne and Dad were good pals. Their closeness in age confused many people into thinking they were brothers – and there’s a whole ‘nother story about a town-wide misunderstanding that had my father dead before his time, and my mother labeled as a nutcase because of that confusion. I shall have to tell it here, sometime.
Late one summer, probably in ’62, based on the age of My Brother the Trespasser, who was about two, Dad took the brood to the camp for the weekend, and Lorne took his, as well. As was the routine, the two families ate most meals together, supper being cooked by the men on the barbecue.
Now, this wasn’t the Hibachi of my experience, but one of those round, tri-legged thingies – state-of-the-art in the early 60’s, fueled with charcoal.
Also routine, was the marshmallow roast on the BBQ embers after supper, just before the kids went to bed. Apparently, juicing the kids up on pure sugar and sending them to “sleep” actually worked in 1962.
This marshmallow roast, though, was more exciting than usual.
The evening was cold. It was late August, and my dad said there was a cold snap – frost in the mornings and everything, which isn’t uncommon in Northern Ontario, but it sure can put a damper on a marshmallow roast. The kids’ hands were warm enough, holding their sticks over the barbecue, but their little feet were freezing (“Stamp your feet so your toes don’t fall off!”).
My father was a problem-solver extraordinaire, though, and of course he had himself a bright idea.
Which is how he and Lorne came to drag the the barbecue inside the camp.
The kids thought that was right cool. They had their marshmallow roast, and the only dark spot on the occasion was when Big Sis, who would have been around six at the time, started to feel a little, ummmm, unwell.
My mother tucked her into bed, wondering what bug was about to flit from one kid to another until she had four sick children to sit up with all night.
Thankfully, Mom always said, when she and my dad told this story in tandem (oh, the duets between those two, when they told a story – it’s a shame those days are over, now), the rest of the kids seemed more sleepy than usual, so she was able to get them all into bed and sleeping with none of the usual arguments or cajoling to stay up later. Un-Brother Ken, the oldest, was surprisingly willing to go to sleep without a fight, so my mom was pretty sure he was already nursing that nasty bug, whatever it was…
Kids tucked in, the grown-ups sat around the barbecue with a beer each, set to enjoy the rest of the evening. Lorne’s wife, Kay, was the one exception, having gone over to her own camp to put her kids to bed. My parents and Lorne began to chat about the day, and one after another, they started to yawn…
By the time Kay came back, my mother had decided she was going to turn in early. Kay noticed Lorne was a little loopy, which aggravated her somewhat, and she told him they’d better get themselves home. He reluctantly agreed.
Left alone, my dad checked the barbecue and decided it would be okay for the night, and yawningly got himself ready for bed.
He wasn’t sure why he decided to check on the kids – it’s not something he normally would have done, that being my mother’s habit. He checked on them, though, and all were sleeping deeply. He checked on The Trespasser – “The Baby”, as he was called until I came along four years later to usurp his position – last of all.
This is when he noticed something odd…
There was something… ucky… on The Baby’s pillow… on closer inspection he realized he’d been sick in his sleep. Dad couldn’t see leaving him like that all night, so he gently removed the pillow from under The Baby’s head and set it on a chair where my mother would be sure to see it in the morning and take care of it.
Yeah. It was 1962…
And then Un-Brother woke up, complaining of thirst. Dad brought him water to find he’d gone back to sleep already. He rechecked Big Sis and Tootie, to find that they had an odd tinge to their complexions…
Hmmm… whatever was ailing these kids, it wasn’t something he’d ever seen before… He thought he’d have to make sure to mention it to Maude in the morning.
And then My Brother the Trespasser upchucked all over his bed.
That did it for my dad. When the baby starts barfing up BBQ, it’s time to wake up my mother.
Except my mother wouldn’t wake up.
And that scared hell out of my dad.
He flew out the door and over to Lorne and Kay’s camp. They were still awake, having mysteriously become less loopy shortly after they left my parents’ place, and Kay went over to see what was what. Lorne got into the car to go fetch the doctor.
Dad went back to wring his hands and nervously wait for the doctor to arrive with Lorne, and in a fit of “keep busy-ness”, he decided he’d better put the barbecue back outside so the doctor wouldn’t accidentally bump it over…
The doctor arrived. Slapped my mom around a little in an attempt to wake her, and finally frowned and asked my dad how she’d been feeling before bed. Dad told him about the Mysterious Bug that seemed to be traveling among the kids, and the doctor went into their room.
Checked The Baby. Fine, if a little vomity.
Woke up the rest of them, one by one. Sleepy, they were, but that was kind of to be expected. No sign of a strange pallor with either of the girls, either.
The doctor was a little pissed at being called out into the middle of nowhere for nothing, and told my dad so. And then, as he was going grumpily out the door, he heard my dad tell Lorne he thought he’d bring that barbecue back inside, since it was still so chilly….
Whereupon, my father got a loud lesson in charcoal fumes, asphyxiation, poisoning, smothering one’s family, and how-can-you-possibly-not-know-that-are-you-stupid?!
My father conceded that he just might be. About charcoal fumes, anyhow.
After Lorne left with the doctor, Dad opened all the windows, and threw more blankets on the beds. My mother slept the night through, waking up to a slight headache and a good story, thankful that the kids were bug-free.
Thankful that she woke up at all.
– – –
* I say “dancing in the parking lot” because it sounds way fancier than “pumping gas for a living”. So, uh, no: I’m not a stripper.
I found this bear claw in a box full of little trinkets and treasures in my father’s closet nearly a year ago. It was in the same box with his pocket watch, along with some other neat stuff.
This was during my Walk-About days, when I would hoof it all the way across town once a week, to see my parents at The Old-Age Home, have a visit, a meal and a story, and then hoof it all the way back. I had a tight ass, then, dammit. Not even a year ago. Man, things change fast.
From the time I moved out on my own, right up until my parents moved into the first retirement home, I received a unique gift from them at the end of every summer: enough vacuum-sealed fillets of whitefish to last until the next delivery a year later. 22 annual deliveries, by my calculation. That’s a lotta fish.
My dad raised kids, and vegetable gardens, and sunflowers, and honeybees. Sometimes he raised the roof. He could raise hell, too, when he wanted to.
He wasn’t the kind of guy who said “I love you.” I used to wonder how he proposed to my mother, without saying those three little words, because I’d never heard him utter them, not to her, nor to any of us kids, nor to my daughter. When we said “I love you,” to him, he would reply, “Okay. Goodbye, then,” or, “Here, I’ll get Maude (my mother) on the phone.” He never said it, but we always knew, mind you.
He’s been in and out of hospital for several years, now. The first time that we all knew he was dying, and all the kids came home, I was sitting beside his bed with Un-Brother Ken. Dad was all talked out for the time being, and we sat there in silence for a long time, when he suddenly said, out of the blue, “I’m not afraid.”
I don’t know if he was talking to me, or my brother, or maybe it was himself. After a bit, Ken answered him, saying something to the effect of that being a good thing, then. I couldn’t say anything, myself. I was certain it was my last visit with him, but glad, nonetheless, that he was okay with… It. That day, when I left the hospital, I kissed my dad goodbye, and said, “I love you.”
“Okay – are you taking the bus home?” was how he replied. I think he meant “I love you,” though.
And he got better.
Several hospital incarcerations later, as my mother kissed him goodbye, she said “I love you.” I’d never heard her say that to him before, although she says it to me all the time. I remember thinking then that maybe my mom knew she would never get another chance to say it to him.
And he didn’t hear her – his hearing aids were in the bedside table. So, when she was halfway to the door, he called, “What was that…?” And my mom giggled a little, and called back a little louder, “I just said ‘I love you.'”
“What’s that? I can’t hear you.”
And so, from the doorway, laughing, my mother yelled at him.
“I said, ‘I LOVE YOU!'”
And they both laughed. And then he said it back. Out loud. I heard him. And I knew I’d never see him alive again.
But he got better.
The next time he was dying in hospital, I kissed him goodbye, and said “I love you,” as usual.
And he squeezed my hand, kissed me back, and said, “I love you, too.” Out loud. I heard him. And I knew I’d never hear that again, but that was okay, because he’d actually said what I’d always known anyway, and I knew that he knew that he’d never see me again, and that’s why he said it, finally, just in case I was wondering, maybe…
But he got better.
We’ve had many more chances to talk since then, and we’ve made the most of it. I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful bloggable stories of his life, and those that haven’t been told here yet, will be in future, I promise that. My dad was a great storyteller.
We talked, too, of what it was like to be near the end. He was pleased with his life. He’d done almost everything he’d wanted to do (“…and some things I didn’t know I wanted to do, but I did them anyway,”), and he didn’t have any regrets that he could think of.
I’m comforted to know that near the end of things, my dad was able to look back on it all, and feel content that he’d had a full life. And that he wasn’t afraid. But I think it’s also important to remember that from his standpoint, “It sure went fast.” I imagine, if we all live to be 87, we’ll feel the same. So, if we want to do something, we’d better get at it. I would hate to look back and wish for things to be different.
The last time I saw him, in a different hospital, eating a piece of pie, with a non-cooperative, trembling hand, I realized he might never get any more pie. He wasn’t supposed to have this piece of pie, but there comes a time when restrictive diets just don’t matter anymore, do they?
The best meals for my dad always ended with a piece of pie, something he would complain about to my mother, if she didn’t provide it. He was known to say to company around the dinner table, “Gee, I’m awful glad you’ve come for supper. If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have got any pie.”
And here he was, eating what might be the last piece of pie in his nearly 88 years, and his damned hand couldn’t catch it on the spoon. So I tried to help, as best I could, guiding his hand to scoop it up, and he said what I was certain would be his final words to me, knowing, I imagine, that we would never get the chance to speak again.
“Hey, you. Quit tryin’ to steal my pie.”
As last words go, they were good ones – if you knew my dad.
But he got better. Sort of. He said many more things to me, but right now, I can’t remember any of them.
He had a few more set backs, but he did get out of hospital, and he did get more pie. He never quite got back up to himself again, though.
And this morning, at 5:15, My Brother the Trespasser called to tell me he’d gone in his sleep. I imagine his last words would have been to my mother: “Goodnight, then…”
If I could have been there when Dad breathed his last, I like to think I’d have had the nerve to say, as my goodbye to him, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” It would have been a way to let him know I appreciated everything he’d done for me over the years – which was a helluva lot. More than I deserved.
It would have made him laugh, too, even though he’d never seen the Hitchhiker movie, nor would he have read the book, or ever even heard of Douglas Adams. But he’d have remembered all that whitefish, and he would have laughed, I know. And to go out laughing would have been just his style.
Instead, he made me laugh, with “Quit tryin’ to steal my pie.”
I think, though, that what he meant was, “I love you.”
On 26 January 1941, the Regiment mobilized the 4th (Active) Princess Louise Dragoon Guards.
This unit was converted to armour and redesignated 4th Reconnaissance Battalion (4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards) on 11 February 1941. The battalion was formed from personnel from 1st Canadian Infantry Division in the United Kingdom together with reinforcements from Canada in July 1941. On 08 June 1942, it was redesignated as 4th Reconnaissance Regiment (4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards).
My dad was stationed in Belgium for his first gig during World War II. It was there that he contracted diphtheria and ended up on a wild back-and-forth middle-of-several-nights not-what-we-might-call-an-ambulance ride with two hot Australian chicks between Ostend and Amsterdam and a hospital ship that would (eventually) sneak him successfully to hospital for months of recovery.
He teased those nurses the whole time he was under their care – it’s a wonder they didn’t just dump him out on a back road somewhere. “Whad’ya wanna live in Australia for?! All ya got there is SHEEP!!” I wish I’d recorded his imitation of the insulted nurses when they retorted, “We’ve got cities and towns! Just like you’ve got!” My dad sure knows how to piss a woman off…
Prior to his grand contagious escape, my dad’s job was to “guard” an outdoor sports arena. He wasn’t guarding it from the Germans – they were being kept out of Belgium fairly handily by 1943-44 – but from the locals. This arena was where they would come once a day, lined up and dressed in their very best clothes, carrying any container from their pantry they could carry, to pick up food passed out by Canadian Army personnel off a truck. He said it was a strange sight – all these folks dressed up in their finery, waiting for a meal with cooking pots in their hands – even the kids. It was a little kid that made him realize that he didn’t have a clue what he was doing there….
Dad’s job during the daylight hours was to keep the people cordoned off while other personnel were unpacking the trucks and setting up tables and food, etc. Officers ate first, followed by infantrymen, and then the townfolk got their share. Sometimes, understandably so, I think, this made them a little impatient. It was up to my dad to be tough, cruel and frightening, and order them back beyond the barrier to wait their turns. My dad was 23. Ha.
He said, most times, all he had to do was wave his gun menacingly and growl and they would settle down. He growled because he couldn’t speak the language. He waved his gun because he didn’t know what else to do with it.
His gun was a bit of a joke, anyway, he said. It was a “sten gun”, jumbled together from metal pipes and “you wouldn’t recognize the thing as a gun at all, unless you knew what it was.” It worked, though; it was actually a formidable weapon, firing automatic 303 cartridges. My dad pronounces “303” as “3-aught-3”. He’s Canadian, you know.
Sometimes, at night, he would be assigned to guard a certain path into the sports arena – one designated for soldiers only, and he was to turn back all non-military personnel with no exceptions. Sometimes, locals would try to get by him with fake ID cards, crudely put together that had no hope in hell of passing for anything official. This part of the job was boring, and sometimes for a lark, my dad would pretend to be greener than he was, and be “fooled” by the most ridiculous-looking, fakest-looking card that was passed to him, and let the guy holding it through. He said that usually the guy would have a hard time keeping the surprised look off his face and continue down the path.
When I asked why he could get away with letting these people through, he said, “They weren’t spies – they were looking to shorten the food line for themselves, that’s all.”
One day, while standing behind the cordon between the food and the people, my dad started having trouble with one little girl and her family. He would shoo them back, and turn to keep an eye on everybody else, and when he looked back again, there they would be, sneaking under the cordon, that little girl, especially. Finally, he’d had enough.
He watched from the corner of his eye as the little girl snuck further and further, and then suddenly ran at her, yelling at the top of his lungs. Had he done this to one of his own kids in later years, it would have put the fear of the devil himself into whichever one of us he was yelling at, but this kid stood there and stared him down. He didn’t know if she was paralyzed with fear, or standing defiant, but he kept yelling as he slung his sten gun over his shoulder and bent down and hooked her up under the armpits with his other arm, stomped to the cordon and dumped her over it. There.
He didn’t have his back fully turned before the little brat was back under the rope. He picked her up again and put her back behind it. And she started yelling at him!
“Mein kluben! Mein kluben!” and under the rope she came again!
He drove her back again. This was not turning out to be a good day.
He finally had to resort to standing directly in front of the girl to keep her on her side of the cordon. The kid kept yelling at him. Then she started pointing and yelling. It took Dad a while to figure it out, but he finally realized what she was pointing at.
Back behind him, at the spot that he’d pulled the little girl off her feet, were two little wooden shoes, embedded in the mud. He’d yanked her right out of her shoes.
Now, my dad loves kids, and even at 23, he had a soft spot for them. He felt really bad. He finally waved her under the cord to rescue her shoes, but he kept a snarly look and growl handy, so as to save face.
At the end of the war, my dad went back to Belgium, and into a little shop. He bought a pair of small wooden shoes. When I was growing up, he kept them locked in a file cabinet in his den. Every now and then when I was very small, he would bring them out to show me – he even let me put them on and walk around in them once in a great while. They hurt.
He never told me the story about why he bought those shoes until just this year. He doesn’t know where the shoes are now – possibly packed away in a box in My Brother the Trespasser’s barn or basement. I wish he still had them so I could have posted a photo.
Another odd thing…. I’m not sure if Dad is remembering “Mein kluben” correctly, or if it was a slang term. I can’t find it anywhere in Dutch or German pertaining to “shoes” or “clogs” or “wooden shoes”, but that’s what he swears the little girl was yelling. Anybody out there have an inkling…? I’d love to know.
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P.S. Y’all can uncross your cramped little fingers and toes, now. Thank you sincerely. I start the new J.O.B. some time next week. 😀