Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Thirty eight years ago, the Six Day War broke out in the Middle East. Each day of the war, I was taking swimming lessons at the YMCA downtown in Waco. Dad came the last day to see me waddle through the water. I think that when we were supposed to dive into the pool from the side, I put my arms up as if to glide into the water, and then promptly jumped feet first. Coming up into air again, I could still hear folk laughing gently. I am not sure that I understood why. He tried to explain it to me later.

When we were kids, he was the one who took us to the doctor to get our shots. If you don't cry, he would promise, I'll take you to get a hamburger and fries. And he did, even when I didn't keep my end of the bargain.

He was a man who made truck tires in a factory. Had been a merchant marine for five years after the war. Had fought in an anti-tank unit across France and Germany. I've heard that in his youth he was a ladies man, a carouser of sorts, who later became saved in a Baptist church and found that his life worked best within the weekly cylcles of Sunday morning and evening serices and Wednesday prayer meetings and every night during revivals.

My grandmother had a picture of him standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a small black and white photo. That was 62 years ago. His cloth hat was slanted or cocked back on his head. He is smiling, and I wonder what he must have thought, having landed in France on the second day of the invasion. Did the distance between the poor, hard scrabble life of Central Texas during the Depression, and this most unTexas of places so recently liberated overwhelm him?

At his funeral, my uncle told me the story of dad telling him of the horrors of the war. All night they talked. He only talked about it once to my mom. He never participated in veterans organizations, although that might have something to do with being Baptist. He was never keen on being around drinking of any kind. Jesus, he would argue, never made alcoholic wine at Cana.

I am not sure that he ever completely understood me, or I him. I have no doubt that he loved me, love the whole family. His working shift work in a factory, returning home with the back of his blue t-shirt stained white from sweat speaks of a loyalty that was physical in its commitment.

He was a fisherman. On Saturday mornings, he and his friend went out to the rivers and lakes around Waco, tossing their lures into the water next to the banks from their modest boat, looking for bass. I hated fishing, the smells, the certain bloody messiness of it, the boredom of it. Yet, I still share with him a love of being outdoors, outside.

He was a person of certitude. He would tell me how other Christian denominations had missed the mark of what God wanted from his people. As a child, I would think how fortunate that I was born in a Baptist family.

The stroke probably should have killed him. He survived, but barely, losing feeling in one side of both limbs, and most of his ability to form words. This man who used his hands to fix and make a number of things became physically an infant for several years. On his last birthday, he told me that he would be kaput. And then he would take his good hand and bring it across his throat. Oh, no I said. You're going to be around for a long time.

It was ten years ago, we got the phone call that he had died.


lemming said...

Yet another amazing post from you, Don.

I think one of the hardest parts about growing up is coming to see our parents as people with strengths and flaws, just like everyone else. They are our parents, but our relationship with them is (and is supposed to be) every bit as complicated as our relationships with other adults.

My parents cannot understand me because tehcircumstances that made me are not the ones that made them, etc. I don't think that's an entirely bad thing.

The image of your father in his sweat soaked shirt does indeed speak to his love for you.

Don said...

Thanks, Lemming.

I realized last week or so that the 10th anniversary of his death was coming up. And then I heard news stories about the D-Day Anniversary, and I thought about the photo of that kid standing in Paris.