I recently gave a car to my eldest & her husband. He is mechanically inclined, the car needs some attention and work, and I had no use for it, they need one, and so on. Anyhow, in searching for the title to it for them, I found a letter file that belonged to my Dad. He's been gone for well over 10 years now, and it was quite a shock to me to find it. I had no idea Mom had put that away.
I mean, I may have once had an idea, heck, she probably gave it to me after he passed away. However, since the wreck this past June, the resulting major concussion causing memory loss, well, who knows, I certainly don't. There it was though. A manila envelope marked Family on the tab, sitting in her old file cabinet. I pulled it out and there are these letters and stories from Dad to me, to my children, about his birth, moving to America, his growing up, his life.
Intending to read through it, I sat down with it. I didn't make it past the first. Too many memories are slamming into my head, causing my brain to spin. Seriously, I feel ill. My stomach is turning over and over, my heart is pounding. I can hear his voice as I read the words and it hurts so much. I swear to you I smelt his Old Spice, butterscotch pipe tobacco, and the scent of pine that was forever coming from his skin. He was a cabinet maker, and even though he was allergic to all 40 some odd species, he nevertheless continued his craft.
Closing my eyes and leaning my head back, the images, scents, and sounds of the past continued to swarm into my mind. Pouring relentlessly even as I struggled to slow them. Him waking me at 4 AM so we could leave by 5 to get to a lake or river by 6 and fish for trout before it would be too hot according to him. On these mornings, mist rising from the water, wrapped in one of his flannel shirts, he would let me drink coffee with him. My entire family, to my knowledge loved coffee; aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, grandparents. They all drank it whether black, sweet black, or with cream and/or sugar. Not me. Nope, I hated the stuff. I loved tea. But those times on the banks of various waterways, poles stuck between our feet, lines taut as the current teased the lures, I drank it and listened to him talk about his birth in England, moving to Canada, then to the USA, his service in WWII, the horrible awfulness of seeing action in Morocco, Italy, Germany.
He carried tiny bits of shrapnel in his back and neck. There had been Purple Hearts and other commendations awarded to him, Silver Stars. He would never speak of any of it, other than our fishing trips. Only when we were alone and out in the wilderness did he open up. The things he saw, experienced, had to do, they haunted him I knew. Those things had changed him, altered the young man he had been, made him into someone else. He had been amongst the very first group when the Army split and the Army Air Corps was established. A young officer. I have a photo of him, crouching amongst his unit, different colored uniform, distinguisable even in black and white. A cockeyed grin crosses his face, eyes crinkled with some unspoken mirth. There is no mistaking this is my Dad, that nose, those eyes, that overall expression that is undeniably him.
Because of these stories, his pride in having helped a military branch be born, I joined the US Air Force upon high school graduation. The stanzas of the old songs he'd taught me rang through my mind as I made my way through basic training. On the hottest, most humid days San Antonio threw at me, I would call up his face, hear him telling me how brutal the heat and humidity of Africa had been, and I would push through. How could I not, far be it from me to let the old man down. The very thought of it sent renewed energy coursing through me every single time.
Not my father, not the man who created me along with my mother, but my dad all the same. We did not have an easy, nor altogether healthy relationship. Over the years there had been things done and said, damage caused that would take years to heal. And still I loved him. Incredibly this man, whom I had never once heard say he was sorry, never saw him back down, would apologize to me later in life. From that day, that discussion on, we would be close. We talked several times a week by phone. He in Washington State, me in West Virginia and later Pennsylvania. Talk about my children, food and recipes, dogs, pine trees, trout, huckleberry season, the weather. He never again spoke to me of his childhood, the war, none of it. Apparently without the protection of being in a forest on the edge of wild water, he no longer felt safe enough to do so. I don't know, but what ever his reasons, I am so grateful, and feel enormously blessed for those mornings we shared.
Then too, I feel blessed to have found this file this afternoon. To be able to hold once more letters from him, read his stories. Eventually I'll get through them all, one by one, tears or no, and I will treasure them each and every single one.