I’m going open my father’s Bible. It is difficult at so many levels for me but I’ve neglected it for two decades since he faded away from this world. It is probably the only remaining item where I can find hint, a clue, some trail to his thoughts, his motivations, hopefully not his ghosts.
Like his father, he lost his mind to dementia. It all slipped away, too fast; too young. He lost it; lost everything. He left nothing, not a trace, even though he blazed a trail half way around the world and back.
Well, yeah, he left a cardboard box with a pair of boots, a cardigan, couple bolo ties, some eye glasses, a radio and silly piggybanks like this plastic Dachshund on my desk. The dog’s tongue lays out for a coin. If the tail is stroked, the tongue rolls the coin into the Dachshund. He loved chotsky piggybanks.
He loved sucking on mints while listening to his Philco transistor radio that I also have sitting on my desk. This Philco kept him company. The piggybank made him laugh. The mints kept his mouth moving. A simple man.
Oh! There were sup hose or whatever he and mother called those socks he wore after his varicose veins were removed from his ankles. Varicose veins ran in his mother’s family. Dementia was the gift from his father’s side.
Me, I have no link. I’m from some other family, who had no food to feed another mouth in Occupied Germany. I’m the one my father chose though to give his name. The one his mother asked, “How can you give a stranger our name?” I’m the round peg that doesn’t fit this square link, yet I will try piecing the crumbs of his trail together to fashion some idea of mine; to answer those nagging questions. Why am I uncomfortable with this life; my life without links.
Everyone that I ever met, they seem to have links. Void of any, I am the one to ingratiate myself upon others for any relevance or reward; that is, until I made my own family yet even then, I cannot remain sedentary.
I will try to continue to piece together my existence, inspiration, pathos. I would like to preserve what is left of this life to perhaps help the others – the adopted sons and daughters who have grappled with their existences; the how and why; that is, to convey that so, so much is beyond our control and assure them what is in our control; what, we can embrace, own, overcome, find comfort and peace.
Mind you, my father was not a religious man. Perhaps, as they say, he found religion in a foxhole, somewhere in the Ardennes, somewhere along the Yalu River. However, he never formerly or even tacitly embraced any religion, though his dog tags were engraved, “Protestant.”
I can count on one hand the number of times he joined my mother on a Sunday at church. (Famously he got me out of the indoctrination after just a few visits to bible school. It was an October Sunday morning as Game 5 of the 1968 World Series loomed. As my mother urged me to prepare, he said,” he doesn’t wanna go to church. He wants to watch the ballgame with me.” Thank you, Dad.)
He was the eldest of eight children born in Welland, Ontario, Canada to a less than religious, tormenting Victorian woman of Scot-Anglo decent. She wasn’t even sure of his birth date. She was visiting her family when she broke water, gave birth, brought him back undocumented to Utica, later Nazareth and onto other Pennsylvania towns as her family grew.
I know these two things: like me, he went undocumented for years and he didn’t really have a “hometown” either.
He didn’t have a high school education. The Depression was his education and a pool room, his school house. His military career started at 21 years old. Those experiences dwarfed any issues Madeline Pudge consecrated upon him or his siblings, who knew him as “Bud”, since his father was Max too.
I’ve wondered if he was his siblings’ “pillar”; the strong quiet type always there whenever needed. Bud. With crystal blue eyes, Bud had that All-American, big brother, Gary Cooper stature but then he went away to war, where he enjoyed English darts and lasses until that foggy summer morning when he crawled up a Normandy beach amidst the horror.
When he returned home in May 1946, he found his mother and first wife spent all the money he had sent home to save for his return. After a brief pursuit of his wife, side-arm in hand, murder on his mind, his father talked him down. He rejoined his Army family.
I’ve wondered if he felt betrayed. We could share that experience. However I know in my heart, it was my “Oma”– grandmother, who betrayed my teenage mother, forcing her to give me away. Still, perhaps we shared abandonment by our mothers as well. It could explain much, our pathos and our bond.
The Army sent him to occupied Japan; There he promoted but was in a forgivable position for what transpired by 1950: another war, Korea. After a year of marching the length of Korea and back, he returned State-side long enough to marry my mother in 1951; then back to Japan. By Valentine’s Day 1959 they set sail together for Occupied Germany. My Imperial Father.
Once retired,he sought stability in civilian life . He loved his family but the best way to do so was from 3000 miles away. It was the three of us now and he knew if it made his wife happy, there would be a quotient of stability. Thus he appeased her burgeoning Christian faith.
Honestly she was so aggresive in her conversion, he may have been suffocated by her unrelenting full court, born-again press; that, absolutism of God, his existence, the stick and carrot – eternal death or (after)life; her Rapture rhetoric. It offered no quarter, nary a chance for moderation. It was total surrender to Jesus and his biggest cheerleader yet like war he deflected it well.
As I open his Bible, it is inscribed with a handwritten note: presented to “my beloved husband & dad with loving concern from Dorothy.”(She inserted me – a 7 year old for added guilt). It was dated September 22, 1966. That was his 44th birthday.
On his birthday, as he embarked on a new life, she offers “concern”. What a lovely idea for a man who walked around tank flattened, eviscerated, and burnt corpses. He killed and he held the dying. My bet is he already had “concern” from those experiences. Did she really need to add to his concerns? He had been out less than a year. He had chosen a son. He had to make a living. She offered a bible as salve for the scars.
As I begin to turn some pages, I see only dates in 1979, when he read passages. I randomly accelerate my search, flipping through the margins, I see red ink in The Revelation (of Saint John the Devine).
Somewhat illegible, he’s written a comment… “and thy word of God is like a Sword.” It is understandable for a soldier who has been nurtured by an environment of total war. As I flip the pages further, I see he has written “redemption” again and again. The red ink fading.
Were the passages redemptive? Redemptive of a torment far worse than his mother inflicted? Was I any part of his redemption, as he saved an unwanted German baby. I read no other clues to the redemption he was compelled to consider from these verses. He repeatedly voiced to me that he knew he would not live long; that, “[veterans] like me are dying fast.” Even so, he rejected returning to Normandy on the 40th anniversary of D-Day.
Upon his passing the minister asked, what was his favorite verse? Mother could quote the whole King James rewrite, so I interjected quickly, “He knew Psalms”, as all Soldiers know: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. It seems as though he recognized the similar reference to The Book of Revelation, he had highlighted.
These were the ghosts of war, phantoms of conflict that he’s denoted in his Bible. I shall not find any revelation here. Since he was not religious, I do not find it representative of the man I knew to further disect any scribble in these margins.
I should simply close his Bible and forever allow it to lie like him in silent peace.
Boy he could cuss like a, well, a soldier when aggravated – behind a steering wheel alone with his son or in a garage. He had become a civilian, a full-time father but you cannot take the Army out of the man.
Like much of his peace-time military career, his civilian life was spent in the garage. His garage; his friends’ garages, any garage. It was a temple, a sacred sanctum, systemically organized every tool, bolt and nut. He was a child of his century. In retirement he visited garages around town to “shoot the shit”. The world centered around the combustible engine.
It was in a Western Pennsylvania bar between wars that he met his future wife. He boasted for any of the dames to hear that he had a new 1951 Cadillac out in the parking lot. What he did not mention was it had a Sherman tank engine in it (that got 8 miles per gallon).
Where he got that engine or the cigarette lighter that reached from the dash to the back seat, I do not know. Similarly I do not know nor ever asked how my mother knew that cigarette lighter leash reached the back seat. Obviously this was years before she discovered the errors of her youth and gave her life over.
He was Sarge of the “motor pool”. I suppose whatever was under that hangar roof… was his. He loved keeping the “Caisson” rolling. Those were his vehicles. For once he was in full control and this was his Army. At the end of his career he actually was tasked to itemize and vacate motor pools from state-side bases that were ear marked for shut down. It took us westward from Forts Scott to Huachuca to Roberts.
We had to keep on moving, moving, and moving. I think it permeated his life even in retirement. Even when he finally purchased a home – fat and happy in suburban San Gabriel Valley, we lived there less than three years. (As the 1970s began, the slowdown in VietNam did not help machine shops relying on military contracts. Yea, dad had turned to fashioning death widgets on lathes. He had learned a trade at L.A. Trade Tech back in the days a grade school kid could hang out alone across the street in Exposition Park.)
This was my childhood, perpetual motion; a few months here, a few months there, a year or two now and then, just enough time to meet a friend, join a team and say goodbye. I had seven schools and nine puppies before I ended grade school and walked into a new (Middle) school, my eighth. It was not a textbook approach to provide the adopted bastard child stability, especially the bastard child of another Continent.
As I roll down the Interstate silently in the middle of the night in the middle age of my life, I often hear the hum of my tires rotating. I often hear my father’s favorite tune. I hum along. I hear him sing his song… over hill over dale, we will hit the dusty trail… and the Caisson keeps rolling along…
At the end of his life, silent, staring, incontinent, strapped in a wheelchair, he would be wheeled out into the courtyard of a Santa Monica Convalescent Home for our daily lunchtime “visit”. I would sing that song quietly in his left ear. It reached far into the darkness. He felt it. His foot tapped. His eye lids blinked. This time I moved him. No. It moved him, as he moved me – from a bad place to a good place and that should be enough for survivors like us.