I opened my father’s Bible. It was difficult at so many levels but I’ve neglected it for two decades, since he faded away from this world.
With his seven siblings gone as well, this is the remaining item where I can find hint, a clue, some trail to his thoughts, his motivations, hopefully none of his ghosts.
Like his father, he lost his mind to dementia. It all slipped away. Too fast. Too young. He lost it as I sat helplessly by him in the “homes”. Everything faded. He left nothing, not a trace, even though he blazed a trail half way around the world and back in the most historic of American times.
Well, he left a cardboard box with a pair of boots, a cardigan, couple bolo ties, some eye glasses, a transistor 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. A simple man.
He loved sucking on mints while listening to that Philco radio sitting by his side on a desk. This Philco kept him company. The piggybank made him laugh. The mints kept his mouth moving. A simple man, who had seen horrors of two wars.
There were “sup hose” or whatever mother called those socks he wore after his varicose veins were removed from damaged 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 the Germany my father conquered.
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. I should be happy not stuck in a Fassbinder movie.
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.
I will continue to piece together my existence, inspiration, pathos through his unwitting, immeasurable love.
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 in the end a peace.
Mind you, my father was not a religious man.
Perhaps, as they say, he found religion in a foxhole, somewhere on Normandy, in the Ardennes, 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. Thank you.)
He was the eldest of eight 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 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”. We were in that alone.
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 his mother, Madeline Pudge consecrated upon him or his siblings. His siblings called him “Bud”. How American.
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 French beach in 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 stayed in the safety of his Army family.
I’ve wondered if he felt betrayed. We could share that experience. Perhaps we shared abandonment by mothers as well. It could explain the bond he sought with his boy.
The Army sent him to occupied Japan; There he promoted but was in a forgivable position for what transpired in 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.
It was the three of us and he knew if it made his wife happy, a quotient of stability that he’d never experienced, he appeased his wife and her burgeoning Christian faith, once Stateside.
Honestly she was so aggresive in her conversion, he may have been suffocated by her unrelenting full court, born-again press; that, dogma, absolutism of God’s existence, the Rapture, the stick and carrot of eternal death or (after)life for a man who saw death for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It offered no quarter, no moderation. It was total surrender to Jesus and his biggest cheerleader yet like war he knew how to duck, dig a deep hole and deflect. Interestingly I’ve been accused of such tactics.
As I open his Bible, it is inscribed with handwritten note: presented to “my beloved husband & dad with loving concern from Dorothy.”(She inserted me, a child for added guilt). It was dated September 22, 1966. That was his 44th birthday… maybe.
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 laid with the dying.
Why could be possibly be concerned about now?
He’s been a civilian for nine months. He had to make a living. She offered a bible.
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 in fading red ink he’s written “redemption” again and again.
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 that compelled to him.
He repeatedly voiced to me that he knew he would not live long; that, “[veterans] like me are dying fast.” Yet he rejected the invitation to return 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.
His comrades gathered in pre-battle prayer. He recognized it through these events. Indeed he highlighted it in his Bible. He connected.
It was a natural connection from the sounds of war that still rang in his ears.
I became resigned at that moment to the fact, I will not find any revelation here. It is a fools errand looking to dissect further any of his scribbling. In fact this essay gave me more revelations than his writings in the margin of his “gift”.
I close his Bible and will forever allow it to lie like him in silent peace. I hope he is in a garage where he was most confident and comfortable.
He was Sarge of the “motor pool”. I suppose whatever was under that hangar roof… was his. He loved keeping the “Caisson” rolling.
And in return he, then we kept on moving, moving, and moving.
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, 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
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 play my father’s favorite tune. 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.