The Kalends of My February

written February 11, 2016

“… I certainly don’t expect you to understand”, I spat back at my long lost sister. “You call it ‘happenstance’; that, Jesus is the reason.”

“Well that’s nonsense. He was just a man. A good man thrust upon a small world of illiterate shepherds. Alone he dared, did his best, as I’ve dared and made the best. But I will not work myself into an early grave or nervous breakdown” like your son or husband.

“I can easily be called a piss poor German for this work ethic. I am guilty as charged with an abandoning indifference toward Revolution. But it’s all accidental – birth, education, property. An accidental capitalist. Accidental husband. Accidental landlord. I was just making best of an accident.”

When you haven’t known your sibling for 47 years, there’s no time for antecedents, details.  It demands candor. No synopsis or Cliff Notes. Timidity wastes time. Time we do not have.

“Gosh if someone heard us they might think this is a fight”, Jutta injected, “but I wish [my son] could be more like you… me too”, she admitted.

jesssus

 

“I’ve conquered childish fears and fables” although my desires and demons remain challenging. Still I’ve navigated virtually alone, indigent with the winds usually blowing in my face, rarely at my back.

Schwesti, we’ve survived” but unwittingly our success crowds our lives with influences that will be our death. We’ve anointed the  Kalends of our February that draw us to the ides of our March.

On queue Jutta announced her son had his fifth baby last night, filling her “with joy and thanksgiving to [her] father in heaven who blessed this undeserving woman with such a great family.”

As bastards of Occupation, I see again our shared reality, contradictions: undeserving, we were adrift yet found an enriched path leading us toward death. (A death she desires.)

I am proud of her. Happy she has Jesus.  Happier I had a man who wanted to be a father. Staff Sergeant Maxwell Horace Pennock, USA. The same United States Army that created Jutta and me; that, brought the unknown “swinging dicks” to conqueror and occupy our hometown.(“Don’t you want to know who they are?”, she’s asked. “No! They got what they wanted and went home to their wives and lives”, I reply.)

Long a societal stigma, being fatherless is demeaning. You disguise it yet must own it.  My sister thankfully had a twin, was not given away. She found a father in Jesus.

The grace of age has allowed me to recognize the impact and importance of  male elders. In a world now with so many fatherless children, they’re essential.Three men formed the rails that guided this little engine that would down an improbable path.

accidental

Though my father’s last breath was long ago yesterday, he nurtured me through adolescence. Another, born long ago this very day, he unleashed my imagination. My third elder, an octogenarian survives –  this his birth month. Though he’d refute it,  he was my accidental mentor. He pushed me out the door of youth into a big world that – due to no one’s fault, I had closed in adolescence.

All three antithetical of the other, they taught tenacity and obedience, guile and defiance, calculation and risk. By the springtime of my life, I fought lessons, as bastards often do. Never pretty, I flailed and failed.  Unlike the man that I never knew they did not abandon me.

Now without elders, I recognize that I am an elder, as all good men must embrace.

Personally I fight sorrow yet it’s outweighed by tremendous thanks, even if they knew not what they did.

 

 

 

Certified Phoenix

mack b cert

I hold no canon, no interest in theism, astrology, numerology, any mysticism. I witness only an existential logic to this life. Accordingly 55 years late my certificate of birth arrived today.

Keen affirmation yet, it doesn’t resemble my children’s birth certificates. Appropriately my birth is certified by abstract. This brings wicked joy. No doctor spared time to certify, lest attend my birth in that squat three-room working-class row house. Some years later Herr Doctor Michael Lutter was tasked to certify me “legitimately illegitimate” from said event; sufficient declaration to gain passport under name. A legal obligation for my de facto transport.

Perhaps a thank you is in order for that anonymous neighbor tipping authorities to the fact a baby was born in that house and now he’s gone, alluding to even more unholy transaction. Maybe neighborhood NAZIs have their place, an extralegal purpose, if not a moral order.

The intrigue brought attention to my illegal status and migration to France. Prompted, authorities acted. You know, as my father’s Commanding Officer said, “you can’t just take a baby, Sarge”.

Really all nonsense, yet to me, certification has gravitas in the Christian World. Surely not as much in the Second Millennium but, I hold it like the winning lotto ticket it represents, even if less cathartic half a century later; my fittingly strange baptism of paperwork.

I have also an ornate, fading naturalization document I received in some State-side WPA era concrete Federal building. My passport due to expire, my newly retired father balked at submitting annual alien registeration. A quick elbow to the ribs, a gesture to stand, raise a hand and in a blur, the words from a robed old man recited by those, who likewise held a right hand high, his problem solved.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that document. Though there’s confusion etched on my face, innocence shines in my eyes.
My shirt says ragamuffin but I was a cute kid, never understanding why my new American classmates called me “funny face” and “Nazi” incessantly, as they spat imaginary machine guns at me, even though the document certifies “United States of America”.

mack cert

Thankfully, my parents made me comfortable with this illegitimacy. So admirable, they would’ve made growing up an alien comfortable. Their embarrassing boasts to acquaintances and strangers modified to “yea he’s an alien but he’s our alien… got’em in Germany” as if I was a souvenir space age cuckoo-clock.

What comfort I’ve had in this skin I owe to them. Well, them and “Tom Jones” – the movie, not the Welsh singer. Peculiarly Tom Jones made the bastard son seem not such a bad spot, acceptable even envious. Naturally the path of the tale, our unsuspecting hero’s peccadilloes and pomp aside, I likewise grew up astonished I was alive; then, certain it would be a scant, brief life with no need for gravitas.

Thus I reveled in the stigma Christianity and aristocracy bestowed the bastard son. I wear it like the scarlet letter that they would’ve pinned in defamation on a woman such as my maternal mother. It’s a mighty “no! fuck you”, to stand my ground, head high, as their adultered pagan myths of morality crumble in the reality that my existence represents.

I’d like to think as my father took me in the night, he felt giddy with similar power. Certainly not cursing so defiantly against the old Order, yet hopefully he had some existential twitch as he ran me to Army housing. Perchance I was his birth certificate; actualization he was alive after wars’ horror. A survivor born anew.

Birth certificate in hand, I feel like that Phoenix rising from those ashes. Alive. Like Tom Jones – not the Welsh singer, unashamed, an innocuous fire burns that defeats expectation, challenges notions of suitability and worthiness, as the gallows’ shadow grows; my experiential dual with doubt.

Extra Time with Jutta

Howard

“Have you followed the World Cup, Sister?” I asked.

My sister, Jutta and I have floundered to find words and ways to describe nearly five decades of separation. Since she discovered my posts seven years ago, we’ve struggled to connect; that is, to essentially, effectively convey who we are; what has made us the people we are before suddenly thrust upon each other as strangers.

I know she’s struggled to understand a brother for whom our mother never mentioned. At least I had always known of sisters; twins. They were out there. Somewhere. Nameless. But I held hope.

In that first year, we shared experiences but not much commonality. Superficially she was familiar since I had been raised by a similarly committed Christian. Like my mother, in my view her religiosity was yankee conventional, dogmatic. I struggle with it. In turn I can’t articulate my being. My Cliff Notes even read like hieroglyphics to her.

This World Cup USA Team though was a perfect opportunity to reach out, provide insight, broach barriers and define what has made, or at least, motivated me and to further understand her.

“Did you know there are four players on Team USA who are like me, like us?” I asked; “born in Deutschland of Deutsch Mütter” and (along with a fifth player, whose mother moved him back to Deutschland when a toddler) their fathers were American soldiers of the Occupation.”

Here they’re wearing the USA shield and “they’re performing splendidly”, I said. Naturally unlike me these young men “were kept by their mothers, raised in Deutschland” as Deutschen.

“I suppose these young men are more like you, Jutta. Our mother raised you and Evi” in our hometown; that is, until another G.I. Joe swept her and you away (which I found multiplied my sisters’ trauma).

I hold no animus. It was simply the order of our birth. After them I was the next born in an untenable situation. As Jutti has reminded “there was no food, Max”. At our grandmother’s insistence, I was made eligible for “transfer”, as they say in football. I’m forever grateful, yet it doesn’t sooth deeper pain.

Nearly 30 years later, these players were born in a different Deutschland; born in a more inclusive, integrated world thankfully since they had the added layer of interracial creation. The shared ironies are remarkable for all our lives.

We have many layers, painful layers to peel away from what we inherited with birth for which we had no control. As we struggle to understand each and every layer, we attempt to heal, move forward. This match, life provides no added time for childish regret, frivolous apologies.

“Jutti, I share with these kids a competitive life”, even if at inferior levels and different athletics. I understand them. “I found solace in competition, identity in competition.” I fought through adulterated scars, our heritage’s scars, the taunting and the bullies by competing athletically.

The clock is always running. Intuitively I react without thought.

Now, I realize how terribly Jutta must miss her twin sister, Evi. She was the only one who understood her. “You must have relied on one another” to survive the life handed us.

Our mother was born in a joyless, laborious life. She was a victim of war and youth. She was a child when she had both of you. Then to fall statutory prey again with me, it’s understandable she was unable to deal with compounding betrayals. I’m certain though you brought her joy, pride. I’m so sorry you and Evi had to go through so much pain, as she sought reclamation.

Fortunately I had a forgiving man who became my father. And as with these footballers, though not my blood, I had the compassion and honesty of a sturdy mother to subdue a child’s pain. They didn’t understand the depth of my turmoil yet their unconditional love got me through adolescence, even if without modern coping tools.

With this, sister, I realize we share inner strength. I realize after Evi died your strength derived from the Biblical father you know, as mine from the father figures I knew.

And here, as I watch another World Cup I feel reality slap my face. I share my awkward abandonment with you, sister, and perhaps now with new partners – these youngsters.

Still with much to work out, I’m reminded survival’s in our blood and as I’ve reassured you, “wir sind blut”.

It is our determination and courage that wills us through the trajectory of our life and times, as we try to absolve ourselves while making better lives for our children.

My Father’s Bible

Japan 1956

Japan 1956

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.

Sarge and Mr Saki 06221954

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.