Something About A Memory On Veterans Day
I posted this memory story awhile back, but
it seemed appropriate to print it again and to make it a part of today’s blog;
after all, it is Veterans Day. The recollection recorded in my story below is
still so real for me that I can place myself back in time to the exact moment when
my brother and I had to tell our Daddy good-bye, while our mother stood by
I have thought about all the men and women, who as our dad did, bravely have
served our country. Countless courageous soldiers have fought in conflict after
conflict. Brave also, though obviously in a different way, are those who have
had to stay behind and wait. I understand these partings are numerous and
unfortunately necessary, but they are also painful and so very, very sad.
time I see a soldier return home and greet his or her child or children for the
first time in months or years, I cannot hold back the tears. My reaction never
changes and I understand why. I experienced that awful pain. I suppose I am one
of the lucky ones. My dad returned from both World War II (though I didn’t know
him then) and Vietnam. Not all families have had that same fortune. For them, I
am very, very sorry.
my world Veterans Day is so important, for it is a time to remember, a time to
be grateful, and a time simply to say, “Thank you.”
For a ten year old girl, way back
in the late 50s, life should have been filled with dolls, ballet, books, first
bras, and the beginning dreams of boys. In my life, however, age ten presented
me with my first experience of loss. It was the time that my dad said good-bye
for eighteen months and more.
I knew he was leaving. I had heard
the whispers and watched my mother’s intermittent tears, but I kept my distance
from emotions I didn’t understand and was yet to endure. When I learned of his
leaving, I became aloof. I watched. I listened, but I stifled my feelings. I
can remember even scoffing at my mother when she cried. It somehow it seemed so
weak. Not until the morning of my dad’s departure did I allow myself to feel,
and when I did, the sensation caught me by surprise and I was submerged in a
sadness that has never fully disappeared.
As surely it must, the day of his
leaving arrived. My dad was going to Cambodia, Vietnam, places whose names I
did not know then. I remember waking to a cool dawn. I heard the shuffle of
bare feet in the hallway, the flush of a toilet, the running of water, and the
familiar kitchen noises as my mom prepared breakfast. I lay in bed listening
and breathing ever so lightly. In the stillness of my room, I begrudgingly
allowed the early morning sounds to slip into my world. I finally pulled myself
from bed and stood on the cold, hardwood floor of my bedroom preparing to say
good-bye cursorily. I simply did not comprehend how incredibly ill prepared
inwardly I was to let my dad go. I could not have imagined earlier the feeling
I was soon to encounter.
At ten years old, I could be
defiant. I could shield myself from emotion. I was strong, I knew. Even as I
stared that morning into the dreary gray around me, I was certain I would not
cry even though, as the minutes passed in my cold, shadowy room, tightness was
beginning to grow in my throat and chest. I stepped from the chilly floor onto
a softly matted throw rug and reached for the light switch. Instant, yellow
brightness brought details from the shadows. Everything became clear, including
my pale blue eyes still weak with sleep. I stared at my reflection in the
oversized mirror. My red curls were tousled in disarray. My pink, baby doll
pajamas were wrinkled. One slightly sunburned and freckled shoulder protruded
above the ruffled sleeve. I looked at the blue walls and the orderly, flowered
wallpaper reflected behind my bed. I suddenly hated it.
A quick scurry of hasty movements
and the soft scrape of a chair against the kitchen linoleum alerted me to the
moment I had been avoiding. I grabbed my terrycloth robe and threw it on
hurriedly. I opened the bedroom door and there in the hallway, attired smartly
in his dress blues, was my father. He reached for me abruptly without a word
and as if on cue, I began to cry. I held to him tightly, my arms clutched
around his neck; my cries were mute against his chest. I could feel tears
coating my face and my father’s pale, blue shirt became moist against my cheek.
I don’t remember anything else except my crying as I awkwardly gripped him. My
body was tight as though to gain strength from its rigidity. Finally my
father’s arms moved from around me but I could not let him go.
“I have to go now,” he said. I
could hear the quivering voice above me.
“No!” I cried, and looked with fear
into his blue eyes. They too were wet. He hugged me once again and I sobbed
I don’t recall how long we stood in
the hallway with my mother and brother helplessly watching. It must have been
several minutes. Without realizing how or when though, I found myself standing
suddenly alone in the semi-dark hallway outside my bedroom door. I turned
slowly into my room, fell into the wrinkled covers and cried some more. I don’t
know how much time passed before I got up that day, but when I did, I looked
sickeningly around my room and I knew it had to change. I spent the day
scraping wallpaper from my wall and as I watched the ordered flowers drop in
wet curls as I scraped and pulled, I cried.
When I hear my mother tell the
story about that day she simply says she’d never seen anyone so obsessed with
anything. Nor had she seen so many tears.
“You scraped and cried. You scraped
and cried all day long,” she has told me over the years.
I remember that. The next day, I
painted my room lavender. I realize now it was a necessary change for me, one
that I could control, one that could not hurt me as the greater change, the
loss of my father had.
When my dad came home after
eighteen months he was home very briefly before he was sent away again, this
time for a year. That parting was tearless. When I was thirteen he was home to
stay, but I had changed by then. Thirteen had brought boys, lipstick, and
cheerleading yells. I was no longer Daddy’s little girl. I would never again be
his little girl, for I would never let him in to hurt me again.
Now, years later, I look back at my
dad differently. The bitterness is gone. He is no longer the ogre who left me
crying in the hallway. He is my dad, and although I may never give him the
chance to hug me again as he did when I was ten, I do love him. Age ten began
years of pain, but the feelings of abandonment have been resolved. I still
think of a potential hug in a hallway somewhere, but when I do, it brings an
incredible feeling of panic. I’m afraid it would let loose the sorrow and
another flow of tears. And there’s no wallpaper to come down.
Note: Our beautiful mother died in early 2010 at the age of almost 96
and our dad, the veteran we honor today, passed away in 2014, four days short
of turning 103. Our family misses them both.