Maybe it was the loss of his young wife. Genita was the love of his life. Maybe it was the drunk driver that took away his health, his ability to walk without crutches and left him with years of relentless pain. Perhaps it occurred before that. Maybe he never danced because he had seen the horror of what man is capable of doing in war. Eighteen is too young to go to war. But then again, is there any age appropriate for killing and dying. He never spoke about, so I’m not sure.
I do remember hearing him sing, I think it was singing, it wasn’t very good whatever it was. But that didn’t matter to me, it seemed that he was happy when he sang. I think he’d been happy before my mother died. The few pictures I have of them show smiles. He was dashing in his dress uniform, a marine, one of the proud few. He coached my Little League baseball team, and we won a lot of games. I still don’t know how he did it. He just had a knack for getting kids to do their best.
My dad loved my grandmother. Annie was her name; my mother’s mother. My dad used to take her a beer when we would visit. If I try hard enough, I can see them both in my mind’s eye, sitting, talking and laughing. He trusted my grandmother enough to let me live with her for two years. I know why he did, she was the most gentle, kind and loving human who ever lived. That’s not bias, that’s simply fact. She died at one hundred and three and I miss her still.
I was a bit older when my dad married my stepmother. She was a saint. She had to be to put up with my dad at that point. She stood beside him for endless hours a day; trying to make a small cafe work. After his sixteen-hour days, he would drink. Orange Vodka. Nasty shit. But Dorothy stood by him. My dad was proud of me when I told him I was ordered to go to war. Unlike his, mine was a war I didn’t believe in. He welcomed me home when I returned, and he was still proud of me.
I think it was sometime in October when I got the call. Liver cancer, not much could be done. I visited and we stayed up all night talking. The next day we went to the funeral home and he picked out the casket he wanted. He put a sign in the yard to sell all the junk he’d collected. A sickness sale he called it. We said goodbye after a nice Christmas together. I knew, and he knew it was our last goodbye. The hospice nurse said I would feel like an orphan when he died. She was right. Later I went to the little town in New Mexico and helped bury my father. I was given the flag that covered his casket.
A few months later, in the Spring, I got a message from my dad. It came in a warm wind that rustled the baby aspen leaves. He wanted me not to worry and to know that he was all right. It’s said that we die three times. When our body dies, when our soul leaves our body and when the last person forgets us. My father was not the kind of man that the masses will remember. My sons remember him, and they’ll probably be the last. Of course, I remember him. If asked to tell a lesson he taught me, I’d fail, I don’t remember a single lesson, and yet he taught me many lessons. I don’t know if he was a Democrat or a Republican. I don’t know if he believed in God or didn’t. I don’t know how the ravages of war affected him. My dad was not one to talk about himself. Yet he taught me what little I know about being a man.
I don’t know if he and my mother ever danced. I hope they did. I never saw my father dance. I wish I had.