See the young sailor on the left? That’s my dad. It was back when he was posted to the USS Sitkin somewhere between 1963-1965. I would have been about 4-6 years old then. Little wonder I have so few memories of him. Other than watching TV in the late afternoons. Or going bowling with my mom while I babysit the youngsters. He was usually gone on a ship somewhere. Or skippering a PCB delta boat in Vietnam.
He passed away last night after his last great fight. Lung cancer, emphysema, scars from radiation to his lungs, and who knows what from the war, all contributed to them finally giving out. He was at home, with hospice care for only 2 days before the fight was finally over and his last trouble breath was drawn.
He was only 16 when he joined up in the Navy. Had to get his parents signiture, if I recall the stories right. He was from a tough neighborhood in Philly and wanted out. Didn’t want to end up in a gang or mob. He wanted to “see the world” and have a better life than what he saw at home.
When I was about 1st grade we lived in a home with lots of fruit trees, including myintroduction to pomegranates. Dad was learning flag signals. He had navy buddies come over too, to practice all these flag signals they had to learn for work. Semaphores? I helped. Or annoyed, whichever. But I learned them all at his elbow.
Somewhere I still have a small jewelry box he sent me from Japan. It played music and I listened to it endlessly. It has little red tassels on little shiny black doors you lifted open to put your rings in and it was lined with red silk.
I remember him taking me to the beach once, just him and me. He needed to get me out of the way for some reason. Maybe mom needed some quiet. Anyway, the reason I remembered it is this. He took me down to the waves and told me to just roll up my pant legs and go in. I was shocked! Go in? I don’t have a bathing suit on! It would get my pant legs wet! I had a scab on my knee! Don’t worry, he says, the salt water will be good on your knee. Don’t worry about the pants, they’ll dry.
It was exhilarating!
We lost touch after he divorced my mom, as many people do. I was 18, my brother only 12, my sister maybe 8. It was bad, as most divorces involving young children are.
But in his later years, after moving away and back and away and back, he started getting in touch more seriously. I need to note, that he almost always sent me a birthday card. Once I was settled and having children, every year I would get a birthday card and it would say “call me, lets get in touch”. Sometimes I would, and we would reminisce. I would update him on the kids.
But for the last few years we were getting together more and more. When Angie, his wife, went to visit her family in the Philippines, we got to see him more frequently. Maybe twice a month. Dad loved my spaghetti. My favorite day is when he came over for spaghetti and meatballs and we sat together and watched “Avatar”. He liked to come over just to hang out and watch the game on the tube. He loved Avatar and , like 99% of the rest of the males on earth, had a crush on the girl whatsername, that rode pterodactyls. Think she was even on his screen saver. I would take him jars of sauce when I came to visit. After the radiation and chemo, he lost his tastebuds. But he claimed he could still taste my spaghetti, at least for a while.
He also reconnected with my brother and sister, going up to visit them at least once , not too long ago, in Oregon and Washington. My sister, so young when he left, has come down to see him several times and had a chance to bond with him before he was gone and it was too late. She made a point to come down before he passed, to say her goodbyes. So did her oldest daughter with her husband.
I have one real regret. At least one so far. I have some video that I had converted from 10 mm footage of our early years together. Dad wanted to see them, but he no longer had a dvd player. Neither did I, not one that worked anyway. I needed to transfer it to disk and he wanted a copy. They are still sitting here, the videos that is. I still haven’t had them transferred. Meant to. But didn’t.
He was a simple guy just trying to make his way in the world. Made some good choices. Made some bad. Kind of like the rest of us.
He is at peace now. I love you dad. Pray for us.