Dad in Le Mans, France, two months after the Normandy
invasion, 1944. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.
Usually it’s Mom I call but this time I ask for Dad. When I ask him what he’s doing he says he is playing Sudoku even though he should be ironing shirts for the trip to Denver.
My parents haven’t been to Denver for a couple of years. Janet is coming to pick them up. They’ll be gone almost a week.
“Will you stop in Costilla?” I ask.
He says they will, and this time they’ll also stop in Ft. Garland. There is a World War II memorial there, and my dad’s Uncle John’s name is on the wall. His brother Onofre’s was supposed to be on there, too, but for some reason it didn’t make it.
“We’re also going to see Nena,” he says. Uncle Onofre’s kids, they all have nicknames. It drives me crazy because they use their first and middle names, plus the nicknames. Nena is Magdalena. She only has two names.
“Did you go to the funeral?” Dad asks. He’s talking about Onofre now.
“Da-ad,” I say, “yes, remember?!?”
“Oh, that’s right, you drove. And who else came with us?”
“Patty,” I tell him.
“Oh, right, and Janet came down from Denver.”
“Dad, don’t go losing your memory on me now.”
God, please don’t let him slip away like that. He’s already a little viejo. Don’t let him lose his memory. Onofre died in spring. The wisteria froze, big grape clusters whithered brown overnight. Don’t let Dad become the wisteria, frozen after a too-warm February.
“Why isn’t your name on the memorial?” I ask.
“We already moved to Taos,” he says, “and the memorial’s only for people in Costilla County, Colorado.”
In a box in my writing room, I keep a picture of my father. I have many pictures of him and Uncle Nemey, from the war. Nemey was in the Navy, Dad the Army.
The Normandy invasion happened June 6, 1944. My father knows all those dates. About two months later, after camping out for weeks in an orchard, his unit finally got to go into town and take showers. They dressed in uniform and walked all around Le Mans.
There’s Dad, standing with legs a broad shoulder’s width apart. He looks happy.
“I was happy,” he tells me.
My parents have another picture, of Dad and another soldier with a young woman who happened to be walking by that day in Le Mans. We joke that she was Dad’s girlfriend. Nah, nah, he always has to tell us, we didn’t even know her!
“Little did she know she’d become part of our family photos,” he laughs.
I’m crying now. I’m getting a crying headache.
Dad was walking the morning of September 11, 2001. Seven years ago he still walked five miles every morning, even more on the weekends. I’m trying to remember when it was he fell while taking his daily walk. Was it the following year?
I know he saw the cranes from the work they were doing to widen the Montaño bridge. I know he got dizzy and out of breath, that one of the workers saw him and came running. I know he got sick to his stomach, and that the ambulance was only able to reach him because of the construction project.
After they put in the pacemaker, that’s when he went from good old age to not-so-good old age.
“I don’t like to dwell on those things.” He is talking about 9/11. He goes on to describe how he was walking and someone told him that a big airplane had hit one of the towers. He says he couldn’t understand how the pilot could have made such a mistake in daylight. He got home to the TV just before the buildings fell.
“A day of infamy,” he says. Then, after a moment he adds, “like Pearl Harbor.”
My father has seen so much. So much life and death. I am an ant compared to him.
“I’ll come by before you leave,” I tell him.
I want to see his gray watery eyes. They used to be so dark they looked black.
***NOTE*** When I went to scan the photo of my father, I found a poem that one of my daughters printed out on my old scented stationery.
I’m not sure if one of them wrote it or if they found it somewhere Dee wrote it; I loved it and wanted to share it now.
Remember the flowers?
Oh so red
So smooth the petals but beware the thorns
Tomorrow the wound shall be gone
Happy with your new rose
Out with the thorn
Roses are red
No longer my finger.