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(This is one of the first posts I ever wrote. Today seemed an appropriate one to remember him anew. He was in every way my hero.)

Before I donned the signature plaid of St. Joseph’s Catholic School, I studied in his. It was a wood and fabric rocking number that didn’t recline, covered in a dingy green and cream plaid pattern. The right arm was loosened a little from my weight against it.

As soon as my eyes opened good, we started. He read; I listened or followed along. Before Spot and Dick and Jane, I knew Blondie and Dennis and Good Ole Charlie Brown. He read me the front page and the sports page and the vocabulary words from Readers’ Digest. Sometimes we read his Farm Report, though I never knew him to actually garden, much less farm.

You might think that he had been a teacher or a professor, this man who had me reading at three and who taught me math with Chinese Checkers and Canasta and Poker. He was – in his way. He trained hundreds, maybe thousands of men in what they needed to stay alive on the beaches of the Philippines, in the bogs of Guam and in the open sea. He was an enlisted man, a career soldier who spent most of his army years in the field with his men – at war.

I really had no idea what his life was like before me. I imagined that he grew up on a farm, he did tell me that he was from way down in South Georgia. He never said much else about it to me. I knew that he was in the army. There was a pecan wood box on his dresser, it had a little lock suspended from it; the lock was just for show. Inside were bright colored grosgrain ribbons attached to heavy medallions. I would sneak and run my fingers through them like a button collection. My Nana ran me out of the box occasionally but my Dada always told her, “That Dollbaby can’t hurt ‘em.”

He brought me home surprises, the days he left a little while for work, Wrigley’s gum or the boxes of little Butter Fingers. He brought home pads of paper for us to cipher on when we played cards and good sharp pencils.

I can’t remember him in anything but a short sleeve dress shirt, the material kind of thin and smooth, with an undershirt. He wore Dickies pants or the like, always with a belt, and Hush Puppy shoes. I never saw him in anything else. He owned a suit and his closet had lots of tan, pressed uniforms in it, but I never saw him wear those either.

He was retired from the army but he worked a few hours a week at the “Navy School” that was a few blocks up the street, as an accountant. When I was a little older, he worked for a food supply company, it had a candy distributorship as well, so my daily take got even sweeter.

Sometimes I got to go to his work with him. Everyone on base called him, “Sarge.” At his other job it was, “Chief.” When we went up to Normaltown, all the men would make sure to speak to him, “Morning, Sarge.” I remember wondering Why does everyone call him that? and Why do they all seem to stand when he walks in?

I can’t think of him without thinking of cigar boxes.  When I found something of value: wooden spools, sea shells, or tiny pine cones, I rushed them to my Nana, my eyes wide with delight. “Go get a “Seegar” box,” she’d coach. Dada kept the empty boxes stacked beside his dresser. Beautiful, in manly reds, blues, golds and blacks, with King Edward’s picture, it seemed a strong and safe defense.  After he lost a lung, Dada only chewed on the cigars. I kept the boxes, full with treasures: marbles, rocks, my dominos, my knife and tools that Nana let me have. I kept the boxes long after my treasures within. They still smell of him, of unlit cigars and the faintest hint of Old Spice. My closet at home has them all along the shelves. I haven’t moved them here, I can’t bear to.

There is a book or better to be written in honor of this man, who more than anyone, seemed to know who I was – seemed to know what I needed to become myself. My Dada was the man who secured my world – and my place in it.


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things to say….

I am most me paddling on the lake toward purpled skies, tromping the thick, leafy floor of our woods or up turning stones along a secret stream…I am most me, alone.  I like to sit and be still and listen. When I was little, I roamed about our yard and field, my magical domain. I climbed to my tower 30 feet high in the White Pine, or to a jungle nest way out the bare arm of my Mimosa. I ran from villains and dove daringly into the feathery concealment of our bordering boxwood. And when the weather turned, I found solace in my room, happy in a book. I played with neighbor children some, but usually, I played happily, alone.  People have been good to me. I have generous, kind parents and grandparents who lavished love and the freedom to roam upon me. But, I have  few imprints of people from my childhood.

I remember it raining…it being cold. I was in first grade and dressed in pajamas for a St. Joseph’s Catholic School Christmas Program. We had to get from our classroom to the auditorium. It was a good walk for a first grader, in footy pajamas, in the rain. So the big boys – the sixth graders, they seemed so huge at the time, came and carried us, one by one across the huge parking lot and around the way to the auditorium. I remember it so vividly. The starched white shirt of the sixth grade guy. His steady gate. The quiet joy that seemed to radiate off my silent but willing porter. I don’t remember anything that we sang. But I will never forget that ride across the puddle filled parking lot.  It was somehow important and  something that I have yet to unwrap.  But that moment imprints my soul; its symbol, foreshadowing and incarnation. My hazy memory still brings tears as it was an early “with someone” thing that I really remember.

And I can see my Nana and I walking at the lake, to the blackberries that grew across the narrow roadway. I remember she cautioned me a little about snakes who she and I  like very little and who like blackberries very much.  It is warm…heat radiates through my keds and up my legs from the eroding payment. I can’t shake the image…nor can I really comprehend it.  But it hangs in the entranceway of my mind. It is somehow about “together.”

I didn’t talk to Nana much…but I always let her near. I always wanted her nearby. I hold secret, a terrible, and yet maybe somehow wonderful thought. The last time I talked with her, seven years ago now, she had fallen…in a blackberry patch, picking berries for my jelly, no doubt. I didn’t tell anyone, it just didn’t register as dangerous. She was an outdoor person, too. She got  hurt in little ways like me all the time, it never slowed us. A week later, she collapsed walking back from her mailbox, hitting her head a bit on the pavement. A neighbor put her to bed…She refused to call any of us…She went to sleep and never woke up. Blackberries and snakes…the warning there all along…

And then…there is this strange wet, cold day. We went Christmas shopping…all of us. My father went with us. He carried a black, large umbrella. He used it to keep us dry as we scurried across the street in the rain. I can still smell/taste that particular rain. I just remember not being able to believe that he was with us, shopping at our downtown Belks. I don’t remember being interested with any decorations or possible gifts…just his presence. I am sure that I walked about that so familiar store just staring at my father and the familiar workers to see if they thought it as wondrous that he was there.

 I enjoy people so much more than I did. But much of the “little me”  remains. I like people best… alone. I like to talk with someone…just the two of us. I like to take people down the river or out on the lake – just us. I like to walk the surf line and climb a hillside trail – just us two. It’s closer to alone, which remember, I do best.  So writing, which I have always done for me, sometimes, rarely sometimes, for a very loved friend… writing shared like this…with response and maybe even questions is “with” done fabulously for me.

To have you read, take your time to enter what may matter only to me, with your interest and intellect and maybe even your heart …is dreamlike. I have made many promises to write. More and more, the internal pressure builds and wills me do so. Thank you to those of you who challenge me with your faithfulness to lay down thought and memory and ideal. I will do my best to fulfill my promises. As said so perfectly in my favorite movie,  Notting Hill, “There are things to say…..”


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