Veterans’ Day evokes powerful memories

Veterans’ Day stirs up three memories: A boy tugs open a dresser drawer to talk to his dad. A man named Bucky beckons from a photo on a wall half a world away. A strange man thumps up our stairs at midnight to grab me.

The first memory belongs to a friend. His parents married in January 1942. He was born in November. Soon after, his dad went off to war.

His mother rode a train to Missouri to share a few tender hours with her husband near his Army camp. And that was all there was.

Her husband, his dad, died in Belgium in 1945.

“My mother probably never looked at, never thought of, another man,” my friend tells me. “She was like a swan who lost her life’s mate. She knew there would be no other.”

So he grew up without a dad, without even a memory of one, without knowing fully what a dad was supposed to be.

“When I wanted to talk with my dad,” he says, “ I ran up to my mother’s bedroom and pulled open the dresser drawer and talked to his uniform and his medals and the flag that had draped his coffin.

“When I think of my dad, that’s what I think of. I think of all those times I talked to him in the dresser drawer,” he says.

The second memory is mine.

When I was in my mid-20s, living in New Zealand, I joined a fraternal organization because it had given us our home mortgage.

The monthly meetings were mostly an excuse for a card game for other members. After a while I realized the only reason I went was to spend a moment before a photo on the wall of the club room.

It was one among a collection of photos of club members who had gone to war and not come back. This photo was of a young man named Bucky. His grin, his golden curls, his lively eyes captured me, beckon me to this day.

I knew and know nothing more about him. Nothing, except that in his photo he looks so eager to romp through life. Nothing, except that his was a pretty short romp. Nothing, except that if I could paint I would, after all these years, create his likeness as accurately as if he sat before my canvas today.

And if any message emanated from the image it would be that life is a banquet and lucky are we who make it to the main course.

Before I reach the third memory I must confess to falling into a schmaltzy habit. When I talk to a veteran of one of our wars, if we talk about his work in the war, I often blurt: “Thank you. Thank you for going.”

There. Confession over.

Now to the thumping stranger on our stairway. I am 3 years old and up at midnight. Why this is, I am not sure.

Clutching herself, my mother bolts from one room to another and back and I know from the way she behaves that this night differs from others.

She hears a car, rushes to the window, bursts into tears. I hear thumping on the stairs. The door flies open. I remember wrapping my arms around legs, my mother’s and some in brown trousers. I remember voices loud, then muffled.

Suddenly, I am swept into the air, higher than I have ever gone, and clutched into brown fabric, kissed by a swarthy man I do not know.

This is my introduction to my father. He has come home from the war. He will be more than the contents of a dresser drawer, more than a photo fading on a wall. He will be a dad. I am one of the lucky sons.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

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