My father never made much of his war-time experience. He was in the South Pacific for three years, pushing warships around with a tug boat commissioned into the U. S. Navy from the Coast Guard; but he rarely talked about any of that, certainly not because what he saw and experienced couldn't be imagined or believed. By his own testimony, the whole service thing, for him at least, didn't amount to much. You might say he didn't talk much about his wartime experience because of what he didn't see--and what so many others did, including his own brothers and sister. He suffered no wounds, except perhaps not having suffered.
Because he didn't make of those years, it's a little strange to see a flag adorn his grave--and this marker, a kind of add-on, laid in the grass where he is buried. I don't know how this one got here either. Honestly, I don't think he'd want to be remembered primarily as a war vet.
He never once donned his Navy whites to walk in the annual Memorial Day parade, and he didn't march in the local color guard or join the American Legion. I never saw him in a sailor suit--not even a picture. The only wartime photo I have in my memory is of Dad, shirtless, doing some signaling behind a huge spotlight on the deck of a ship. It's sort of beef-cake-ish, actually--my dad as a hunk. He probably sent it to his young wife to remind her of what not to forget.
He was, I think, an unusually unselfish man, although were he to read these words from some heavenly easy chair, I'm sure he'd shake his head. The world is full of faiths, some of them--many of them--downright dangerous. But his wasn't, and it was, in its own way, remarkably pure. Honestly, I believe he faithfully lived out his own stout convictions, sure that his profession of the Christian faith held him to conduct that made significant demands on his character. He was commanded to love, which was, to him, the whole of God's law.
Long, long ago, when my first novel was published, he was saddened by the demanding father in the novel, a husky Dutch Calvinist who really doesn't know one bit about how to love. He was sure readers might think I was talking about him. He was dead wrong, and I honestly never anticipated his having that reaction. I should have.
On Sunday last, the preacher--a professional family counselor--talked for quite some time about "the wounded child" inside a man or woman he says he's seen a lot of in the Dutch Calvinist world in which he's practiced, the kind of person reared by a mother or father who really didn't know how to show much love. They stay wounded, he said.
I'm not one of them. My father--and my mother--gave away their love amply, as a matter of fact. My ills are not borne from some childhood deprivation; they have their own sources.
Anyway, I visited him on Tuesday morning--my father that is. I visited his grave site, where I snapped this picture. It's not really a pilgrimage, but I like to go back to the family plot when I return to the lakeshore neighborhood where I spent my boyhood; and I like to visit, alone, with several generations of family members. A ton of them are there, their mortal coils anyway.
My father was good for the soul in life, and even in death. I was blessed Tuesday morning, and even this morning, back home, because he is, and always will be, a good subject for my morning thanks, which I gave him then and do so again now--"home again, home again, jiggidy jog," as he used to say.