There was a brief time when there were two commissioned officers in the family. And they still got outranked by somebody who carried no bars, stars or leaf clusters on his shoulder.
For those of us on the younger end of the spectrum whose lazy summers would get disrupted by a lieutenant treating us as if we were recruits, watching two freshly-minted officers right out of college still go “sir, yes, sir” to the lean guy in glasses with no high school diploma to go with his three stripes up and two stripes down was, well, a relished occasion.
Dad’s time in uniform was growing shorter when my two oldest brothers became officers, one in 1975 and the other the following year. A few months later, Dad retired from the Army, and the Army had taken us to such vistas as Fort Knox and Fort Stewart during his career. And that was it. No Germany. No Hawaii. No Fort Carson nor Fort Ord. Knox and Stewart.
With my second-oldest brother over at big brother’s house not too long ago, the conversation turned to our vehicles and then to Dad’s old car, which needs a lot of things. First and foremost, the air conditioning needs work. How the car came to be is in itself a story. Big brother 1 and big brother 2 wanted to get the old man a big gift one year and discussed buying him either a big gas grill or a big gas-powered car. Big brother 2 told big brother 1 his share was $7,000.
“I thought we were getting him a grill?”
“I said a car or a grill.”
Big brother 1 heard grill.
We still tell tales of how Dad was, how — if you were in the kitchen and even slowly opened a drawer — somehow, even with two hearing aids and a TV turned up to full blast in the master bedroom, he could hear you slipping a spoon out of a drawer. He would bound into the kitchen and whatever you were doing or making, he was there to stand right over your shoulder. Even if you had been making Kool-Aid for 35 years, you still weren’t doing it right.
We still talk about the old man, or at least mimic him in many ways, from finger-popping to an imitation of loud gum-chewing, which prompts the response, “All right, Dad.” Those were favorite things of his to do when he was a passenger in a vehicle one of his sons was driving. Whoever was behind the wheel usually just suffered in silence.
Dad had little connection to his own old man. One night my mother even yelled at him: “You didn’t even know where your own father was for three years!” she bellowed.
“Yes, I do,” he said, his glasses not moving and the book he was reading also still as he never looked up. “He was in Cincinnati.”
I only remember seeing one picture of my Dad’s dad, a shot of him in uniform, a chief petty officer with the Seabees during World War II. Dad talked very little about him, and once, when I was 7, Dad and his youngest brother Joe were talking about him. Joe said, “You don’t know how much you miss him until he’s gone.” Dad nodded his agreement, their father having been gone for a decade at that time.
My youngest brother and I discussed the other night how glad we were not just that the Boston Red Sox had won two World Series in our lifetimes but that the old man was around to see them end 86 years of frustration.
There are times we jibe each other about turning into Dad when one of us displays his idiosyncrasies. And there are still times when we catch ourselves wondering what the old man would have done in a certain situation or doing things just the way he would have, his sharp Charlestown accent still fresh in our ears.
That’s not such a bad thing after all.