Pop leans back in his green lazy boy, a spoon of oatmeal balanced on the blue
Wedgwood bowl. His eyes drift to the cardinals flitting around the feeder slung from the Magnolia tree. The world is covered with ice.
“What the weather like today?” he asks.
“We didn’t get the deluge of snow they predicted but no one will be able to get up our hill. I’ve cancelled Hospice and your caregivers for the next two days. We should get a good melt by Wednesday.”
His face softens, and his head drops. Air puffs from his lips, and the oxygen hums.
“Don’t go to sleep on me, now.” I lean forward to place my hand on his knee.
He starts awake, and looks down at his oatmeal.
“What are thinking about?”
“A time I tried to help someone and it all went wrong.”
“Ah. Yes, I can think of a few of those times, too. You’ve dedicated your life to service anyway you cut it. The army is called the service. You served your family. You kept expanding the definition of your extended family. Anything we do a lot is bound to have some real humdingers.”
I go to the front room to fetch my book “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” from the shelves filled with family books. Grandma Annie’s “On the Heights.” Great Uncle Frank’s “Runes of the Red Race” and “Poems of the Piasa.” Bunches of books Pop wrote.
I go back to the table and I open the book to the poem “Treasure Chest” in the section about my father.
He labors in the grove of service.
Remembers flat tires, repaired.
Loans proffered for crises.
Then his somber face glows
with the light of a thousand-watt angel.
I look up at him to say, “That’s my father.”
Memories of good turns returned
is a treasure he counts with care.
His treasure chest
of good deed stories is a full one.
circumvented to better humanity.
If there is a fetching young woman
in the story charmed
with his wit, courtesy, and good sense,
why then, all the better.
“That’s my father,” I tell him.
War stories as WWII platoon sergeant
overflow a section of his treasure chest.
Sure, my father earned a Silver Star for heroism in battle.
A Purple Heart commemorates his war wounds.
But memories of gratitude
from men he trained mean most to him.
His eyes, slightly filmy from cataracts, mist over
as he tells battlefield stories not shown in movies.
Lying in a base hospital bed,
recuperating from shrapnel wounds and gangrene,
Pop met a man he trained.
I’m alive today
because of the things you made me learn.”
A buddy shivered next to my Dad in a foxhole.
when I’m in a foxhole with you,
I feel safe.”
But, Christ! That’s really saying something.
Shells whizzing over-head and grenades exploding.
How could anyone possibly feel safe?
Men in the barracks
brought in a local French girl to have some fun.
She needed money and food for her family.
These GIs could provide both.
They passed her from bunk to bunk
until morning came.
Then these men were stricken
with amnesia and sudden blindness.
She needed to get off the post fast.
My father, not part of the evening’s fun,
escorted her to safety
as if ushering his dance partner
to the edge of the floor
when the music stops.
Quiet sits between us when I finish reading.
“That’s from your poetry book?”
“It’s a good one.”
“And that’s you, Pop, as close as I can get it.”
He raises his spoon, and eats his oatmeal.
Janet Grace Riehl is the author of “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary,” and the audiobook “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.” You can read more stories by and about her family Erwin A. Thompson at her blog Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century. Just use the search box and an amazing archive will pop up to keep you entertained all Sunday afternoon.