The Gift of Wings . . . by Maureen Ryan Griffin

The Gift of Wings; Paul Thomas Ryan

Paul Thomas Ryan

 

My father was never much for gifts. Every time his birthday, or Christmas, or Father’s Day rolled around, when I’d ask what he wanted, his answer was always the same — “Well-behaved children.” He wasn’t much for giving gifts either, not the tangible kind anyway. 

No, our mother was the one who noticed what our eyes lingered on in the department store window. She was the one who sat the five of us Ryan children down each year with the Sears Wishbook to make our Christmas lists. By the time I stopped believing in Santa Claus, I knew she was also the one who bought us the items on those lists that she deemed appropriate and affordable. Mom was the parent who cared about wish gratification, and Dad—well, Dad was the Grinch who, while he grudgingly financed the purchasing, believed that gift-giving was unnecessary, even irksome. 

Dad was an engineer by trade and a practical man by nature. It would be more efficient, I heard him say to Mom, to write us each a check so we could buy our own presents, or, better yet, to not give us anything since we already had so much. (We were comfortably middle class, while he had grown up quite poor.) This idea was one my mother, thankfully, didn’t buy. She gave me many memorable gifts over the years – stuffed animals I loved, a scarf set I’d been wanting, a Barbie kitchen that was a dream come true. It took becoming a grownup myself to realize that my dad, too, had given me an abundance of gifts. They just weren’t, with one exception, the kind you could wrap up and slip under a Christmas tree.

From him, I received the gift of perseverance, and the knowledge that I could make amends for my mistakes. When, inspired by the sparkling crystals inside the geodes my seventh grade teacher showed us, I inadvertently damaged his best wood chisel busting open rock after rock in hopes of finding a geode of my own, he had me spend what felt like an entire Saturday morning sharpening it. How could there be so many grades of sandpaper, from coarse to fine? But after the final step—oil on his whetstone—he declared the chisel good as new.

 My dad gave me the gift of knowing I could take care of myself. He wouldn’t let me get my driver’s license until I demonstrated, lug nut by lug nut, that I could change a tire.

He gave me the gift of noticing me. Once, when I was in high school, after a stormy morning with my mother, I’d left home for the afternoon, wanting more than anything to run away from home. When I walked in the door, his first words were “Welcome home.” How had he known?

He sent me my own post card every time he went on a business trip. This may sound like a small thing, but it wasn’t. Since I had four siblings, getting a card addressed just to me was special, no matter what was pictured. I teased him for years about the card he sent of a prison, with a note on the back pointing out the rust beneath each barred window. His tactic of trying to scare me into being a law-abiding citizen was too transparent, I said. 

But the truth is that, along with the gift of letting me know he was thinking of me, he was also teaching me the value of paying attention. Would I have become a writer without my dad’s influence? I’m not so sure. When, in a creative writing class, I encountered poet Miller Williams’s advice, “Notice everything,” he wasn’t telling me anything new. The smallest of details didn’t escape my father; he was fascinated by the way life worked, down to the effect rain has on iron.

It’s because of my father that I, at age ten, inspired by some fascinating bit of information (I think it was that glass is actually not a solid but a slow liquid) blurted out, “When I grow up, I’m going to learn everything about everything.” My no-nonsense father had to straighten me out. I could, he told me, learn a little about a lot of things or a lot about a few things. But no one could learn everything about everything. 

That didn’t mean, however, that one couldn’t keep learning and growing. This, my father taught me by example. Just after his eightieth birthday, he announced that he was going to have knee surgery. It was elective, he said, but he but he figured he might as well go ahead with it while he was “still young and spry.” Shortly before this, after caring for my mother through several long years of the debilitating illness that took her life, he began taking voice lessons, singing in his church choir, and donating his time and extraordinary handyman’s skills to a home for unwed mothers. He became so proficient at computer skills that he volunteered through a free program to help “the elderly” with their taxes. He never gave up his habit of reading until the wee hours of the morning.

I lost my father on January 2, 2009, this quiet, humble man with a Great Depression mentality who tracked every nickel he spent. We know this, because we found the ledger books in his office, dating back to his Coast Guard Academy days. Yet, just days before he died, my sister told me, he asked her to help him write and mail his annual checks to a number of charities he supported generously. I’d had no idea that, in addition to his other causes, he sponsored a child who lived in a third world country. My dad believed in giving. He just didn’t believe in gifts. Which is why, the Christmas I was sixteen,  it was as much a shock as it was a surprise to find a small package under the tree with a gift tag that read “to Maureen from Dad.”  

Inside was the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, a parable about a sea gull determined to rise higher than any gull ever had. I have always treasured it as the only tangible gift I remember my father giving me. But, I see now, it wasn’t so different from all the intangible gifts he gave me over the years. It whispered to me that he wanted me to reach for my dreams, shouted to me that he believed I could fly. His faith in me has been a source of strength for every dream I’ve taken on, from being a mother to having my books published to starting my own business. His example will see me through life without him, will keep me growing and learning as my own years tick by. What my dad really wrapped inside Christmas paper my sixteenth year was something he gave me over and over again—the gift of wings.

_____

An award-winning poetry and nonfiction writer, Maureen has also been a commentator on Public Radio Station WFAE 90.7. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Texas Review, The Charlotte Observer, St.Anthony Messenger (Ohio),  Potato  Eyes (Maine), Kalliope  (Florida), Chelsea (New York), Cincinnati Poetry Review, Catfish Stew (South Carolina), Catalyst  (Georgia), and Calyx (Oregon). She is the author of Spinning Words into Gold, a Hands-On Guide to the Craft of Writing, a grief workbook entitled How Do I Say Goodbye?, and two collections of poetry, This Scatter of Blossoms and When the Leaves Are in the Water. Her essay “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” appears in Marlo Thomas’s The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2 (Atria Books, 2006) and her poem “Such Foolishness” is included in Thirteen (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003).

Read more about Maureen here and visit her facebook page here.

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Read Justin Hunt’s story about his father here.

His Heart Keeps Beating: Remembering My Father . . . by Ginger Bailey

 

His Heart Keeps Beating; Bud Bailey

Everett C. “Bud” Bailey

We didn’t have a lot when I was growing up, though I didn’t know it at the time. Looking back I realize our real wealth was the sense of love and security the folks provided. And, without a doubt, it was my father, Everett C. “Bud” Bailey,  who set the pattern and led the way.

I don’t recall ever thinking of my father as anything out of the ordinary. He was just my dad who worked hard. Maybe it was because he worked so hard, as a carpenter and contractor, that I didn’t realize the extent of his disability.

December 29, 1943, on the island of New Britain, he was caught in machine gun crossfire. Left for dead, he stuffed his gun belt into his opened gut and torn thigh, then dragged himself to the back of the line. Twice more he was counted for dead. Twice more he proved them wrong. He never talked about the details. But I believe it was his meetings with death that created his profound respect for life, and his intuitiveness when it came to the needs of others. For example:

It was obvious that my father loved my mother. In 42 years he never stopped referring to her as “my lovely bride.” And the warm, loving tone of his voice always spoke more than his words. He said he was “very, very fortunate” to have married her, and considered her “the most wonderful woman in the world.” After he died, Mother often said “when you’ve had the best, you don’t settle for less.” She knew her husband loved her.

He also loved his children. There were three of us, all girls. We were each very different in our interests and talents, but Daddy (“Father” was too formal and distancing) treated us all equally — differently according to our various personalities and interests, but equally in our worth and value.

I still reflect on the sense of worth he gave me when I wanted to send a fan letter to get a picture of some television personalities. Daddy said I could send my letter, but I had to include one of my pictures. Of course, my picture hit the round file as soon as it was received, but the message from my father was profound and long lasting — I am just as important and valuable as anyone else, including celebrities.

Extended family was also important to him. His parents were always close, often next door. But Mother’s parents were more than 900 miles away. Summer was Daddy’s busiest time at work, but somehow he managed to get us from northern California to the old farm in western Montana every year. He was determined his children would know their grandparents, and his wife would never feel a loss of her roots. Because of Daddy’s respect, love, and commitment those yearly “trips,” were the most memorable and purest of “vacations.”

When I was a high school senior the exchange student from Thailand lived with us. Quickly she became part of our family, and took to calling Daddy “Daddy Long Legs.” It fit. She was 4 foot 10; he was 6 foot 2. Years later, when she returned to the states, the folks met her at the San Francisco airport. Coming through customs she spotted “Daddy Long Legs” and started yelling “Daddy! Daddy!” The love and acceptance was mutual. I always enjoyed watching people’s faces when Daddy introduced Pranom as his “other daughter.” “You mean you can’t see the resemblance?” he would ask. “Two ears, two eyes, a nose, and a smile.”

Daddy never dwelt on differences nor succumbed to prejudices. One day a visitor to our home made hateful, derogatory remarks about the Japanese. The visitor, like my father, was a WWII veteran, but, unlike my father, had never seen combat. Later I asked Daddy why I never heard such hateful words from him. Certainly he had greater cause than this other man. I can still hear his response. “We were all there for the same reason. The only reason they shot me was because I didn’t shoot them first. If I hate them, I have to hate myself.”

I don’t think my father ever hated anyone. He may have disagreed or disliked or even been angry, but hate was not in him. In fact, he was always quick to correct us girls if we used the word, even in a common cliche. 

Daddy was always there for us. One evening when I was in the 7th grade he perceived something was bothering me. When he asked what it was, I broke into tears. I had a history report due the next day, and I hadn’t even picked a subject. Daddy spent the rest of the evening helping me put together a report on the American flag. The teacher gave me an “A,” but I knew it was really Daddy’s “A.” I did the work, but it would never have happened without Daddy’s coaching and encouragement. 

Daddy continued to be there long after my sisters and I reached adulthood. My younger sister, Janet, was battling leukemia when she met a great guy. Not sure what to do, they went to the folks for advice. “Dave and I are in love,” she said. “We want to get married, but I’m going to die.” Daddy responded: “We are all going to die. Use what time you have.” Janet and Dave did marry. She died one year later, but not before Daddy escorted her to her ten-year class reunion. Dave was out of town on Air Force duty, and Janet, just out of the hospital, was too weak to attend the reunion by herself. With Daddy as her escort, she didn’t have to.

Daddy was an active member of many organizations in our small town, especially the American Legion, but it wasn’t until after his passing that I more fully realized how well-known and respected he was. The funeral director postponed his vacation so he could personally see to the arrangements. The American Legion conducted the service, and members of the organization and community packed the chapel to overflowing. The atmosphere was palpable with respect and sorrow. Then the hearse wouldn’t start for the drive to the cemetery. The battery was dead. When the embarrassed funeral director came to Mother to apologize and explain the delay Mother responded, “It’s just Bud telling everyone to lighten up.” She knew her husband well.

Over twenty years after his death I was blessed to learn a little more about my father and what he meant to others. On one occasion I met a young man who said he was an airline pilot because of my father. He explained that as a teenager he spent a lot of time hanging around the local county airport, dreaming that someday he would learn to fly. Daddy, who learned to fly in the late 1960s, was also frequently at the airport. This young man said it was through my father’s encouragement that he found the motivation to pursue and achieve a career that others told him was only a dream.

On another occasion, upon being introduced, a man exclaimed “You’re Bud Bailey’s daughter! Let me tell you what your father did. We were both at the airpark, just hanging out. I was yelling at a lady at the desk when your father stepped up, said he needed to see me, and took me outside. When we were alone he said, ‘You and I are alike; we are both in constant pain. But that is no excuse for the way you’re acting. That woman isn’t the cause of your pain. You need to stop taking your pain out on people who have nothing to do with it.’ Then he walked away. Boy, was I mad, but I was too stunned to speak. So I planned to lay into him the next time I saw him. But it was two weeks before I had the chance, and by then I had time to think about what he said. He was right — 100% right.”

Physical pain from his war wounds was a daily part Daddy’s life, and it got worse as each day passed. The day he again met death was one of the few exceptions. He was feeling good that day, so he and Mother decided to visit my sister, Donna, who lived 70 miles away. On the way home, driving west into the sun, Daddy said, “I can’t see.” Mother thought he meant the sun was in his eyes until he said “I’m blind,” and slumped over the steering wheel dead.

Mother managed to turn the engine off, without locking the steering wheel, and guide the car until it coasted to a stop on the side of the highway. There she called for help on the CB radio Daddy had taught her to use. Help arrived in three or four minutes. They got his heart going, but he never regained consciousness. His heart stopped for the last time two days later.

But a heart like his never really stops. It keeps beating in the lives of those he touched.

_____

Read other memories about authors’ fathers: Justin Hunt’s “Showman’s Pasture,” Maureen Ryan Griffin’s “The Gift of Wings,” Laura Moehrle’s “The Treasure Box,” and Linda Whitesitt’s “Honoring My Father’s Service.”

The Treasure Box: Memories of My Father . . . by Laura Moehrle

I scurried along beside my daddy as we made our way down the snow-covered street. My feet, clad in red rubber boots took two steps for each one of his. Daddy’s faded blue jeans were shoved into his big black boots which made much huge prints in the snow. Dark curls peaked under his black wool hat and a few snowflakes settled into his beard. My own blond hair was pulled back into a pony tail and tucked under my red knitted hat. 

The earth was blanketed in white while the cloudy sky promised more snow to come. The whole world was empty; quietly hibernating. We were the only ones out and about on that cold December morning. Just my daddy and me. Later that night the whole world would come alive with celebrations as 1971 came to a close, but that morning I had my daddy and the whole world all to myself.

It may have been New Year’s Eve to everyone else, but, to me it was special for a different reason.

“What are you going to buy me for my birthday?” I asked, my breath making little puffs of smoke as I spoke.

“I was thinking about a pair of ice skates,” Daddy said, grinning at me. “Would you like that?”

“Yeah!” I said eagerly. Daddy was always coming up with neat birthday and Christmas presents.

I had never been on ice skates, but I had watched my big brother skate with his friends on the lake. Daddy had taken us roller skating once and that was fun. So I knew that ice skating had to be fun, too.

The store was just a little ways from our house. Colorful pictures of Santa and snowmen decorated the frost covered windows. Excitement built up in my chest. This was almost as good as Christmas morning. A bell jingled on the door as we stepped inside. It was warm so daddy undid my coat and I took off my mittens. The store was empty expect for a gray haired lady standing behind the counter.

“May I help you?” She asked in a friendly tone.

Daddy said that we were interested in a pair of ice skates for me.

The lady frowned and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but the skates are all gone. I don’t believe we’ll be getting any more in either.”

“You’ve sold out already? But winter’s only just started!” Daddy exclaimed.

The lady sighed and said, “I know. They were big sellers this past Christmas.”

My lip quivered. I tried very hard not to cry. Daddy bent down to me, resting his big calloused hands on his knees. He looked as disappointed as I was. “I’m sorry, Kitten. Maybe next year.”

I nodded, but I couldn’t understand who had taken all the skates. It wasn’t fair!

Daddy took my small hand in his and said, “Come on, let’s find you another birthday present.”

He led me to the toy section. The shelves were line with: baby dolls, Barbie Dolls, Easy Bake Ovens, Lego building blocks, board games and cars. I looked at toy typewriters, record players and even a toy telephone that really talked. But nothing seemed special enough for a fifth birthday. After all, turning five was big, a whole hand. I would be going to school in the fall, just like my brother. I could spell my own name. I could reach the knob on our front door. I could even get my own drinks from the kitchen sink if I stood on a chair. I couldn’t do those things last year. Yes, turning five was much too important a birthday to settle for a silly toy as a gift.

“How about this?” Daddy had picked up a pink metal box from the shelf. “You can keep all your special treasure in here. It even has a lock, see?”

I shoved my thumb into my mouth and studied the little box. It was pretty and would be perfect to keep things in. And the lock would keep my brother out.

“Okay,” I said. I took my thumb out of my mouth and smiled. True, it wasn’t as neat as ice skates, but even my brother didn’t have his own special treasure box with a lock.

He handed it to me. I opened it up and peered inside, imagining all the things that I would keep there. Two tiny silver keys were fastened to the inside of the lid. Mommy and Daddy had keys to the car and our house. My brother had a key for the lock on his bike. Now I had keys, too, just like a big person. I really was growing up.

Daddy pulled the new black billfold he gotten for Christmas out of his pocket and paid the lady. She put it in a paper sack and wished me a happy birthday. I put my mittens back on and eagerly reached for the bag.

“What do you say?” Daddy said in a stern voice. Good manners were important, even on birthdays.

I said “thank you” and proudly carried my treasure box home, clutching it close to my chest.

At first the box held rings from Cracker Jack boxes, Bazooka Bubble gum comic strips, pretty rocks, and shells from the beach in South Haven on Lake Michigan.

As time went by, those treasures were replaced by other treasures: notes from friends at school dealing mostly with who had crushes on whom, letters my mother had sent me while I’d been at camp, photographs of my dog that I had taken with my first camera and diaries where I’d written my about my worries and private thoughts. The lock worked at keeping my brother, and later on my little sister, out of my things. I also decorated the outside of the box with funny stickers I had accumulated over the years.

Now, forty- five years later, the little box is a bit rusty, but still pink. A sticker of John Travolta from the movie Grease still adorns the front along with one of Tweety Bird. Most of the other stickers have peeled off or are curling at their corners. The lid no longer clamps down and the lock broke many years ago. It still holds my special treasures:  birthday cards from my parents and grandparents, Valentine cards from children at the day care where I worked, a large flat rock from a hiking trip along Canada’s Bruce Trail, some Girl Scout patches and merit badges. There is even a hand carved barrette that my dad made for me when I was ten.

Most importantly, though, the box holds memories of my father: dressed in jeans and t-shirts, or cable knit sweaters when it was cold, his bright sparkling blue eye, his mischievous sense of humor, and his big strong arms that carried me when I was just too tired to walk.

I’ve had many wonder birthday gifts since, but that little treasure box will always be a favorite. (Incidentally I did get ice skates the following Christmas, just before I turned six.) 

_____

Laura has dreamed of becoming a writer ever since she was a little girl. She recently quit her retail job so that she could fulfill that dream and is currently working on a memoir. She has written several essays, short stories and entered competitions — winning two honorable mentions.

Read stories about other fathers here and here.

Showman’s Pasture . . . by Justin Hunt

showman's pasture

Virgin Pasture Once Owned by the Author’s Grandfather — Sumner County, Kansas

 

The following essay was first published by DASH Journal, Vol. 11, Spring 2018

 

One spring afternoon when I was about six, Dad took my younger sister, Cynthia, and me to Showman’s Pasture, an eighty-acre swath of treeless, virgin prairie one block south of our house in Conway Springs, Kansas. It had rained that morning, and the forsythia blooming at the edge of our driveway still sagged with moisture. As he led us down the dirt alley past Ethel Thew’s barn and the Rutherford’s snarling, fenced-in dogs, Cynthia and I tromped through every mudhole we could find.

“I bet you kids have never seen a buffalo wallow, have you?” Dad said.

“What’s a buffalo wallow?” I asked.

“Well, I’m gonna show you one. It’s where buffalo used to roll to keep the flies off. There used to be millions of ‘em on this prairie before they were hunted out—buffalo, that is, not flies. They’d roll till they wore off the grass, and they’d keep rollin’ on that spot, gettin’ dust all over themselves and makin’ a dent in the prairie. You’ll see.”

At the end of the alley, we came to a barbed wire fence strung on posts of hand-hewn hedge. Dad pushed the lowest strand of wire down with his left foot so that Cynthia and I could slip through without snagging ourselves. He maneuvered himself through the higher strands, and we began walking over ground that had never been put to the plow. The wet, native grasses cleaned our mud-caked shoes. The south wind lifted the scent of soaked prairie to our noses. To our ears, it bore the slog of feet, the lilt of distant meadowlarks and the sound of itself billowing north under a blue, empty dome of sky.

About a hundred yards south of the fence, we came to a depression in the earth, an almost perfect circle about thirty feet in diameter. It was filled with rainwater and spiked with the rust-and-gold stalks of bluestem still dormant from winter.

“Now, that’s a buffalo wallow. If you look southwest, you’ll see another one,” Dad said as he pointed with his long, wiry arm.

Cynthia and I ran to the second, rain-filled wallow, a larger and somewhat deeper formation. As we trotted along its edge, scores of nickel-sized frogs leaped through the grass. We stopped, looked into the clear water and spotted hundreds of small, oblong balls of gray-black flesh wriggling themselves through the bluestem with their tiny tails.

“Dad! Come look!” I said. “What are these?”

My father walked over to the second wallow.

“Why, those are tadpoles,” he said. “They’ll crawl outta there soon enough, when they grow some legs.”

“But you said the buffalo wore all the grass off. How come there’s grass here?”

“Well, the buffalo have been gone a good eighty years. And cattle don’t roll the same way.”

“How’d you know the buffalo wallows were here?”

“I used to play out here as a kid,” Dad said.

 

Throughout the rest of my childhood, my friends and I would walk Showman’s Pasture often—every inch of its grassy high ground, every meander of its lower reaches where runoff, over eons, had cut through thin topsoil and exposed layers of red clay and faint-green limestone. After I left for college, I’d always find time during visits home to walk the pasture again. It remained for me an anchor to something I couldn’t name, something beyond words that always brought me back to who I am. I knew it had never been broken out because its soil was thin and poor, suitable only for grazing cattle. I thought it would always be there, inviolate and whole.

But in the early 1970s, after the U.S. Government began selling huge quantities of surplus grain to the Soviet Union, the price of wheat skyrocketed. The owner of Showman’s Pasture, E.J. Frantz, had several truckloads of dirt hauled in. He ordered his tenant farmer to fill the buffalo wallows, then plow and sow wheat—fencerow to fencerow.

“That ground’s no good for farmin’,” Dad said not long afterwards. “I wish E.J. hadn’t done that. It’s just a shame.”

A few years later, wheat prices dropped, and my childhood haunt was allowed to revert to grass. But a remnant of untouched prairie had been gouged, and the wallows were gone forever. It wouldn’t be long before Showman’s Pasture would vanish altogether—graded and carved up for a new church, a nursing home, and in the early 2000s, a baseball diamond.

 

It takes work these days to find a buffalo wallow in south-central Kansas. The last time I looked for one was in 2006. I drove mile after mile of dusty section roads, scanning the horizon for signs of never-tilled land—a lone stretch of grassland bounded on all sides by plowed fields, a narrow enclosure of native grass tufting along a slough or creek, a sliver of terrain too ragged to work with farm implements or a pasture snaked with low ridges of red clay.

At last, I found a wallow on a grassy rise southwest of Conway Springs. I looked out over the land. Wind scoured my ears. As I walked the wallow’s perimeter, I imagined the time before white settlers came to these plains, the millennia of the Kiowa and Comanche and other native peoples who had leaned into the same wind that I, too, had come to know as the breath of home. I saw bison grazing the boundless expanse of which this rise was once part—the great herds that darkened the horizon in undiminished number as late as the 1860s, only thirty years before Dad was born.

I saw my father driving cattle with his father in 1907—Dad on his quarter horse, Old Whitey, my grandfather on a bay mare, the two of them riding in a hush disturbed only by the creak of saddle leather, the soft clomp of hooves against earth.

I stepped again into that distant day when Dad took my sister and me to Showman’s Pasture.

_____

Justin Hunt grew up in rural Kansas. His prose and poetry have been published by a number of journals, anthologies and literary-prize websites. Justin’s memoir, Dominoes Are Played at Joe’s Place (working title), probes his relationship with his zany but hard-driving father, who was born in 1897 to Kansas settlers.

Find out more about Justin and his writing here.

Read stories about other fathers here and here.

Honoring My Father’s Service in World War II . . . by Linda Whitesitt

Honoring My Father's Service; Don & Judy Whitesitt

Judith Elaine Whitesitt and Donald Lee Whitesitt

I don’t have anything close to a full story about my father’s service in World War II, at least not yet. But from the few pieces of memorabilia he saved, I know this — 

  • Donald Lee Whitesitt enlisted on July 25, 1942.
  • His photo appears in the Class of 43-6F (Arizona Gliding Academy, Wickenburg, AZ) with a nickname “Professor.”
  • Private First Class Whitesitt is pictured in the 25th Training Group (Jefferson Barracks, MO, April 6, 1944).
  • His military “occupation speciality” was “Administrative & Tech Clerk 405”;
  • He received the American Theater Ribbon, The Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal, and the Victory Medal World War II.
  • He was a sergeant in the India-China Division, Air Transport Command in Calcutta (Kolkata) serving the China, Burma and India Theater.
  • His honorable discharge lists his “date of separation” as February 11, 1946.

Although I know next to nothing about what my dad actually did during the war, I can see something of what he saw during his time in the Air Transport Command by the photographs he took — pictures of Calcutta streets filled with people (he’s labeled one “humanity”); ships and troop transports at Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka); water buffalo; the hanging gardens in Bombay (Mumbai); the harbor in Singapore. And I know what was important to him when I look at a picture of a cross in the U.S. Military Cemetery in Calcutta with the name of one of his fallen comrades written in the margins and a photo of him hiding behind a newspaper with the very large headlines “Peace Official.”  

I can learn something about his service in the “Forgotten Theater of World War II” by rooting around the Internet and reading the stories of the men and women who served in the India-China Division, but it’s not enough. I wish I could talk sit across from him at our old dining room table and ask him how he started in a gliding academy and ended up serving as a clerk in India, how his war experiences changed his life, what he learned about himself during his years in the army, how he coped with being away from my mom whom he had married just a year before enlisting. 

In his obituary, one that Daddy wrote himself because he wanted to make sure that we got it “right,” he described his degrees and his work for the Social Security Administration (he helped to set up the Medicare program), the places he and mother lived after they retired, and his volunteer work. He saved his army service for last, almost as a footnote. As I begin my work on a history of my father’s life, I think I’m going to put it first.

Honoring My Father's Service; Donald Whitesitt

Donald Whitesitt reading about the end of World War II

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Linda is our story gatherer.

Read other memories about fathers herehere and here.