A few days ago I stood above his grave and looked down at the Veterans Administration plaque that marks the spot where’s he’s lain for the past thirty-six years. He missed a lot of life by dying at 46. Dad is my namesake and there are many things about us that are similar. I bear his name and some say his looks. Looking like your father is not a stretch. He was an intense individual who like me wore his heart on his sleeve. I remember the last time I saw him and the last time I hugged him. We were standing in the terminal in Arcata, CA. It was late February 1973 and I was preparing to be assigned a permanent duty station by the US Navy. There had been a rift, some resentments between us and I almost wasn’t going to come to California where he and Mom were living at the time. I’m glad I did go. I’m glad that I flew to see him one last time. As we stood in the terminal my flight taxied into view and the attendant came to the door to beckon us to board this Hughes Air turbo-prop that was waiting. There was a lump in my throat and I’m sure there was one in his. I was trying to be brave like most 20 year old kids do. He put his arm around and gave me a big hug and told me that he was crying. I was crying too. Neither of us said, “I love you,” but it was there as big as life itself. I turned and walked to the plane and watched from window as he and Mom stood there and waited for the plane to taxi.
Thirty-six years ago tonight our Executive Officer came to the newborn nursery where I was working the afternoon shift. He asked me to come to his office. When he sat me down, he told me that Dad had died that afternoon in California. He told me he was sorry and that I could be relieved of my duty that night if I wanted to. I elected to stay and work. He told me to go to the personnel office in the morning and they would have emergency leave papers ready for me and a car would take me to the Albany, GA metropolitan airport where I would begin my journey home. I remember the kindness of my shipmates and how one guy, a dental technician, Bill Kirkland offered his Datsun 240Z to make the drive home. I’ve never forgotten that.
A year never goes by that I don’t remember Dad on this day. This morning a smile crossed my face as I though of one of his humorous metaphors which I occasionally share with friends and colleagues. He was a treasure trove of metaphors and similes. I’ve inherited some of those expressions from him. Time has healed the grief although there are times like this morning when I wish I had one more hour or one more day just to catch up. I see him in both our son and daughter. I see him in my brother and sister. I see him in my uncle, his brother, who will soon be ninety-two. I remember him often and as long as I live he will continue to live within me.