Where memories meet

For the third year in a row I am struggling with what to write for Father’s Day, yet I feel a need to not let the day pass unnoted. The deaths of Mom and Dad in such close proximity illuminated the difference. Mom, who I thought could possibly live for another 15 to 20 years based on the longevity of her mother and aunts, passed out of my life with a tremendous earth-shaking bang. My father, who I had been relinquishing to Alzheimer’s piece after piece over the past 4 or 5 years, left quietly, almost as an afterthought, “Let me go quietly now. Let it be.”

So in this whole scheme of things, even though Dad got the lion’s share of attention over the past 3 or 4 years, he has taken a back seat in the memories that assault me and the grief I am trying to work my way through. I don’t feel like I can ignore him on Father’s Day.

Last year I took the coward’s way out and re-posted what I had written the year before. And for a flash, I considered doing the same again.

But I think it is time for me to begin the hard work of reclaiming my memories of who my father was, what was important to him, and what he meant to me.

Memories are a funny thing. My memories of Mom and Dad’s last weeks crowd out my memories of times before. Memories of the challenges and struggles we faced as Dad became less and less independent due to his Alzheimer’s take center stage over the memories of him laughing at a wedding, or holding a grandchild.

As I may have told you before, I’m working on my dad’s story that interlaces his memories of growing up, that I collected from interviews with him in 2008 and 2009, with my experiences as he declined in his later years, and my memories of earlier times. At least that’s my plan at the moment. So I decided an appropriate way to celebrate this Father’s Day is to share with you an excerpt  from my work in progress – Where Memories Meet— from Dad’s point of view.

The Draft and Waiting for the Call

I got drafted in November of 1952.

Signing up for the draft was not an option, it was the law and just something you did. I was not happy about it but you just did what you had to do. I had signed up at the draft board on my 18th birthday in January of 1951, before I graduated from high school.

The thing to do after school was to get a job. Like many of my peers, that’s what I did. I suppose going to college was a possibility but most people didn’t think that much about school, and there was not any guidance in that direction.

In November of 1952 I got a letter from the president of the United States – General Dwight D. Eisenhower: “You have been selected by your friends and neighbors to . . .” It was an invitation to come down to Cincinnati and take a physical. I wasn’t thrilled to have to do that. I don’t remember how Mom, or Dad for that matter, reacted when I got drafted. Again, it was the thing to do. You were called and you went.

I went to Cincinnati with a whole bunch of guys. The first time they took us down on a bus and brought us home the same day. And then we went home and waited for our call.

Some of my friends didn’t get called up. Some of them joined up. Ray Kelly and Tom Staley both joined the marine corp. Tom Murphy joined the navy.  Frank Curtis didn’t pass because of his health. Dale Razor tried to join and they wouldn’t take him because of his heart murmur. It eventually killed him.

Tom Laster didn’t have to go. He’d ran off and gotten married. A lot of guys hid behind their wives to keep from going.

At that time your mother and I were engaged and she wanted to get married. I said no because I had no idea what would happen to me. They were still killing people in Korea and I didn’t feel right about leaving her with that burden—what if we had started a family and all that implied. I think about that when I see the news today with all the casualties every day.

I got my “show-up” letter and had to go to the draft board in Troy in March of 1952.

I asked whether the fact that my dad was in a mental hospital constituted reason for me not having to go into the service, because my mother needed me. They said no. So I went ahead and left. I didn’t appeal it.

I didn’t particularly want to go. I had never been anywhere. When I went  it seemed like it was going to be forever. I was essentially leaving home.

As it turned out, it didn’t ruin my life, it gave me the chance to do a lot of things I would never have been able to do on my own.

Jerry A. Smith 1953
Jerry A. Smith 1953

My dad was buried with military honors and a gun salute. I think that would have made him happy. He was proud of his experience in the military and its influence on the man he became. I have the flag that was draped across his coffin and presented to our family. It hangs, neatly folded in a display case, on the wall over my left shoulder here in my study.

I hope you are blessed with many happy memories of your father, whether he is alive or not, today.

Happy Father’s Day.