Thursday, October 20, 2005

And now, for my father's story

Preface: I am not really into astrology, but the fact remains that I am a Virgo. Astrologers will tell you that Virgos are compulsive, anal-retentive, completists. They cannot stand an incomplete set. Musicians like Wynton Marsalis feed mercilessly upon Virgos with their constant publishing of album-sets like "Standard Time Vol. 1, 2, 3, ..." A Virgo must own them all! Virgos tsk-tsk when witnessing a lesser zodiac stick a dinner glass in the wrong kitchen cabinet or clench their teeth when a science fiction book gets shelved into the modern fiction section of their personal library. All of which must be noted for discrete correction as soon as conveniently possible. ("Has Becky shown you her sewing? Go see it. Now. Please.") Therefore, having confessed this, I feel perfectly justified in "completing the set" of writings about my parents. Symmetry must be maintained. And so......

I've come to a part in my life where I've felt the strong compulsion to record my childhood memories. Part of me yearns to write, though I am probably only an average writer. Part of me just wants to chronicle my life before dementia sets in. Who knows when it will?

At twelve, in Piper, Kansas, I was a ninety pound eighth grader--two years too small for my age. Prepubescent and stunted by Ritalin, I still had a year before I would catch up to my older peers physically. Naturally, I was mercilessly teased, bullied, and picked on by boys, and largely ignored by girls. That's okay. I had my model cars and rockets, my aquarium, one of the first real computers on the market (an Epson QX-10 CPM machine!), two good geeky friends who were my same age (but two years behind me in school). I had all the diversions an intelligent pre-teen needs to keep him busy and mostly out of trouble.

Mostly. There was still trouble. Usually it was trouble inflicted upon me, rather than trouble I sought myself. (I must note at this point, that my vent for this was my little brother, Michael. Poor kid, he took the brunt of my angst because he was the only one I could physically dominate. But that is a story for another time.) The list of bullies in that short time at Piper are as clear to me today as they were over 22 years ago.

There was the red-mullet-headed kid with freckles and the meanest eyes you ever saw. He would hunt me down between classes and punch me for no reason. There was the sandy-haired redneck Kansas punk who sat behind me in Algebra class and would continuously punch me in the back of the head when the teacher wasn't looking. And there was Van somebody, who was brown haired, taller than me, and pretty intelligent. Not your typical bully, but he enjoyed putting me down, usually verbally, occasionally otherwise.

My Father, who was a Major in the Army at the time, stationed at Ft. Leavenworth, was my hero. This guy got paid every day to look tough and wear BDUs. Nevermind that he was bald and drove a powder blue VW rabbit. In his BDUs, he was tough!

Dad was not a violent man ever. But Dad knew my struggles, and being the good father, tried to teach me some basics about being tough. (It's like trying to teach a cat how to whistle.) He would show me the correct way to make a fist, let me strike his palms a few times, and tell me that old saw, "If you stand up to a bully, he'll back down. Bullies are cowards at heart."

I felt emboldened. This time I'd really do it. I'd stand up for myself, and they'd all respect me after that.

In the coming days, I took the confidence of a boy named J.D. He was a good-looking, pretty popular kid who seemed to take an interest in my cause. J.D. was experienced in martial arts. I grew closer to him, and had him over to my house for a few sleep-overs where he taught me some basic martial arts kicks and punches. After a few weeks, I was feeling ready. I would challenge Van the next time he messed with me.

It didn't take long, and Van did mess with me. It probably happened the next day. So I told him, "Van, I'm sick of it." Van pushed the issue, not backing down quite as quickly as I thought he should, and I found myself with an appointment to fight after school. Not exactly what I had in mind.

The local fighting spot was a small duck pond near school. The school set atop this large steep hill, surrounded mostly by meadow, and at the very bottom was the duck pond, surrounded by just enough trees to make it a discrete spot for doing "boy things" like hiding Playboys and fighting. This was to be my destination for the afternoon.

Of course, word got out, and I found myself with a crowd of morbidly interested onlookers... like people who can't turn away from a horrible car wreck. The anticipation was obvious in their drooling little mouths.

The fight quickly began, and before I could even plot my first move, Van lobs a Bruce Lee karate kick right into the fat of my nose. Goddammit! In a flash of a second clarity hits me, and I realize that J.D. has been coaching Van as well! Sonofabitch! That asshole just wanted to see a good fight! Well, I'll show him. There'll be no show today, folks. I proceed to get the ever-living you-know-what beat out of me.

Just then, a miracle occurs. My father is suddenly driving the VW rabbit down the freakin' hill! Now, I realize that a powder blue VW rabbit is no Humvee, but he's going like 30 mph down this hill in a rabbit! The car is bouncing up and down like crazy and he isn't stopping for anything!

What's miraculous about it is that he never ever picked me up from school! Not once. He usually worked late and got home late from the fort. But for some reason, this day, not only was he there, but he knew I needed his help. It was probably fatherly intuition. Send your kid off with a headfull of "don't take their crap" advice, but maybe, just maybe getting off work early the next day isn't such a bad idea.

Anyway, he was there. And all the kids stopped what they were doing, even Van. And we all just stared. And when he got out of the car, he was in full Battle Dress Uniform, black boots shining, cap on tight! And he was tough! And do you know what? I wasn't at all embarrassed. I probably should have been, but I wasn't. I was proud of him and how he drove that damn car right down the hill! To me, it was Gen. Patton to the rescue in his M-1 tank!

One thing you have to understand, which I've failed to mention, is that we lived about 30 miles off post. My Dad was the only military man in the entire town. So this had a big effect on all of us. Funny, because after that, one might think I was teased even worse for "my Daddypoo saving me." But that wasn't the case. I don't remember ever being teased again at that school. I reconciled with Van and we almost became friends. (I never really liked him, but I liked him liking me.)

That summer, I went off Ritalin, hit puberty, and grew 30 pounds and six inches. I came back to 9th grade a whole different kid. People didn't mess with me anymore. I was still scarred by the reputation I had, but the nice thing about being a military brat is the fresh start you get every time you move on somewhere else. Mississippi, and the greatest years of my childhood, were only one school-year away.

Now, I reflect back on all the good times with my Dad. I often chuckle at his chronic "uncoolness", but it's only with the deepest of affections. I love it when he gets the lyrics wrong to songs, though he is pitch-perfect in singing them. His choice in music (talk radio) drives me nuts. I love the fact that the big, strong Colonel man gets woozy when he helps my brother get his warts burned off. I laugh at the thought of him crying in movies like Beaches.

Together as adults, we've laughed so hard playing board games that we've been brought to tears. We've seen the northern lights together fishing and exploring in Canada. We've spent great family times in Cancun chasing the ladies (or the grandbabies, which is really more accurate!). And we've shared brandy together, though not nearly enough times.

Dad has always been nothing less than my absolute hero, even today. There is not one person in this world I would rather be than him. It's incredibly sappy, but I really don't care. People are always saying that they regret not telling people how they really felt, until it's too late. Well, we had a little scare this year with Dad. And we didn't know how it would turn out. So far, it has turned out great. But I don't want to miss the chance to let him know that I love him, and I want to be him when I grow up.

Now, if only I could find a powder blue Volkswagen Rabbit.

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