Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today, my dad, Albert John, died. It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed. Of course, just a few days after the funeral, Tiff and I discovered we were pregnant with Lindsay, so we often joke that they “High Fived” each other across the barrier. So, and I firmly believe this, as we heard in “The Sound of Music,” whenever God closes a door, He also opens a window. To think that Lindsay, now in her second year of college, never met my dad is proof enough of the time going by, but the brain doesn’t like to think like that when it comes to grief.

My dad had his demons. His youth was rough and the details aren’t important. But, he loved his kids. There are six of us and we certainly have had enough success to make our folks proud. He also loved sports, too. I would like to think that those are wonderful passions as I seem to share them. I have often wished that my mom and dad would have lived long enough to hold one of my books as they both were avid readers, too, but that is not what happened.

In reviewing the body of work that I have written, I noticed I rarely mention my dad, but so many of the articles have him “around.” In lifting articles, I used to talk about “Dad Strength,” but rarely have details about my father. Some of my poems (I was going to say “my Award Winning” poems as I have won several poetry contests and the winning prize is $25!…which helped me realize that there was no money in poetry) have my dad in them, but it is not the same.

I have one article that gives me a vision of the time. As Kelly, my daughter, is now a first grade teacher, this article seems to be dated, but it still reflects my feelings on days to remember like this:

This year, my daughter Kelly starts the third grade. In some ways, my whole adult life is compressed into the third grade. It marks the year I learned about ‘the Birds and the Bees’ and Santa Claus, won my first trophy, and my brother came home from Vietnam. Perhaps all I need to know I learned in kindergarten, but I learned about life, and death, in the third grade.

Playing ‘Trivial Pursuit’ a few years ago, we came across the question of the shortest verse in the Bible. After one plays the game a few times, some questions are easier to pack into one’s ‘junk drawer’ memory: largest office building: Pentagon; shortest verse in the Bible: ‘Jesus Wept.’ It occurred to me during one game to look up this ‘shortest verse’ and read it for myself.

In chapter eleven of the Gospel of John, we find the story of ‘The Raising of Lazarus.’ It is a challenging chapter. After ‘snorting in the spirit,’ often translated as ‘becoming perturbed,’ Jesus asks where Lazarus has been laid. And then, Jesus wept.

When my brother received his traveling orders to Vietnam, nobody in my family had heard of the place. We consulted our little Atlas, the kind that came with the encyclopedia set that one would buy each week at the grocery store at the end of the aisle, and looked for the location. We found nothing, as I recall, our Atlas had an area called ‘French Indo-China.’

So, my family’s adventures with Vietnam began. The nightly news, which still lasted for one hour in the early Sixties, slowly began to report the battles and body counts. Life magazine added to the images with black and white photos illustrating events we could read in Ray’s letters home.

My mother’s emotions would only show while she ironed. I never understood why, but perhaps ironing took her back to World War II. First, my husband, now my son. Soon, it would be sons. It is the waiting that breaks one’s heart; we were warned about the sudden appearance of Marines in dress blues at the front door: no news is good news. The weeks turned to months; I passed from the second grade to the third grade, my class wrote to Ray during Christmas, the images of the war soon dominated the newspapers, the nightly news, and neighborhood gossip. We waited.
I sat in the far right row of Sister Eugenie’s classroom, last seat. I struggled, as I still do, with math. I kept focusing and reviewing the columns. The classroom door opened and I ignored it. My brother Ray walked in. I looked up, leaped up and rushed into his arms. I have held the hand of a newborn baby and the hand of a dying man, but I have never felt the pure joy of seeing my brother return, so unexpectedly.

In a sense, every soldier, sailor and marine rises with Lazarus. After months of fearing to speak the unspeakable, the homecoming marks a foretaste of the final family reunion, the life of the resurrection. When I returned to California for the funeral of my mother, then later for my father, I toured my school. The memory of Ray’s return filled me with hope. During the Mass of the Resurrection for my parents, I was reminded that when I join ‘with all the Angels and the Saints,’ mom and dad will be there, too. And, soon enough, my brothers and my sister. And one day, my daughters will bury me.

It is not a pessimistic view of the world, rather, it is a hope-filled view. It is in contrast to the statement of the famous sage, Anonymous: ‘everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there.’ Rather, it is ‘in dying that we are born to eternal life.’

It is the lesson of life. And I have been thinking about it all summer, because, this year, my daughter Kelly starts the third grade.

Thanks for listening.

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