Monday, February 12, 2007

When are you, Daddy?

I hope you don't think I dwell overly on my father. But the man who taught me what a man should be, no longer knows when he is.

I see Daddy 2-3 times a week. He's on a locked, secured wing of the facility, but still it can be an adventure to track him down. In front of the TV, sitting at a table, lying in his bed... those are easy. In the shower, in someone else's bed having a snooze, in the bathroom... those are more difficult, but the staff (wonderful, wonderful staff) nearly always knows right where he is.

Yesterday afternoon he was lying down. Flat of his back, hands crossed on his chest, glasses and jacket on, he wasn't asleep. I greeted him and sat in his old lounge chair beside his bed. I don't know if he ever sits in it, but it's a great old chair and the leather still smells like he did when he would come in from work years ago, a mix of lawnmower engine oil and grease. Some things are permanent.

He greeted me and asked how I'd gotten there. I am immediately on guard. I told him I drove. Really? Not fly? Wasn't that far? No. Just down the street. What about the airplane? Had they arrived safely?

And here's where I want to ask him when he is.

He loved airplanes as a child, would watch the Hindenburg fly over from his grandfather's dairy farm in New Jersey, or so he always said. He wanted to be a pilot in the Army Air Corps, but was color-blind and therefore disqualified. He could go home, they told him in 1940, or he could stick around and be an airplane mechanic. He'd had enough of the farm and he loved to tinker, so he stuck around. Before following Patton across Europe, he taught other mechanics and headed his own crew. Before he was 22, he was a master sergeant and youngest of the group.

Recently, he's thought I could fly (only with a reservation). So when was he? In Europe, in Canada (he told me he'd had to take the crew there once and I have no idea if it's true or not since I've never heard it before), or with me in my mythical plane?

Europe, I decided. He was troubled about it, some worrisome memory poking its ugly head through his brain fog. I was going to shift the conversation away from that, but he did it himself and we settled into our routine of the same three questions over and over.

Eventually, it was time to go. He'd never risen from the bed. I kissed his cheek, told him I loved him, and his answering reciprocation followed me to the door.

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