Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Colonel

My father died a few years back, but he lived long enough to celebrate over 60 years married to the same woman. If Marge and Ed Sr. were still around, today would be their 66th anniversary. First, D-Day the 6th of June, then A-Day the 7th--made it easy to remember the date every year!

Since next weekend is Father's Day as well, I decided to consider Dad in this slice o' blog.

Born in 1917, he was third in the string of four boys of a well-to-do family residing in Joliet, Illinois. But the Stock Market Crash and Depression wiped out the family money, so my father and his brothers (one of them nicknamed "Cheese," mostly because Leimbacher sounds something like Limburger!) went to college and/or work early; no playboy life for those guys.

In fact, I think my father quit college slightly early to work as a shoes/clothing salesman. He joined the Army Air Corps in '40 when war started looking more likely, and then completed his degree after WWII courtesy of the GI Bill. (If these factoids are wrong, no doubt one of my sisters will set me straight.) He was a flight instructor throughout the war years, and even served as a "poster boy" of sorts for the work of the Air Corps (see photo).

Anyway, he started a water-softening business in the later Forties in upstate New York, then got called back to service when the Korean War began. His hapless partner drove the business into the ground (so to speak), so Dad decided to make the Air Force his career thereafter. But he was no driven Cold Warrior. Serious, hard-working, yes, pilot enough to keep his flight pay, yet more an administrator and manager, Dad still rose steadily and became a Lieutenant Colonel.

We dependent brats took to calling him "The Colonel," but really that was because Mom and he taught us three to think and be in-dependent; and by the time of high school and college, social issues like Civil Rights and Vietnam and the Feminist Movement all created a widening rift between elders and upstarts that made the "parii" (another nickname) wonder if they had created three young Frankenstein's monsters.

But we all survived those angry years, and Mom and Dad were able to call on us as their years advanced and health declined--my sisters especially rallied 'round. I carried some residual resentment from the stuff said back and forth in the Sixties and Seventies, but I guess things were okay by the time they died.

Some years ago, I tried to address the differences in a poem meant also to be a tribute to Dad...

Your Shirt

I wear it sometimes.
Recruited by seams
and sharp creases,
military press,
rapt in epaulettes
and flap pockets,
I briefly become
another: someone
larger, uniform;
I’m armored warm.
Midnight-blue wool
might not be cool,
but the USAF cut
doesn’t chafe… much.

Touched, I salute
the brass we accrued
as service brats:
h.q. where your hat
and hash-marks hung;
no one place for long.
Which meant I grew up
all over the map...
You expected me
to act sans orders.

In off-base quarters
the soldiers’ old saw
("No Asian land-war")
brazenly became
"Reclaim Vietnam
for US." I balked.
Then father-son talk
burned down a decade
of sniping and Red-
baiting... Long ago,

that war. I’m blue
at 55 now,
while you’ve turned slow,
receding, 80.
Peace, separately
made, suffices—
the past, I guess, as
shucked off as your gear
I sometimes wear:
the survival boots
that counsel how to;
the warm-up jacket,
requisitioned, that
helps me play ball.

I’m your son… still
cadging cast-offs,
unwarranted gifts,
the blessings of your
heart’s blue yonder.
Shrunken over all,
you might not fill
the shirt these days.
I try to, always.

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