Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: fathers (06/06/05)
By Jeffery Shaver
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The shots rang out clearly in the still spring air. Four aging members of the local Veteran's of Foreign Wars post solemnly fired into the sky on each command. I do not recall how many volleys were heard. I don't suppose that it is very many for a low-ranking enlisted man; perhaps 3 or 4. I do recall watching the VFW chaplain painstakingly folding a brand new flag, carefully smoothing every wrinkle and straightening every crease. After he presented the flag with much dignity to my oldest brother, the ceremony was almost over.
Throughout the somber burial ceremony - indeed for the week preceding it - I wondered about the man to whom we were saying goodbye. Who was it that I was losing? My four sisters and two brothers are all older than me, and I had always somehow attributed our distant relationship to that, as if he was tired of children by the time the seventh, and last, arrived. Looking around at them seemed to confirm that one last time as they shed tears and stifled sobs. Did they know a father that I did not?
My father did not coach teams. He did not take me camping, hiking, or fishing. He did not teach me to drive a car. He did not help me with schoolwork or force me to take music lessons. When I left for boot camp, and later got married, he offered a firm handshake and wished me well. But who was this man?
Suddenly, other memories fought their way out of the forgotten past. The time that he let me help with a brake job on the old station wagon. Clearing some trees and teaching me how to fell a tree in the right direction. Teaching me how to mow the grass. Piling the entire family into that old station wagon to go to church every sunday morning without fail.
As the recorded music sounded taps for another fallen soldier, I recalled the only story I ever heard about his military service. In France after D-Day, he was on supply duty, passing out ammunition to other boys going to fight. One man asked for a few hand grenades. My father handed him those and more, saying, "Please come back alive."
When the last notes had faded, and the mourners began to stir, I felt a hand on my shoulder and another pressing something into my own hand. It was one of the spent shells from the rifle salute. The chaplain's words that went with it are lost, but I still have that empty blank shell casing. It reminds me of who he was - and who I am.
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