28 May 2012
It's Memorial Day, and I miss my father, who served in the O.S.S. in World War II. He talked a lot about the war when I was young, but in a way sanitized for my youth. He told me that he and his buddy, Paul Arthur, won the war each with one hand tied behind his back, and I would imagine the two men, ropes around their waists and left hands pinioned, looming over a battlefield like giants swatting at fleas. He imitated the Tennessee corporal who spoke French with a southern accent ("Pah-lay view fransah-ee?), and I saw a group of men around a fire, trying out the native language and laughing at one another. I saw the French farmer, on a gray, freezing day, emerging from the barn and indelibly into my father's memory, rubbing his hands together and shouting, "Ne fait pas chaud, n'est ce pas?" And I remember begging him to sing a war-era song that I liked not so much for the words or the tune, but for the way he would bellow, bass voice booming; assume an expression of exaggerated sternness on his broad, amiable face; and march in place, stiff and straight. That is how I imagined him looking as he strode down the poplar-lined avenues of France.
Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men
And I'll soon find you ten-thousand more.
It was delightful.
But it's Memorial Day, and I miss my father, who died in 2006. He told me once, with no detail or explanation, and when I was in college and old enough, I guess, to hear it: he had taken part in the liberation of a concentration camp.
And I imagine - not because he told me, but because he didn't -- my father opening a gate and stepping into hell.
And I want to tell him, I want to say to my father: thank you.
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