There are all kinds of reasons I’ve called my father through the years. In high school I called to check-in, letting him know I’d safely arrived somewhere. During college (and at times beyond) I called to ask for money or car-advice. One of my favorite phone calls while living in Kenya was when my daddy called me to tell me O.J Simpson was driving down a highway with what seemed to be the entire world following him in slo-mo chase cars. (I kid you not; he called me in Kenya to tell me that.)
These days I call more to listen than to talk. At 90 my daddy is alert and aware but I’ve noticed of late that past experiences often seem more real to him than the present. So I’ll often ask about his childhood or young adulthood. I ask about his thoughts on different events. I listen and record and take it all in.
Tonight’s call was prompted by the day that will live in infamy. December 7th. Pearl Harbor. It was also prompted by my desire to hear my dad’s voice. I thought he might be in the mood to reminisce and I thought correctly. He shared some simple memories of that infamous day from his perspective. As our conversation came to a close, talk turned to the here-and-now, transitioning from 75 years ago to this moment. I was reminded why Daddy has always been one of the first people I call in this thing we call life. With a few simple words he reminded me that I was loved, that those who hold my heart are dearly loved, and that hope, well, hope is what keeps us going.
“Hey Daddy. Whatcha doin’?”
“Just got done eatin’ some squash and greens. Jordan grew the squash, I think.”
“I had peanut butter toast. I got home late and everyone had already eaten leftover chili so I just had peanut butter toast. What did you do today?”
“Went to the eye doctor. They, hmmm, Margie? What is that they did to my eyes?” he asked.
“Dilated. They dilated your eyes,” she said.
“Dilated. They put these drops in your eyes and it stings a bit. Have you ever had your eyes dilated?”
“I have. Just a few months ago. It makes them feel weird,” I said. “Daddy, do you know what today is?”
“Do you know what the date is?”
“December 7th. Pearl Harbor.”
“Daddy, do you remember Pearl Harbor?”
“Of course I remember Pearl Harbor. We were living down by the airport. It seems like along about that time there was a lot of activity around Sarasota. You know that was a training base back then so the government could use it. I remember one night a plane took off and it didn’t get high enough and hit a pine tree and crashed to the ground and burned up. Right in front of Ringling. They died – all nine of them in that bomber,” he said.
“Oh Daddy. They all died?”
“They sure did. Burned up.”
“You were 15-years-old then.”
“Was I? I’ll be.”
“You were. Do you remember if people were scared when they heard about Pearl Harbor?”
“Well, I suppose we were all scared a bit but nobody was running around crazy or anything. You know there was a lot of activity over in Arcadia, too. They did training for smaller planes over there; fighter planes and such. They’d send boys over there to learn.”
“Do you know why they sent them to Arcadia? Why Arcadia?”
“I don’t really know. They had an airport over there. There was a grocery store down near our place. Tallevast Grocery. A man by the name of Perry owned it. He went over to Arcadia to teach those boys how to fly. I don’t know if that Perry man is still around. He knew how to fly planes so they got him to teach the boys.”
“I wonder where he learned to fly.”
“I have no idea. You know they’d ship those boys out of Tallevast. They’d come marching by our house on their way to Tallevast—a thousand of ‘em— to catch a train to ship out to go over there.”
“Where would they ship them to?”
“I don’t know. Probably up north somewhere. You know, daddy and I helped build that airport when they were putting up new buildings and such.”
“No you don’t.”
“I mean I remember you telling me that you and Granddaddy helped to build it,” I said.
“Oh. I see. (Pause) Sam called me the other night. They’re living over there near Orlando.”
“Oh daddy, I’m glad he called you. How’d he sound?”
“He’s doing fine. I talked to the girl, too, I think. I bet you miss, Sam.”
“Sometimes I really do miss him daddy,” I said.
“And that Nathan off in Mississippi. I bet you miss him, too.”
“I miss him a lot, daddy.”
“Well, Jack’s still here, daddy. I don’t miss him yet.”
(laughing) “That’s right; he’s still there in high school. Jack. He’ll be okay, that one. He will. You wait.”
“I think so, too; I do. I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, too,” he said. “Get yourself some rest.”