Random Thoughts

Looking Back Along The Way

Robert Flournoy

Copyright 2023 by Robert Flournoy   

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash
                                      Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

I am thinking of an old man who lives alone in a cabin far back in the
Rocky Mountains, who on Valentine's Day, with some silver wire and pebbles from a brook, 
made beautiful ear rings with no one to give them to.

In the Fall of 1959 my dad was in Germany and mom, my sister and I lived in Mobile, near my dad's brother, while we waited for housing to be available with my dad. My neighbor, a boy my age, and I were in his yard with his dad. His dad said (over something I have forgotten), "I'll make you a bet for a steak dinner".  This was totally confusing to me. My dad and I didn't "bet" and he would have bought me a steak with no questions asked if I wanted one.

If only we could will ourselves to be present during a past event. But, just one. Would you sit beside your father during a harrowing flight over the Hump into China in 1944?  Hold your mother's hand while witnessing your own birth?  Relive a moment in your child's life?  How about Barbie on prom night?  Well, you can't change anything, you can only witness.  Would most people want to be on Calvary when Jesus was executed? Not me. I'm afraid we have that one all wrong, so best to leave it alone.  Lee at Gettysburg, Thermopile ? 

I remember taking my 8th grade daughter to the mall and walking by a store and her saying that one day she would walk in there with a $100 bill and buy some nice jeans. I remember not having it to give her

The first time I saw him
the sun was going down.
he asked us why we were up so early
Bronson and me.
he was walking, unsteady,
down to his boat, headed out to sea.
we smiled at that old man,
a tipster who lived on our canal,
we merely let him be.
I would have to grow old, too,
to one day understand,
that he was lonely, sad,
and old, you see,
an old man, 
just like me.

I remember when the traveling carnival came to the little Mexican town near our home in El Paso and watching a very poor father looking at the change in his pocket to see if he had enough for his little 6 year old girl to experience a ride. He didn't. I cried all night. I was 8 years old.

I remember my great uncle George taking me out to the field behind my grand parents farm house and whistling up a Bob White Quail. He shot it off a stump. We never found it.

My father went off to Korea in 1951. I remember his cool cheek as I wrapped my 5 year old arms around his neck as he drove home from the airport when he returned in 1952.  He kissed me on the lips and we never stopped. 

I remember my grade school friends playing organized football and watching from the sidelines.

I remember my grandmother wringing her hands and crying as we drove away from her Alabama farm home headed back to Texas. Many times. I think about it every time my son and his wife drive away back to Alabama.

I remember my little sister climbing into bed with me countless times when she was so very young, escaping the violence. 

I remember my mother never crying, never taking away from us the hope that things would get better. I remember her never ever bad mouthing my father.

I remember staggering through my college years, broke, depressed, betrayed by someone I loved and was loyal to from a distance. A dozen girls wanted sex, but it did not feel right. I have never forgotten Vicki.

I remember fruit hanging from trees in our neighborhood before we lost the honey bees. I remember the whistle of Bob White quail in my woods before they too were lost, along with the fire flies. The mosquitoes are not fazed.

I remember the hard copper scent of African cotton picker's sweat in rural Alabama. I picked with them (but not for long)

I remember the striped bass my mom caught off the jetty in the Chesapeake Bay. No, what I remember is her smile.

I try try try to remember where it all went wrong, and why, and how it has shaped my life since I was 13 years old. I can't.

I remember the births of my children and grand son and have a very hard time understanding how long ago that happened.

I remember my first combat assault, hanging out the door of a Huey in a cloud of dense smoke and the door gunner's brass stinging my neck.

I remember Colorado and Montana before they were ruined by noise and congestion, above the timber line fishing a crystal clear lake with an elk bugling below me, not wanting the day, the magic to end, and walking off the mountain with a zillion stars to light the way.

I remember Denny and Shirley.

I remember rocking in my new born son's rocker, just staring at him breathing, hugging Teddy Ruxpin, petrified that he would not wake up. And my 7 year old daughter running down the driveway when I got home from work, falling down and skinning her knees, a knife in my heart.

I remember when it dawned on my son that I was just a man. I guess I thought I could stand up on that pedestal forever. I could if given another chance.

I remember Sp4 Joe Hernandez, my RTO, his quiet loyalty, never a complaint, and the look in his eyes when I handed him my M-16 and ruck, and got on the medivac. It is impossible, even with the internet, to find a Joe Hernandez. I have tried.

I remember Mark Veranis, a small scrub on my high school football team who relentlessly took a beating as he ran and ran and ran against our first string defense. We chided and smirked at him. He never got in a game. I looked for him 50 years later, and found his obituary.

I remember Bronson, Alex, Steve, Tommy, David, and many others who willingly went to Vietnam, believing, and never returning. I remember the fireball that took the lives of an entire platoon from our company when their Chinook went down. I try not to remember their burned husks and what they smelled like.

I remember PFC Curran straddling a 155 mm nuclear round and my quietly telling him that he would no longer be able to achieve an erection. The horror on his face.

I was a good father, but will always remember the little things that I overlooked. I can't stop thinking about them.

I remember saying good bye to my father, two weeks into a coma. Having not moved at all during that time, I recounted all of the good things. He twitched.

I remember Gary looking at me one day and saying, I love you, Bob. You have been like a father to me. He was 5 years younger than me.

I remember my son playing hockey and my daughter dancing. My dancing queen. 

I remember the pride I felt when my son got his ROTC scholarship to Auburn. I try try to forget the agony of regret and worry that followed. The loneliest I have ever been. 

But, mostly, I remember the love that has filled my heart in this miracle called life. 

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