The memories of a father by a daughter that adored him.
|The following non-fiction piece is mostly about my Dad. He died in 1989 at the young age of sixty-seven from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I am not sure of what happens after death. Our memories tend to glorify our loved ones by embellishment in various small ways. I do not apologize if I have done that.
The Simple Tools of a Remarkable Life
My mother and I usually spend one day a week with each other. It is a chance to talk about what is going on in our respective lives. Now that my Mom is 78 years old and I am 45, we can do this. It is hard to believe that two people, who used to constantly argue over everything when I was a teenager, can actually have a friendly and loving relationship.
Over our ritual glasses of white Zinfandel she asked, "What happened to the tool boxes that Dad divided up for the boys?"
I had to admit that I didn't know. My boys, 20 and 25, are adults now pursuing their own destinies in computer technology. Each toolbox had held ordinary, practical hand tools used in carpentry.
Later that evening as I curled up in bed, the memories of two weeks in August almost ten years ago flooded back.
Dad, I remember you sitting on the side of your rented hospital bed, looking pale and tired. You had three tool boxes open and you were sorting through your worn tools and choosing wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers, to go in each one.
What was going through your mind? You had to know that this was the last time that you would touch those important pieces from your life. The work that you did with them had paid for pot roast on Sundays, the party and special yellow, lace dress that I had wanted for my twelfth birthday. Also the baseball uniform and fees for my little brother's ball league.
You have tears in your eyes. I believe those tears were the first I have seen except when Mom had breast cancer. Your generation didn't seem to believe in men crying. Once a man has spent three years on the front lines of World War II and seen their best friends ripped with bullets, I think emotions are changed.
I wanted to hold you and comfort you like I used to with my boys when they were small, or at the very least help you. God seemed to reach down and hold my eager hand back. This was something only you could do.
I know that you have to be wondering what these tools will mean to your sons and grandsons. They may never use them, preferring the easier way with a "handyman" that comes in. They will not mold and shape the wood as you did, making beautiful shelves and cabinets out of sheets of different trees. Each piece had love hammered in to last a lifetime. It wasn't about what you were building, you loved your work and built each piece with integrity and respect for the wood.
You had two surgeries on your back from injuries sustained while in the Army and continued to work even when pain kept you from standing straight.
How you must miss the garage that you built at our family home. It was your sanctuary. Even as a child, I would watch you for hours, running your saw and hammering, wanting only to be in your calm, steady presence.
You didn't quite get finished with the job of sorting, you just grew paler and I could see the white-hot pain fill your face and knew it was time for a drink of your morphine mixture. I exchanged my daughter's hat for Kathie R.N. so I could insist that you take it. You didn't want to sleep and miss a moment of what was left of your life here.
I am so glad that I had those last few weeks with you. I would hook up portable oxygen on the wheelchair so you could speak to neighbors, watch and feed birds, pick a bouquet of flowers for the dining room table. We talked a little, but most of all we enjoyed our journey; a father and daughter being together.
Sometimes the silent conversation was the best, the meeting of the eyes when I checked your oxygen cannula, and an exchange of feelings still locked up in me. Dad, there are days I feel so close to you now that I could almost reach out and touch you. Whenever I catch the scent of Old Spice and/ or freshly milled wood in the air, I know that you are near.
You and Mom are members of "The Greatest Generation". You knew true courage and had a Purple Heart because of embedded shrapnel. I often asked you about your experiences in World War II and you refused to talk about it. For me I am in awe at what you were willing to sacrifice for the freedoms in this country we love. Mom gave nylons, there was gas and food rations, kids collected scrap metal, curfews were enforced.
You never spoke of the war and what your service was. You were on the front lines, the Infantry, a sharpshooter for three years. You and your buddies freed the concentration survivors from Dachau. I remember you said they looked like skeletons. If I questioned you very much, you would frown and say, " I served my country and did what I had to".
(added note) My youngest son says the very same thing after serving in Iraq. He was injured and had surgery after a explosive device hit his Humvee. He is a hero in my eyes also.
Dad, I know how softhearted you were. So the idea of what you witnessed at Dachau must have affected you in ways I could never understand. Perhaps there are things we experience that we take in at some level that allows us to keep on going. We put them away and either take them out later to examine and feel or never do knowing it will destroy something in us. I remember you talking about the days you grew up on a farm and there were too many pups and your Father told you to shoot them. The look on your face when you said that conveyed such bitterness toward a Father that would ask that of you.
Mom and I were talking about your war experiences the other day and she said it had taken years before you would talk to her.
She told me, “He said that he saw so many friends killed in front of him, literally blown apart. He would write to their widows and wonder when someone would be writing the same to me.”
These are things, as your daughter, that I can not imagine. I have had a spoiled comfortable life. Although as an R.N. I have seen some awful wounds but we were treating the person.
My memories of you start with me trying to climb on your lap when you were stirring fudge. You told me I whined, "move daddy, no place to park".
You always worked so hard for so little money. Yet you had dignity. You felt that as long as a man worked hard and obeyed the laws, all people were equal. Mom helped you go to an adult school because you could hardly read or write and you struggled. How you wanted college for your children so they could have a "better" life.
I remember little things brought you happiness. To have a Sunday afternoon, after church, when you could lay on a deck recliner and listen to the Atlanta Braves on the radio. You would have your eyes closed and a smile on your face. You loved to play with your grandchildren. Smoking a pipe with a special blend of cherry tobacco gave you pleasure. You were such a good looking man until cancer sunk it's ugly claws into your body. I remember you diving off the side of a pool or a dock and admiring the grace of your body. You and Mom made an attractive couple. Always so neat and well dressed, I was very proud to call you my parents.
As for the toolboxes, they are "safe and sound" in attics, collecting dust and unused but someday your grandchildren will cherish them.
Your legacy is in memories; mine, Mom's, and all of the people that knew you. I will pass the stories and of most importance, the love and respect you taught me, to my family.
You only completed sixth grade and once I heard you say a teacher made you sit with a "Stupid" hat on in front of the class. That must have hurt.
Often, I heard this come from your mouth,"It's not what a man says that's important: it is what he does".
That fit you perfectly. You were a man of few words but they were memorable.
Written for Carl Leeroy Carpenter 1922-1989
Dorothy Pollie Carpenter 1920-2003
By: Kathleen Carpenter Stehr
Word count: 1505