Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Afternoon Thoughts...

*Authors Note:  This particular story is best understood if read after the story "What Price, Freedom" that I posted Friday, May 13, 2011. 

It is late afternoon in October of 2011…  I am sitting on the patio of my home listening to Pandora Internet Radio play continuous Secret Garden music.  As I sit here on my vinyl picnic table, those worthless poodles lay in the late-cut fall grass of my fading lawn wondering what I am up to…  Every time I look up over my laptop, Tux wags his tail and Sasha acts like she wants to pee…  Worthless.  But how in the world can you not care for and love something so helpless?  I’ll try to avoid letting my mind run too long on that subject.  Leaning against the back of my house I am perfectly calm and rested and the perfect temperature encourages my stay here except for the ever present Aedes Albopictus mosquitos that are a constant companion of any warm blooded mammal in central Louisiana.  So as I gather my thoughts of where I want to move with this play of words the threat of West Nile is being introduced into my body as the annoying puncture pricks of these gifted pests on different parts of my exposed flesh seems to be under constant attack!  However, I am still here.

As the daylight fades away, my Mockingbirds are enjoying the last of a beautiful day as their constant companionship has comforted me for years.  Soon they too will find the security of sheltered branches to protect them from heavy dew, wind or rain only to awaken at the ‘Gates of Dawn’ to welcome me into another day or gift of continuing life.  Speaking of life, if you read my last short story posted back in May entitled “What Price, Freedom,”  you will recall my son Stewart was on his 5th tour in what I believed was Afghanistan.  I was correct and he made it safely home.  I was told by one of my daughters that he was expected back in late august or early September, as I can’t remember the exact date sitting here.  A few weeks later I was warmed by a text from him that said, “In the woods this morning.  Nice cool day, started to wonder how you were doing?”  Such a pleasant surprise, so I answered him back.  “I am in the winter of my life.  So far my health is still good and I can still throw my leg over my motorcycle and ride.  When one of those conditions becomes a reality, I will surely have to re-evaluate my tenure called life.  Glad you are back home and safe.” I was even more pleased when he answered back and told me, “Good to know.  I’m back home for a short time.  Will go back in March.  Rough trip for me, but the military seems to think a medal will make everything better, but they don’t.  I will most likely wrap this enlistment up and move on.”

Oh dear God, a 6th trip is promised in just a few short months, and how fast those months will fly for a dad that has nothing but a memory of his son’s strong hugs?  I sit back and re-read his words and put together what he was telling me before I responded.  There were so many things I wanted to share with him but I felt I must choose my words carefully as to make him understand I did in fact, understand.  So let me share with you my thoughts and you decide if my perception and intended remarks were correct.  This is what I heard him tell me. “I am in the woods this morning.  Nice cool day, started to wonder how you were doing?”  We spent some time in the woods when he was very young.  I taught him how to squirrel hunt, but mostly he taught himself.  I wasn’t there as the Army and eventually my on nursery and landscape business kept me occupied.  To think of me in the woods was good for me though as I often think of my dad on cool, crisp mornings.  Then he wondered how I was doing?  This is a question I’m sure if there were another verse to “Cats in the Cradle” the son would ask the absent father in his life eventually how he was, I’m sure in the late winter of his life?  So it was a fitting question and I answered him as honestly as I could.   I wonder how many things I would share with him if he truly wanted to know.  If we could sit down and talk.  Man to man.  Would he be my friend?  My buddy?  My companion?  Does not matter I guess, but enough about me.  Let me tell you what else I heard him say to me.

He is home for a short time and will go back in March.   So much was said here.  He will have peace.  Knowing until March he will train to do what he does best.  In the meantime he will contentedly exist in the peace of his wife, two daughters and soon to be third little girl not to mention the close fellowship of his friends.  His wife is due on the 13th of October which is just a couple of days from this writing.  I have not been told her name, but I know she will be as beautiful as the other two.  The second child of his was born the day after Christmas four years ago, this coming Christmas.  But he is home… It is a time of peace for him.  He will take this time to grow stronger, both physically and mentally.  Then he continues…  “Rough trip for me, but the military seems to think a medal will make everything better, but they don’t.”  If you’re reading this with me, you might remember that during this tour we lost a lot of American Navy Seals and three Air Force Controllers along with others in the shoot down of a CH-47 helicopter.   I have no idea if my son  was there or if he might have even been  the JTAC (Joint Tactical Air Controller) that called in the air strikes that destroyed the Taliban responsible for this act or not.  Regardless, he knew these people.  How many, I don’t know.  We don’t talk, but in my mind, I can’t help but wonder what his eyes have seen and just how these ‘acts of war’ that has played out before him will take its permanent seat in his mind.  He did imply that he received some sort of medal from this tour.  Looks good in his records.  Proves what he has accomplished, but he very clearly told me, that regardless what they give him, it is not enough to calm his heart and mind and make things better.  The scars are there and nothing the military can do will replace his friends, heal the horrors of what his young eyes have seen and settle his mind to that of my little boy when he gazed into my eyes.  Innocent, young, trusting and loving.  If he does survive with life and limb, there will still be evidence of the price he paid for our freedom.  I am already seeing that.

Finishing with that statement he said, “I will most likely wrap this enlistment up and move on.”  He has served now eleven years and counting and whenever this enlistment is up, it could be twelve or fourteen years, I’m not sure.  I know he will make the decision to do the right thing for him and his family.  I took the opening to offer him advice.  Even though it was not asked for, I considered it as an implied request and I walked in.

“Well, I have no idea where you are or what you think you may or may not do.  I just know you’re one of the best your generation has to offer and I know you will make the right decision when the time comes.  Just remember the civilian world does not have a lot to offer out here right now, so look carefully before you decide.  Regardless, I am sure you will do well.  Thanks for thinking about me.  I love you little buddy.”  That is what I always called him and what he always will be to me, ‘my little buddy.’  His last response to me in the early hours of 19 September was brief and to the point.  “Thanks for the advice.  I can only put so many things in my head.  I need a change.  Love u too dad.”  And that was it.

I sat in my office for a while going over what was said and my mind was filled with emotions.  I have read these short text 15 times or more and shared them with my closest friends.  I see so many subliminal messages flashing in them that I can only resort to the only strength I have found on every tour he has made into harms way and that, of course, is the Lord Jesus…  As I sit here now, I look to the East and see an almost perfect full moon smiling at me through the boughs of a Long Leaf Pine that taints my swimming pool every fall and winter with her needles.   I have cut many pine trees in my yard, but this one is different.  It is one of the oldest and largest in the neighborhood and has survived a couple of major storm events, one of which knocked its top out twelve years ago, so it has earned its keep.  Through its strength, I draw strength when I think of my son and his family.  I wonder if this very evening as he sits probably barbequing on his patio in Savannah, GA., if he knows that I draw comfort in knowing the same moon that baths my face this evening is reflecting off of face as well.  I pray that for him and many other things for his entire family and know there is hope.

As for me?  I have grown content when I think of his absence in my life and have come to understand this was a necessary choice that needed to be made. I draw comfort in knowing I gave the very best I had to this country and he responded well.  I have stories to tell that only a dad can tell his son.  Maybe someday.  In the mean time, I sit here waiting for my daughter to make her phone call.  Yes, for those of you who know me, my youngest daughter, Ashley Paige, is also due any day now.  Gabrielle Kai will be her name.  I haven’t decided yet if her name will be Gabby Gazelle or Kai Fish…  I know it will come to me…  Her first child is Ashton Aardvark Poppy’s little Badger Butt Boy and her second is Katy Gator Crocadilla Puss…  Good names I think and I told Paige that Gabby was a great name even thought I favored Meggie…  Meggie Marie was my choice, but I’m just the grandfather.   Besides, I don’t think that child would have enjoyed me calling her “Meggie Maggot!”  Do you???  I mean, what else goes with Meggie?  Yes, oh yes, there is Kennard Junior I call J-Bird.  He is the one you might recall that my cat Scrunch destroyed in “The Swimming Pool” story?  And of course the youngest of my oldest daughters kids. Kairah Kat Platypus Girl…  I won’t mention who Scar and Shinzi are, but you can imagine can’t you?

It is dark here now.  I am blinded by the light of my laptop’s screen and totally oblivious to outside sound as Spring Garden comforts my mind through the ear buds.  It is during one of these ‘focused moments’ that Linda stepped outside to tell me she had to go and pick up another one of my granddaughters, Kinzi Bear…  I was a million miles away reading and re-reading what I had printed, thinking of what else I might say that would hold the attention of a potential reader.  I was not deliberately ignoring the soft call of my name as she called my name three or four times only to be ignored, so in the pale glow of the laptops reflection off my face she seized the moment.  Yes.  She most certainly did. She started beating on the end of the picnic table with her hands to get my attention like some wild animal!  I knew life as I knew it was ending and knew death had arrived in some unknown form of ungodly racket so my fight and flight gland kicked in…  Sitting with my back against a brick wall and too old and fat to fight or run I just screamed out, “FECES!” or something like that, “DON’T YOU HAVE BETTER SENSE THAN TO SCARE ME LIKE THAT!!”  Oh, she thought that was just the funniest thing!  I yank out my ear buds as she tells me where she is going and sit there steaming at her for this childlike behavior on her part.  Has she lost her ever loving mind??  I was just beside myself.  Surely she must have realized she could have caused my heart to stop at this age in my life?  Or even worse that I could have hurt myself trying to save myself from pending doom by crashing head first through the glass French doors of my bedroom?  The more I thought about it, the angrier I became!  Just where in heaven’s name did this kind of warped behavior come from?

No, I don’t think so.  Seriously?  YOU THINK???

Rod Ferguson
11 October 2011