There we are, the five of us. November 27, 1952. Amarillo Air Force Base. Thanksgiving Day. My dad had recently been called back to active duty (the Korean War--he'd already served in both theaters in WW II), and so we'd moved to Amarillo (in the Texas Panhandle) from Enid, Oklahoma.
Oh, were we younger then! Dad was 39; Mom, 33; Dickie, 10; Danny, 8; Davi, 4. (I'm the one with his mouth full ... and the wicked smile.)
Dad was a chaplain (I think he was a major then; he retired as a Lt. Col), and we've just attended his Thanksgiving service on the base. I have no memory of it at all. Dad, who had a booming speaking voice, liked to tell a little joke now and then in his sermons, sermons that I now confess always seemed interminable to me. (They were probably about ten minutes or so.) I knew that when church was over, several really good things were going to happen: (1) Food! (2) Change out of my cursed Sunday clothes! (3) Play outside! So who can blame an 8-year-old for urging his preacher-father to speak more quickly, more briefly.
Here's the sort of joke he told in his sermons--I remember this one (though, of course, this is not word for word):
Some men were paving a sidewalk. One of them said, over and over, that he liked children. Later, the sidewalk complete, but wet, they took a break. When they came back, they could see that some kids had left their little footprints on and in the new sidewalk.
"Darn kids!" barked the child-liking guy.
"I thought you said you liked children," said another guy.
"I like them in the abstract," he replied, "not in the concrete."
I heard him tell that one quite a few times. Back in Oklahoma, my dad, who was now a college professor as well as an ordained minster (Disciples of Christ), would "fill in" at local churches, often for weeks on end. (He did the same when we moved to Hiram, Ohio, in 1956, though not nearly so often.) We almost always went along.
As I look at this photograph now, I am of course saddened. Dad died on November 29, 1999, just five days after Thanksgiving. We had all been there in the Berkshires, where Dad was dying in a nursing home (they'd retired out there some years earlier). When we visited his room, he would perk up now and then, but we knew he could not last much longer. When we left for home on the 27th (Saturday), we stopped to see Dad for what I feared would be the last time. It was. Here's some of what I wrote in my journal that day ...
... drove over to see my father for what may be the last time; he was very, very weak this morning, unshaven (for several days) and with a wracking, wrenching cough; conscious only infrequently; but during one of those moments I told him that he has been a wonderful father; he smiled and tried to say something but for the life of me I could not tell what it was; then I added, “Even though you hit Dave in the face with a fastball”; he smiled again; “Better him than me,” I tacked on—eliciting another smile; then he drifted off into a morphine sleep ...
He lived through Sunday, died on Monday morning.
And now? Mom is 97; my older brother will turn 75 in December; I just turned 72; my younger brother is 68. Health is iffy for all of us.
But the gratitude I feel for my parents when I look at this picture is overwhelming. What a life they gave us ... what opportunities ... what affection for all three of us, even though we are three very different human beings. At my wedding, just before Dad and I walked out to take our places to await the bridal procession, I thanked him for making me worthy of a woman like Joyce. He just smiled. His eyes got wet. (I don't think I ever saw him cry--but, oh, his eyes would dampen and redden.)
I wrote "overwhelming" a moment ago. Whelm means "to submerge." And when I think of my family, the water that washes over me is impossibly sweet--but has as well a hint of salt. Like tears.