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Accepting Salutes

Always, in the past, I would call my daddy on Veteran’s Day. I called him on Memorial Day. I called, every once in a while, on December 7th when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I called to tell him thank you for a service that happened before I was born. Before I ever knew he would come into my life. Before . . .
*
He was only nineteen years old, too young to order a drink at a bar. But he was an officer in the Navy, ordering other young men around. Blame his youth on precociousness or growing up in Chapel Hill, a college town: he entered college at sixteen. When his education was interrupted he was only as old as many freshmen today. And there he was, on that big ship, in foreign waters, accepting salutes.
*
The typhoon raged. The ship, far away, felt only the after-affects. Swells tall as New York buildings loomed before their eyes. The ship climbed the mountainous water, its tip pointing to the sky until, shuddering, it began its descent. In the telling of the story, Daddy’s flattened palm points to the ceiling then flutters like palsy into a trough so deep it blocks the sun. My mind captures the shuddering of the behemoth ship, the shadowed point between the gargantuan waves, all of it caused by nothing more than energy rolling through water. I have never in my life set foot on a cruise ship, and I never will.
*
I cannot pick up the phone and call my daddy today on Veterans’ Day, the first of many anniversaries that will roll through this year of his death. Next, it will be only my mother’s voice on the phone singing “Happy … Birthday … to … you.” We will celebrate Christmas without him, and never again will I see his particular scrawl on a Valentine’s card or Easter card. Such is life. I understand the conversation continues, just in a different form. But, today, let me miss his gentle, “Thank you, I appreciate your calling. And how are you doing today?”
Thank you, Daddy, for your service.

Bayard Taylor Van Hecke
Bayard Taylor Van Hecke

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