Look back, look ahead, never forget

Dad remembered though long gone

"Just east of Eden

"But there's heaven in our midst

"And we're never really all that far

"From those we love and miss."

-- Carrie Newcomer

The bobcat let out a long moan and bared its sharp teeth as it gripped the large oak tree branch. Just below, three hound dogs circled in triumphant glee, baying in almost perfect harmony. They had been tracking a raccoon when they stumbled upon the big cat, who had unfortunately been hunting one himself. In the moonlight the two men looked up the tree and carefully studied the situation. "Well, Ed," said the older man, handing the young man a burlap bag. "Go up there and bag it."

The young man cautiously made his way up the large tree toward the angry animal. He had bagged raccoons before, but a 30-pound wildcat with claws was a different story. Still, with his friend watching from below, this was no time to show fear. When he got about 10 feet up, the bobcat made a desperate attempt to leap over the looming intruder. In a swirl of arms, claws, and burlap bag they fell in unison to the darkened ground, the big cat unfortunately landing on the bottom. Shooing away the frenzied hounds, the older man rolled over the younger man, plucking up the stunned bobcat, placing it inside the sack, and swiftly tied the end. Surveying his friend laying on the ground still gasping for air, the older man took a drag of his cigarette and with a grin said, "Nice job, but I'm keeping the cat."

My grandfather adjusted his chair on his front porch, slowly taking a deep inhale from his pipe, and glanced over at his wide-eyed 11-year-old grandson. I adored my papa, and his adventures as a young man in 1920s still-wild Florida never failed to thrill me. His influence on me as a storyteller is obvious to all those who know me, although unfortunately he had much more colorful material to deal with -- as my suffering daughters can attest.

My father was another story. He was a member of the "greatest generation," joining the Army Air Force in 1942 at the age of 20 years old. He was a bombardier on a B-17 Flying Fortress. His first mission was on June 6, 1944, when his bomber group led the way for the invading Allied Forces by bombing artillery positions and bridges near the beach head. Later he flew the first shuttle bombing mission in July, taking off from England, bombing Germany, then landing at a place called Poltava, Russia. The plan was to reload and refuel and come back home. Unfortunately, the Germans attacked that night with their Luftwaffe, destroying about a quarter of the parked bombers. My dad had to dive into a latrine ditch to avoid getting killed. The Air Force ferried him home via Tehran, Cairo and Casablanca.

Must have been great stories, right? You'd be wrong. Men of his generation were focused on the present and the future. Not all, of course, but for many, they saw no need to look backward; they had dreams of the future in their minds. Growing up, when I would ask my dad about his past, he would answer any question, but there would be no embellishment, no atmosphere, no colorful narrative. My grandfather could make me hear those hound dogs; he could make it shine. I didn't realize at the time that instead of the past, my father wanted to show me the future.

He died when I was 19 years old of a sudden heart attack. He always was working hard at his job as a salesman. For him the past was something he held inside, for him the future was the story. The month before he died, he bought the soundtrack to the movie Paint Your Wagon. Going by his office, I would often hear one song in particular

"Gotta dream boy

"Gotta song

"Paint your wagon

"And come along."

I have come many miles since my father's death, but if I close my eyes, I can hear his voice again. Hear that song playing. Passed on from him to me. And the child in me, the one I have never outrun, still hangs on every word. Happy Father's Day.

NAN Our Town on 06/13/2019

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