He’s approaching his 86th birthday this year and he has seen lots of things in life.
He grew up in the country, living in a small wooden board house with only the necessities in life. Chopping wood, feeding chickens, and tending the garden. He worked in tobacco fields and hitched the mules to the plow to work the hardened earth even as a young boy.
He walked the almost one-mile to the bus stop alone each day at the age of 7 – rain or shine (no, really he did!).
He left home at the tender age of 18 to join the Navy in World War II because his government came calling — his first time ever being away from family, friends, and familiar surroundings. His first time out of the city and state where he lived. His first time flying on a plane as he headed to Chicago for training camp. His first flight cross-country as he was shipped to California awaiting deployment — 3,000 miles from home. Homesick, afraid and wondering what would happen next as he was sent out to sea on a massive naval ship.
Eighteen short years of living and now he was on his own.
Returning after serving his time in the military proved to be a long trip home. The Navy transported him as far as they could — which was still many, many miles from his home. He hitched a ride from town to town until he finally found himself within miles of his own home, and his parents. His final leg of the journey was in a pick-up truck with a local man who took him as far as his driveway.
The car stopped, he stepped out, said his “thank you and good-bye”, and headed down the mile-long dusty dirt road to his house. It was late at night and he was tired. His duffle bag was heavy and dirty and he was tired, thirsty and hungry. The driver never thought of driving him the last mile — even after he had served his country for the past two years and survived the tumultuous life on the sea.
But that didn’t matter. He walked with a lightness in his step because he was going home after days of hitching rides.
As he entered the house, it was quiet and dark. His parents and sisters were in bed. He quietly tip-toed to his room, lay across his bed with the familiar smells of home, and peaceful sleep finally overtook him after more than two years.
Dawn broke, the house was alive with sounds and smells of country living. He descended the steps to find his mother and sisters in the kitchen. They turned to look at him — stunned, excited, unbelieving. How had he slipped in without them knowing? And their tears flowed as they wrapped their arms and love around him. He turned to find his father in the doorway with tears in his eyes at seeing his only son, home again — safe at last.
Life was good — he was home.
I never tire of hearing the stories from my father’s childhood, but the one that stands out most poignantly in my mind is this one. The story of how a young boy became a man when the government called. The story of a young boy who eventually became my father.
For this, I am blessed.
He still mourns the loss of his wife of more than 55 years, and our mother, who died three years ago. I see his tired eyes, his aging body, his white hair and the wrinkles on his face. I see how he has weathered so many storms of life, yet he still sees the good in everyone and rarely complains about anything.
And I realize that my brothers, sisters, and I are the white hair and wrinkles in his face. He has carried us all along with him on his journey in life for many years, and now, we are helping him through the remainder of life’s journey as he battles his physical challenges.
We are fortunate to be able to help him in some small way — because he has given so much to us by teaching us about life and encouraging us in our every step. We are blessed to have him for our father. Every day with him is a gift.
Life takes us down many paths — but the one thing we can count on is family. And for that, I am thankful.
What is your gift today?