I always get melancholy after these visits, as it makes me realize how much I miss my tribe. And, of course, the old family stories come out, which are invariably funny and sweet, but leave a bittersweet aftertaste. Take the stories we told about my father, for example. My dad, Bill Kurman, was just one hell of a bull of a guy.
Bill... Dad was of the WWII generation. Born in the 20s. Orphaned young and raised by an aunt during the Depression, he had a hard scrabble life. Served aboard an LST as a signalman in the South Pacific during the War. (LST stands for Landing Ship Tank, one of those ships that sails up to the beach and drops off trucks and tanks and such. In Navy parlance, LST stands for Large Slow Target). Afterwards, he went to college, met and married Mom, had four boys, worked as a salesman, and died of a heart attack way, way too early at the age of 57, in 1983. As a joke, he liked to pose wearing this really bad toupee, or his cheesy plastic Colonel Klink helmet, you know, the one with the spike on top the Krauts wore back in WWI.
I could, like most people, probably generate a novella out of all the Dad stories. So here's a couple samples:
I remember talking to my brother Chris about Dad's habit of starting off a planning session with the phrase "Plan A". I mentioned to him, "Ever notice there was never a Plan B?"
"...yeah! What was that about?"
"Well, I figure the Old Kraut was displaying his cultural roots. Either Plan A succeeded gloriously, or, or... it if did not, then... Vee Vill Neffer Shpeek Huf Zis Agane!"
Here's another. He made a habit of not swearing. He considered the practice uncouth and ungentlemanly, and I suppose my form of rebellion is to cuss like a longshoreman, both in speech and in print. His most common emphatic expression was "Dog it!" And on only three occasions did I hear him use curse words.
Given the recent date of Dec. 7th, I relate this. I can recall one time when we were watching Victory at Sea on public TV, which was a documentary on the War in the Pacific. My father never once mentioned that he saw any action. He did once say that the entire experience aboard ship was pretty much constant boredom. We were watching footage of Japanese kamikaze planes, and the Old man muttered, just barely heard by me, "Fucking kamikazes".
Much later, after he had died, and we were going through his things, we found three Battle Star ribbons. A little research turned up that his ship had engaged in the Battle of Okinawa Gunto, which was the heaviest, or second heaviest, kamikaze raid of the war. Well, the Old Man's combat station was anti-aircraft gunner. It was pretty much guaranteed he had fired shots in anger, and experienced those briefs moments of "horror interspersed with boredom" that veterans will speak of. But, like most vets who had actually seen action, saw no point in relating the experience. Really nothing much of a surprise.
I remember - long before hippies had been invented - he and friends of his generation, would say goodbye with the word "Peace". Unlike the hippies, I think they understood what that word actually meant.