Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much any more. Resist!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Another Reason to Scrapbook

When I was 8 years old, my father died.

The death of a parent is a life-changing event, even if you are an adult. If you're a child... Well, the influence it has on your life is immeasurable. I have often written about how much I miss my mother, and she lived until I was 26, old enough to really know her well and to be her friend as well as her daughter.

The hard thing about losing Daddy when I was so young was the fact that I forgot what his voice sounded like before I turned 12. I don't remember what he smelled like. I can't remember how his laughter sounded, or what his favorite food was. I don't really know what his life was like, although I gather he was really very comfortably middle-class, even during the Depression. I can only piece together bits of stories with photographs or the very rare handwritten note or elaborately carved pencil, and the summary of his life is full of holes.

One of those holes has been filled.

My oldest sister Martha is moving from Mama's house to a smaller, more easily managed modern house, and last week she gave me some things to bring home. In a box of books, there is a rough draft of Daddy's doctoral thesis, written in 1956 for submission to the Alabama Polytechnic doctoral review board.

A page in the front is entitled "VITA," and it contains a biography of my father's life from his birth is 1922 to the date of the thesis, 1956.

I have always known that my father was a naval aviator in World War II -- it's one of the things that makes me most proud of him, and most ashamed of myself. Daddy regularly flew airplanes that launched and landed on a relatively tiny aircraft carrier, and I can hardly stand to fly in a great, big jet that lands safely on a gigantic airstrip on sturdy earth. But I have never been able to remember the name of his ship or many of the details about his service to his country.

This afternoon, my eyes filled with tears as I read the words I've been searching for over the last 13 years. Daddy's ship was the U.S.S. Shangri-La.

How could I forget such a name? How could I neglect to remember that my own father worked in metaphorical paradise for the United States of America and freedom for our country during a conflict so bloody, so costly in terms of human life, that he, himself, once crashed in the Pacific and floated for hours until his rescue, and that he witnessed the launch of the first nuclear weapon and the end of the war in the Pacific theatre so closely -- so incredibly closely -- that he was literally in Tokyo Bay within two weeks of Japan's surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri?

My mind is reeling, my heart is full, my soul is aching. My children hardly notice while I scavenge the Internet for websites and the scant information about the Shangri-La and the men who worked on her, for word that some other WWII veteran has survived to this day and may still be able to unlock the mysteries of my father's service more than half a century ago.

But I know. And I will write it down, and I will scrap it if necessary. When my children are old enough to wonder, when their children are old enough to care, I swear I will not let another generation go unschooled about my father's experiences.

This is just another reason to scrapbook. So these things aren't lost. Ever.


At 1/3/06 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a treasure, Bay! What a gift to receive -- a piece of your history that you can also pass on. I just dropped in to see how you're doing. I've never met you, but I would like to sometime (I heard you were at CHA but I missed you).

At 4/3/06 6:19 PM, Blogger Gwyn Calvetti said...

Bay, you have a wonderful treasure to mine now. My gosh, your whole post echoes my family storytelling worshops. Enjoy getting to know Daddy all over again through this wonderful find!


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