How much is twenty dollars?
A friend of mine's dad died last week. I want to be careful about this, because I don't want anyone to think I'm being disrespectful. Painful time for the family, because it was both sudden and not sudden. He was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer some months ago, and the decline was rapid and horrible to watch. These are friends I haven't had much contact with since childhood, but we were think once. Him dying got me to think about, well, him. What I remembered.
What do you remember about your friends' dads? This was a military family. They moved around a lot, and he would dip out of the service for periods of time, move back to NC, then re-up and they would go away. That's how a lot of my friends were. Military and Missionary. See them for a summer, or a year, or a week, then they're gone, then they're back. You get a real sense of change in the individual. At some point the interruptions get longer and longer, and finally they become permenant. That's how it is, with all my friends. The people I don't see anymore.
Anyway. A military family. Big guy, strong, the chiseled head. Exactly what you'd expect from a soldier, what you assume every soldier is. This is something I didn't understand, but he apparently suffered some kind of throat wound in Vietnam, so he could never get his voice above a whisper. Do you know how frightening that is? I only knew him as some other kid's father, and he was so far outside of the paradigm of what I understood as "father" that he seemed almost alien.
I have two distinct memories related to this guy. The first was at my house, one summer. I must have been in the fourth or fifth grade. Maybe younger. He came over and waxed my parent's car, a blue oldsmobile cutlass supreme, with those fuzzy bench seats, front and back. They paid him $20. I was amazed, twenty dollars! That was a lot of money, in my mind. I asked if I could get paid $20 for washing the car, since I did it all the time for free. I didn't understand the look on his face when I asked that, not until later. But he took the money and he nodded to my parents and smiled and said thanks in that strange whisper of his. The second memory is when I realized that it wasn't a lot of money, that he was doing it just to scrape by, that he was dirt god damn poor and he was depending on the charity of others to make it by. I had always known they had money trouble, but I didn't understand what that meant.
The look on his face. That's what it meant.
That's what I remember about this guy, and now he's dead. He was a good man, a good father, and he raised a good family. He did what he had to, when he had to, even when it hurt.