Valor and Vanity
I was four. From outside the kitchen window I could still hear the bickering as my mother chopped greens for dinner. My father buttoned up his tunic as he listened to the fuss.
“I don’t understand John. Don’t you know what this is doing to me? Can’t you see how this is all wrong? I can feel it. You don’t have to go. You have a choice. We have a daughter. We have a son. I can’t manage on my own. I just can’t.”
With a kiss to her forehead he silently stepped out the front door and took a few steps closer to me as he tucked his fathers pocket watch into his pocket. Covered in the soil from my sandbox, I couldn’t help but hold in the tears with a sour look. I didn’t know what was going on but I got scared anyway.
“Hmm – looks like someone found the lemons I buried.” he said to me as he kneeled down to meet my eyes. “And by that look on your face – I guess you didn’t save any for me.
I laughed a small nervous giggle and it let out a tiny tear that I had held in so long. Just as quickly as it fell, he wiped it away.
“C’mon pumpkin – lets get you out of this patch.”
I pulled away.
“Hey – remember when we build this sandbox?”
“I said to you that even the prettiest flowers grow out of dirt” he was running some sand through this big hands. “well, you’re not a seed anymore – you’re my little flower and you know what we do with pretty little flowers around here?”
I had almost instantly melted the way I always did when he got me going.
“we pick em'” he scooped me up without notice “and we give them to your mom”
Before I knew it, I was kicking and laughing my way through the front door in my daddy’s arms.
“Please go clean up for dinner.” my mothers voice cut through the laughs and as my father put me down, I quietly walked out of the kitchen.
“I’m doing this for us – for our country” his voice boomed even as he tried to keep it down on my behalf.
“No – you’re doing this for you”
That next hour as we sat down to dinner – no one said a word. Not even my big mouth brother. But we all kept glancing over to daddy. He looked so handsome.
His hair was short and combed. The olive colours of his tunic made his tanned skin look just a tad more russet. And there on his chest was a name tag – his shoulders held epfplets with chevrons and a maple leaf embroidered.
After dinner – mom cleared the table like usual but left the dishes in the sink. Dad wrapped his arms around her waist and just held her.
“daddy – I think mommy found your lemons too” I said – it looked like she was holding in her tears.
They sent me off on a mission to find my brother. As I walked to the grand room, i pondered the thought that if she really did eat those lemons – maybe her tears would make lemonade.
There my brother was sitting next to the radio – but I forgot what I was supposed to do when I found him – so I curled up on the sofa next to the grandfather clock – but my grand father didn’t actually give it to us – just the pocket watch.
I heard the tick tick tick of the clock and the static off the radio as the announcer talked about some baseball game.
And I looked around the room I caught glimpse of my daddy’s packed suitcase right next to me… Lined up next to it were the shiniest black shoes I ever saw. Laced up perfectly. And I slipped my feet down off the sofa and right into the boots and when I looked down I saw my reflection and then I saw my dads. And he swept me right off my feet. The radio had changed to some swing music and my daddy got me dancing on his feet before I even knew it. My mom leaned into the room with a meek smile as we danced and she ran her fingers through my brothers hair.
When the song ended my dad insisted he needed to put on his dancing shoes and he reached over for the shiny black ones. My mom insisted i get my shoes and coat too.
As I walked in the kitchen toward the front door I noticed that all the dishes we’re done. I slipped on my oxfords because they looked like daddy’s dancing shoes most. And then I picked my gaberdine pea coat because it kind of looked like his tunic.
By the time I was ready for the next dance my dad and my mom and my brother were behind me.
We had to pile into the car. And my dad brought his suitcase. My big mouth brother still didn’t say anything. He mustn’t have liked dances. And as we drove I kept thinking of what the ball room would look like. We weren’t in pretty gowns.
But when we got there – it didn’t look like a ballroom at all. They called it a mess hall and I could see why. The colours were dull. Everybody was dressed just like my dad.
And after waiting in line after so long we were next.
The man at the desk said no family were aloud beyond that point. My mother nearly choked. She wrapped her arms around my dad and held her breath. My father kissed her and whispered what he called a sweet nothing into her ear. Then my brother. He told him that he was the man of the house now. And then he knelt down to me. He definitely ate a lemon. I could tell.
He said to me, “save me a dance for when I come home – ok missy?” we werent here to dance. Maybe I ate a lemon too. And I looked at my mom and my brother and they had eaten lemons and then the bitter tears started to burn my cheeks. My daddy wiped them off before they stained but I didn’t care. I looked at his suitcase and then I looked at him. “I’ll be home before you know it” he said. And I remembered I wasn’t a seed anymore. I grew out of the dirt and into a flower and my daddy picked me and gave me to my mom. So I choked back that lemonade and I squeezed my daddy and I whispered a sweet nothing in his ear. I said, “I promise – ill save the next dance for you” and I stepped back and picked up my moms hand.
My dad reached into his lapel and pulled out his fathers pocket watch. He handed it to me and smiled with a twinkle in his eye.
Before we knew it he disappeared into the ranks of men lined up in the distance. And I squeezed the pocket watch and looked up at the sky.
I just knew I would dance again.