MAY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 5
PHILIP LOYD, a native of South Louisiana, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. He counts Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald among his influences. Loyd lives in Texas, where he is working on his novel The Dreamer.
Like Father, Like Son
I always wanted to be just like my dad. Who wouldn't? He was a war hero, safari hunter, lifesaver, sea-sailor, and so much more. But he never said anything around mother and me; I could tell she didn't approve of his stories. I guess they made her nervous, or maybe she just didn't want me hearing them.
My dad played poker religiously, like my mother went to church. When his buddies from the restaurant came over on Saturday nights though, my mother always made me go to bed. But when the smell of cigar smoke tickled my nose, I knew it was story time. All I had to do was crack open my door, then I felt just like one of the gang. Yet, I never worried about mother catching me. She hated the stench of cigars.
It was late one Saturday night -- amidst wild tales of lions, tigers, and bears -- that I first learned my dad had served as a paratrooper in the war, and that one time while parachuting behind enemy lines his chute failed to open. "Luckily," said my dad, "it opened just in the nick of time. I fell fast, but because I did -- miraculously -- I went undetected. I was able to seize an enemy gunboat and somehow negotiated the mine-filled harbor. Then, believe it or not, the little bastards gave chase and ran over one of their own mines, but not before I caught a lucky bullet in the shoulder. That's how I earned my medal, my Purple Heart.
"Something else must have backfired too, because when I looked over my other shoulder the entire munitions dump had gone up like the fourth of July. On top of that, the communications antennae collapsed, so they had no way to radio ahead. There I was on an enemy gunboat way behind enemy lines going who knows where ..."
"Where?" somebody asked.
"You'll have to wait till next week," said my dad. "Time to cash in."
"Wow," somebody said.
That night, I didn't sleep a wink. I wished so hard to be like my dad, a rough and tumble adventurer and teller of tales. But I never went anywhere, or did anything. Mother would not have approved. I knew she didn't want me to be like him. The only place she wanted me to go was school. Of course she did; she didn't have to. One day -- I promised myself -- I would be just like my dad.
That Monday at school, Freddy Bernhardt was going on and on as usual about his dad being a cop. All the kids sat staring at him with their mouths wide open while he told them how his father had captured a drug dealer after a high-speed chase, and all about the sirens and flashing lights. Everybody always loved that part.
That was all I could take. The next thing I knew everybody had turned towards me and I was going on about my dad.
"He was in the war," I said. Everybody sat staring at me. Freddy had shut-up. "One time his parachute didn't open." I knew I had them now.
"What'd he do?" asked Bernie Nipshaw, who always sat at the front.
"Well," I went on, "he spread open his arms like a bird and flew down. He fell through a tree, flipped round and round, and dived in the water between two gunboats."
"Gunboats?" shouted Bernie.
"He swam under one of them and stuck a bomb on it. Then he blew up all their guns and bombs, and their radio,"
"Then what happened?" asked Bernie.
I felt so excited. The story wasn't exactly right, but it was close enough. I just couldn't stop myself. "Then he saved everybody and captured the enemy general," I said. "Then, he got shot."
All the kids sat with their mouths wide open. What a great thing it was, everybody listening to me.
"Then what?" asked Bernie, and I was about to go on when Freddy stepped forward.
"Yeah, then what?" he said, grilling me with his eyes like only cops and kids of cops can.
"Well," I said, now at a loss for words, "then -- you have to wait till tomorrow."
All mouths closed.
"I bet you're lying," said Freddy. "I bet you made it all up."
"Did not," I said.
"Oh yeah," he said, now in my face, "prove it."
How could I? I knew all about my dad, but how could I prove it to everybody else? Then I remembered him talking about his medal.
"He has a medal," I said.
"So let's see it," said Freddy.
"I don't have it with me."
"That's what I thought," said Freddy, arms akimbo.
"But I don't," I said.
"Tomorrow is show-and-tell," said Freddy. "Bring it."
"I don't know if -- "
"I thought so," said Freddy, turning to all the kids.
"All right," I shouted, "I'll bring it."
The bell rang. Recess was over. I stood there, alone, wondering what to do. Then my teacher -- we called him Proff Giambruno -- came up from behind and told me to get back to class.
[ CONTINUED: The Power of a Medal ]