It Was the Summer of 1942, I think
There are very few pleasures an old man like myself gets this late in life. One of them is power over his offspring and his offspring’s offspring. I can already tell how miserable they are sitting here, but I haven’t even begun my story yet. These days I can’t talk very well. It’s become increasingly more difficult since the throat surgery, but I persevere. They need to hear this story. It’s their history, their heritage. If I don’t pass it down all they’ll know of this family are my sons’ ridiculous, childlike antics. I have five sons and not a single daughter, thank God for that. Each of my sons has gotten progressively more stupid as they’ve grown. The middle, Henry, used to be mildly intelligent until he turned about thirty. Once thirty hit it was all downhill and by the time fifty rolled around he was dumber than that Johnson I had in my unit during the war. Johnson, man was he a bumbling baboon’s ass.
“Papi, are you going to tell us?” Gracie smiles up at me, masking her impatience as best a five year old can. I love that little Gracie, but man does she make me glad I never had any daughters. Daughters are the worst.
“Yes, Grace darling, I am going to tell you the story. I’m just thinking where to start.” The children always seem slightly uncomfortable when I speak. My wife says it’s because of the rasp that comes out before the actual words, but my first son, Jacob, says it’s because I’m a scary old codger.
“You were going to start with getting back from the war!” Gracie reminds me.
“Can’t you tell us stories about the war?” John always asks for those stories and I always give him the same answer.
“Not until you’re older, little man.” I wink at him.
“But Papi, I’m eleven.” John rolls his eyes and leans back on his hands, already ready for story time to be over. I make them listen to a new story each time they visit.
“I want to tell you guys about the time I decided to join the Army, how about that one? Would you want to hear that one?” I’m eager to tell them this story. It’s one of my favorites, it paints me in a wonderful light I think.
“Papi, you told us that one two times ago.” Amy gently nudges my knee.
“Right, right I did. Okay, what about the time I met your Grandmama? Have I told you that one yet?” I perk up at the very thought, surely they’ll love to hear this one.
“No, Papi, you haven’t. Tell us that one.” John sits up a little straighter, he’s getting ready for the excitement, I can tell. He’s so excited he’s already picking at his finger nails. He always picks at his finger nails when he’s excited.
“Alright, well it was the summer of 1942 and I was working at the Barber Shop sweeping up the hair. All I did that summer was bake in the Texas sun and sweep up that damned old hair.” I pause and let the children giggle at my profanity. “Anyway, your Grandmama – Lorraine Lobue – was the only girl in my high school class that was ever worth looking at. So, one day when she was walking by the Barber Shop window I stopped mid sweep and just stared. I stared and I stared until she rounded the corner and then I stared at the corner until Mr. Wilson came and whomped me upside my head and told me to get back to work. I nearly got fired that day because after I saw her I was just so damn distracted, but I didn’t get fired that day. No, I got fired at the end of the summer for sneaking some beer behind the store with my best buddy. Now that’s a story. Did I ever tell you that story? Well, my buddy, Johnny…no, it wasn’t Johnny, it was Jimmy. My buddy, Jimmy, and I were supposed to be closing up the shop for Mr. Wilson that night. Around nine o’clock we got bored and decided to take a little fifteen minute break out back. Around our third beer Mr. Wilson comes tearing through the backdoor kicking up a storm so big you’d think we’d robbed him. He fired us both on the spot, but he had to finish closing up the shop that night, so served him right.” I take a breath and swallow to wet my throat. It aches if I talk too much.
“Papi? You were telling us about Grandmama?” Little Amy, always so sweet gently nudges my knee again.
“Right, right I was. So I was distracted the whole rest of the day that I went straight home after work and laid on my bed, staring at the ceiling just thinking. Now, I’d liked Lorraine Lobue since we were in diapers. Well, not diapers, but definitely grade school. The second we hit high school every guy and his brother was asking her out left and right and I just never got a chance. But, the summer of 1942 she was single and I saw my opening. The only trouble was that I was enlisting come August. I had it all decided. My mama didn’t like it much, but I was determined and when I got determined about something I got good and determined. Now, I knew I couldn’t go ahead and ask out Lorraine as I was leaving at the end of the summer, but she was single and let me tell you, she was never single.”
“What are you telling these babies about me?” My wife pokes her head in from the kitchen squinting her blue eyes at me.
“Nothing, honey, I’m just telling them about how we met is all.” I smile a coy smile and turn back to the children.
“Don’t let him tell you tales about me now, you hear me babies?” She looks at each great-grandchild in the eyes. Almost ninety years old and she can still scare the pants off a child.
“Yes, Grandmama.” They all chime.
“Where was I?” I ask little Amy.
“You were thinking about asking Grandmama on a date, but you didn’t know if you should because you were going to join the Army.”
“If Andrea has to remind you where in the story you were eighty five million times, you shouldn’t be telling it!” Lorraine calls from the kitchen.
“Oh you hush! Right, right so I was laying on my bed weighing my options when I just decided on it. I just decided that I was going to ask, because what if I died that very night without ever having asked out Lorraine Lobue? I couldn’t let that happen, but I left my house that very second and I ran. Children, I ran the fourteen blocks it was to Lorraine’s house and I didn’t ever stop to catch my breath before I knocked on the door. Her daddy answered. Now that was one scary old codger. He answered and I was so eager and so determined that I didn’t even ask for Lorraine, I just blurted out, “Sir, may I take your daughter on a date?” I was panting and breathing heavy and winded, but I stared him straight in the eye and waited for his answer.”
“No, you didn’t, you liar! You stood there trembling from fear and staring at your shoes!”
“Hush, Lorraine! So, I waited for his answer. His answer was simple. He just looked me up and down and said, “Ask her yourself, young man.” Then he called her downstairs. I asked her and she said she’d been waiting for four whole years for me to pluck the courage to ask her out. She was just so thrilled. We went out the very next night and it was instant love.” I smile at the children and they smile back. John’s picking at his finger nails more intensely than ever, he must have loved the story. Gracie smiles back at me and little Amy…Andrea lays her head on my knee. I love these babies, I really do.
“Did you like Papi’s latest story?” Henry, my middle, comes through the door toting around his ever present briefcase. He’s always talking about “important documents” this and “today in court” that. He just thinks he’s a big shot because he went to Harvard. I tell you, he’s as dumb as that Johnson.
“Of course they liked it! They always like my stories. Where’s my granddaughter? Is she not with you?”
“She’ll be along to big up the kids soon, but I wanted to stop by after court and see my grandchillens before I go home.” Henry hugs each kid and kisses them on the head. They all start chatting. The children seem to talk more when Henry’s around and after my story I’m feeling tired. I lay my head back against my chair and listen to their chatter as I drift off to sleep.
Author's Note: Thank you all for reading! Feel free to comment with any critiques/ideas you may have!