By Lee Mariner
Dad's car was parked in his usual space when Dalton pulled around the house. The dashboard clock read a little after six o'clock and I glanced at Dalton, "I wonder if Mom is waiting dinner for us?" I asked.
"She will wait as long as she can until Dad say's something." He answered as he backed his car into it's temporary parking space. "If they have already eaten there will be something in the oven being kept warm."
"I hope so, that lunch at the Zoo didn't last long."
"You would say that, now I'm hungry. Maybe we should go on down to Friends or the drive-in." He said looking at me.
"I think I'd rather have Mom's corned beef and cabbage instead of a hamburger Dalt. Wouldn't you?"
"When you put it that way I guess I would." He said his eyes twinkling as he leaned over and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before getting out of the car.
"It looks like you're just in time boy's, pull up a chair." He said without hesitating.
"I told you they would be home William. You never believe me when I tell you Carlton is not going to miss one of his favorite meals." Mother said as she rose from the table to get plates and cutlery for Dalton and me.
"I never doubted it Mother but you can't expect a hungry man to sit around all evening waiting for two young bucks to come home." Dad said with a grin and a twinkle in his eyes.
Mother fussed over Dalton and me making sure we had everything we needed before she sat down. When our plates were full and everyone was settled and eating, Dad asked about our day and what we had done. I told him we had missed the movie we wanted to see but we had visited the Zoo and the White River Gardens. Mother sat quietly but watching as we talked and ate. When either one of us had partially finished what was on our plates she was gently insisting we eat more. Dad didn't say anything as Dalton and I told him about the day but I could see he was enjoying listening and watching Mother almost force feeding us. He knew she was in her element with Dalton and me at the table and didn't interfere.
I finally leaned back in my chair exclaiming, "Mom, if I try to eat another mouthful I'm going to burst."
"Me too." Dalton said.
"Are you sure?" She asked looking at both of us. "You've hardly touched your milk and I made a special German Chocolate cake. Both of you like that." She said as she got up from the table and opened the oven-door pulling out a three-layer cake.
"That looks awfully good Mom and I appreciate it but I'm about to burst. Maybe a piece later with coffee." I said apologetically.
"Oh Jesus." Dalton said. "Me too. I'd die if I tried to eat a piece."
"Jesus is a good man to call on Dalton but I don't think he will help you eat your Mother's cake." Dad said sternly but with a note of humor in his voice.
"I'm sorry sir, I just didn't know Mom had made a cake too. All Carlton asked for was potatoes." Dalton said slightly embarrassed at his oath.
"Never underestimate your Mother boys." Dad said as he pushed his chair back from the table. "I think I'll pass on the cake for now myself. "I'm going to tinker in my workshop for a bit. Care to join me Carlton."
"Yes sir." I said glancing at Dalton before pushing my chair away from the table.
"You go ahead Carl. I want to clean up the room and change the bed sheets." He said grinning at me as he slid his chair back. "Thanks for a wonderful dinner Mom. We were almost ready to eat at either Friends or the drive-in. I'm glad we didn't." He said grinning as he kissed her cheek.
"Oh go on with you." Mom said as she feigned pushing him away. "You just be sure you put those sheets and any other dirty clothes where I can wash them tomorrow."
The sky was satiny black and the light of a silver half moon silhouetted the huge white clouds that moved across its face. Millions of diamond brilliant stars twinkled and glittered between the clouds in the blackness of the night sky. There was a cool but not uncomfortable breeze blowing and the tall black oaks and pines around Dad's property stood like silent swaying sentinels. Nights at sea were much the same except the brilliance of the moon reflected on the oceans white capped waves rolling silently past the ship the phosphorescence of the ships wake a brilliant streak in the blackness of the water.
"It's good to be alive isn't it Carl." Dad said breaking my train of thought.
"Yes sir." I answered quietly. "Nights at sea are much like this except, whereas there are trees, houses and land here, there the moon shines on white capped waves. The stars are much like here but at sea it feels like you could reach up and pluck them from the sky."
"It must be something to see son. You really enjoy being in the navy don't you?" He asked as we stood beside each other enjoying the night.
"It was the best thing I ever did Dad. I might have learned more if I had finished high school and gone on to college but I've been places I might never have gone to if I had stayed home and I've learned things that schools do not teach."
"Such as?" Dad asked, flipping on the light in his work shop as we went inside. "What have you learned Carl? Your all too infrequent letters have told us where you have been for the most part but that is about all." He said as he opened the refrigerator and looked inside.
"That is pretty much it Dad. Meeting new people, seeing different places I probably would never have seen if I had stayed in Richmond. The navy has sent me to different schools and I finished high school through one of the educational programs. One thing I have really learned is discipline and respect for my superiors." I answered.
"That is really apparent son. I'm glad to see it." He said as he turned around and looked at me with a grin. "It looks like the gremlins have been in my refrigerator. Would you like a beer or maybe a brandy?"
"Guilty." I said grinning. "Dalton and I had a couple of beers. I hope you don't mind? I didn't know you drank brandy."
"Nor does your Mother." He said smiling. "I keep a bottle for, shall we say medicinal purposes. There is nothing like a brandy and a good cigar after a dinner like we had this evening. Would you care to join me?"
I was learning more about him than I ever had. I knew he smoked an occasional cigar but not hard liquor. Those were things Mother did not like, drinking hard liquor and smoking. I'm sure she knew about his cigars though, two people don't live together for over thirty years and not know more about each other than they let on. I wasn't a smoker but I had tried both cigarettes and cigars. I preferred a cigar every now and then. Probably much like my Father.
"I'll join you Dad." I said quietly, feeling much better about him.
"Good." He said smiling broadly as he opened a small cabinet over the fridge. "I think you will enjoy this."
He took out a box of Dutchmaster Panatelas and sat it on the small table where I was sitting. I could see a bottle of E & J Gold Brandy and two or three brandy snifters in the cabinet. Clearing a space on an already immaculately clean work bench he sat two of the snifters before taking the brandy out of the cabinet. Uncorking the brandy he inhaled the bouquet before filling them half full of the amber liquid. "Roll the glass between the palms of your hands and warm it before you sip." He said as he handed me one of the snifters. Before he sat down he swirled the liquid gently in his glass and inhaled deeply.
I couldn't help but remember the precise movements of the Japanese tea ceremonyas I watched him prepare and place the brandy and cigars. I knew he had always been a person that believed in things being in their place and cleanliness was a must. This was a different side to his character that I had not seen. As a boy I recalled that while he was not unapproachable there had to be a reason for discussion and if it was a problem he wanted the facts beforehand. He was not a man for small talk yet he had a sense of humor and if you were right he stood behind you completely. The one thing I remembered most when I was younger and lived at home was his saying that "poor we might be but we can still live well." He proved that by providing the material things any family needed and was always available if help was needed.
"This isn't much like your old man is it?" He said as he sat down across from me smiling.
"It does surprise me a little Dad. We never did talk very much when I was at home." I said still warming my brandy glass.
"That should be ready for sipping Carl." He said holding his glass towards me.
We touched glasses and I took a sip of the mellow liquor. It rolled down my throat warming me and I coughed slightly. The flavor of apricots lingered in my mouth and I ran the tip of my tongue over my lips.
"It takes a little getting used to if you haven't drunk brandy." He said smiling. "Have a cigar. Roll the smoke in your mouth it helps to soften the pallet."
Snipping the end of one of the cigars he handed it to me and held a match so I could light it. After we had drawn on the cigars for few moments he lifted his glass and took another sip.
"I guess one of the reasons we didn't talk very much when you were younger Carl is that you didn't have that much you needed me to help you with. That may have been partly my fault. It was not that long after the war and I was more concerned with being sure that you and your Mother were taken care of to become that involved in what you were doing. You gave us no reason to worry but when Dalton came along I was worried that you would resent him and think he was taking your place. He wasn't but parents worry about those things. Nothing next to your Mother concerned me more than you two boys and when you wanted to join the navy your Mother didn't want you to leave. She wanted you to finish school first. That concerned her the most and when you sent us that certificate showing you had finished your education she was a proud as a peacock." He said quietly.
I could tell he was trying to establish a rapport that hadn't existed beyond that which exists between a father and his son. His words were not halting but he was drawing on memories of when I was a boy. We had not been that close but I didn't want him feeling that I was being standoffish. He had always been stern but never harsh or demanding.
"I guess I should have stayed and finished school before I enlisted Dad but I wanted to get away. I knew there was not much chance of college but I didn't see any future in staying in Richmond."
"Your right on both counts son, Richmond does not offer much for young people and you should have finished school. As for going to college, that would have been difficult. We would have tried but you didn't say much about it then. I knew you wanted to leave, I could see it as you grew older or I never would have signed the papers. We both worried you might be sent off to Korea and your Mother prayed for you everyday when that mess started."
"I would have gone if they ordered me too but it didn't happen. The navy stripped men from several ships and sent other ships through the Suez Canal. It was rumored my ship would be picked but they didn't want to take a chance on sending an oil tanker through the canal. At least that's what we were told." I said after taking another sip of brandy.
"Getting off of that ship was a relief for us. Mother said her prayers had been answered. How long are you going to be in Panama? That's where you are going now, isn't it?"
"Yes sir after I report into Brooklyn." I said. "I'm supposed to be down there for two years."
"It seems strange the navy would have anything to do with that country but I guess it does or they wouldn't send men there for duty." He said while knocking the ash from his cigar.
"Dad, can I ask you something?" I asked.
"Sure, shoot." He answered.
"Has Dalton said anything about what he wants to do when he graduates?"
"It's funny you should ask that Carl." He said while swirling the liquid in his glass and taking as sip before answering. "You know he idolizes you don't you?"
"I guess maybe he does but its nothing I've tried to create. He means an awful lot to me. I just want him to do what is best for him." I said quietly.
"How do you like the brandy?" He asked.
"It's fine, I'm just not used to it." I answered.
"It's something you have to get used to." He said smiling. "It helps me relax after a long day at work. It's one of the small pleasures I allow myself."
"And Mother doesn't suspect." I said grinning as I took another short sip from my glass.
"She may have her suspicions but she never says anything about it. Your Mother is a wonderful woman that way Carl. She knows much more than she lets on."
"Dad. . . . . what about Dalton?" I said hesitating a little.
"Enjoy your cigar and brandy Carl." He said softly.
We sat drinking and smoking for a few minutes before he sighed while setting his glass down.
"You may have had more influence on Dalton than you realize Carl. He did ask me how I would feel if he joined the Marine Corps."
"He did?" I exclaimed. "He hasn't mentioned that since I've been home."
"He is probably waiting for the right time son. He is a lot like you that way, he doesn't say very much about what is on his mind."
"Does Mom know?" I asked.
"Heavens no!!" He answered quickly. "She would have a nit fit conniption if she knew he was thinking about that. It has taken her a long time getting over you joining the navy and if Dalton does go into the marines I'm sure she won't like that either. You must understand son, mother's do not like their sons being in the military service and for very obvious reasons. If it happens she will take it in stride as she has so many things but she will worry."
"I hope he does not use me being in the navy as a reason. I wouldn't want Mom blaming me for that." I said with a worried tone in my voice.
"There is no reason to be worried about that Carl. I told him if that is what he wanted to do, it would be entirely up to him and I would not try to talk him out of it. If you remember, I didn't try and talk you out of enlisting. I have enough confidence in you boys to know that you will do what is best. You both are men and your Mother and I will always support any decisions that either one of you make." He said as he drained his glass. "How about another brandy? It's late but one more won't hurt."
"Thanks Dad but I don't think so. It's been a pretty long day for me." I said looking at him in a different light.
"Are you going to finish what you have? It's hard pouring it back in the bottle." He said chuckling and grinning at me.
I drained the remainder of my drink and coughing handed him the empty glass. He took it from me and chuckled deeply.
"Here." He said offering me a spearmint drop. "No need to let the cat out of the bag but I'm sure it does not fool anyone, especially your Mother."
Rinsing the glasses out in a small sink he had in the corner of the workshop he sat them inside the refrigerator. He took the cigar stubs and ran them under the tap to be sure they were extinguished before we left. Just as we were ready to leave he took me in his arms and hugged me. Even at twenty-seven it felt good having his arms around me and I returned his hug. Laying my head against his breast I heard him say something I had never expected to hear.
"You are my first born Carlton and I love you very much." He whispered softly. "I've never wanted more than the best for you and your brother."
"I love you Dad, we both do." I answered with a lump in my throat.
"I know that son and I'll always be here for both of you if you ever need me." he said as we released each other.
I followed him into the house feeling a great sense of relief but ashamed that I had not taken the opprotunity to tell him more about Dalton and me. Deep in my subconscience I had the distinct feeling that he knew already. "Strange ." I thought to myself. "Parents always know more than we give them credit for."
"Sleep well son." He said as we went into the house.
"Thanks Dad, you too. " I said as I opened the door to Dalton's basement room.