Bobby, a seven-year-old boy, knew something was wrong, but he had no inkling as to what it might be. His Aunt Connie, a teenager, answered the emergency call from her older, married sister to come at once and baby-sit the children. Gerry kissed Bobby & Joy goodbye, whispered a few private instructions to Connie, and hurried out the front door on an urgent mission. The children were anxious about their mother’s hasty departure so Aunt Connie reassured them that their mother would return as soon as she took care of some important matters. While she had their attention, she told them some interesting stores about her experiences when she was a little girl their age. After the story-telling time, Aunt Connie expanded the explanation of their mother’s mission and softly explained to them that their mom received some troubling information about Dale, their dad, & left to search for him. She would return as soon as possible.
Scenes in a movie and illustrations in a comic book are a lot like memories.
Whether the night seems short or long, it always goes by, & so it did for Bobby that record breaking, bitter cold night, November 25, 1950. The 1st scene opens the next morning and finds Bobby in the front room sitting on a green sofa situated opposite the front door, watching & waiting for his mother to come through the front door. He hears his mother arriving home & anticipates her entry by leaning forward. She opens the door & steps in just far enough to close the door behind her. Although the actual event happens in an eye-blink, the time between her entry and her first utterance rolls by in ultra slow motion. This dramatic scene stays with Bobby for the remainder of his life, and he still recalls vividly, even as an old man, the image of his mother standing there scared & heartbroken on that cold Thanksgiving weekend of 1950. With the knowledge of an adult, one can describe Gerry’s initial reaction as the beginning stages of grief: disbelief, shock, fear, disorientation, helplessness, & isolation. As a 7-year old boy he remembers seeing his mother in a different and strange way unimaginable for him at his stage of development. Bobby beholds a hint of wildness in her features & actions. Her eyes appear large, unblinking, seeing but glazed over; her hair is wind-blown, and her speech is loud, direct, & short. The overall effect is: Is this real, or am I dreaming?
Looking straight at him, she declares forcefully, “You’re father is dead.” He remembers her saying these unbelievable words twice.
After her pronouncement, she disappears from the child’s long-term memory much like an apparition that appears unexpectedly before the living then vanishes into a distant fog. She may have left quickly to take care of pressing funereal business, duties beyond the knowledge of a 7-year-old. As for his sister, Joy, she disappears from the scene as well. Most likely close family members volunteer to take care of her for a time, being only 4-years-old.
He knew what death meant & that he would never see his dad alive again. He didn’t cry then, but he felt an immediate loss with heaviness in his chest & a lump in his throat. He sat silently on the sofa outlining the patterns on the armrest with his right forefinger. He sat there for what seemed a lifetime to a young boy & repetitively ran his finger around the edge of each pattern, all alike in shape. The fog returned.
The rest of Bobby’s day is lost to oblivion and out of reach except for speculation. Most likely he does what most little boys do: amuse himself in play.
In scene two a hearse brings the father’s body in a casket to the family’s home for viewing in the front room. Later that day, close family members, friends, & coworkers come in to give their condolences to the grieving, beautiful wife, age 24, and to pay their last respects to Dale, age 28. The house is now crowded with mourners as Bobby meanders throughout the grown-up crowd looking lost & out of place. Occasionally, a grown-up pats him on the head in a gesture of sympathy. Suddenly, from the front room close to the viewing area, he hears a commotion of weeping & wailing different in degree & intensity from all other mourning cries & grieving sounds he ever heard. Several women, surrounding a tall, thin, light-haired young man sobbing uncontrollably, hurry by the unseen boy. For privacy sake the young man is escorted down a short hallway toward the master bedroom, where the ladies attempt to console him.
“Bob, you did all you could; you could do nothing more. It wasn’t your fault; don’t blame yourself,” they implored. They repeated these same words several times in an attempt to console an inconsolable man. He stood there dazed & slumped as if the weight he carried might crush him.
Bobby felt guilty for observing an adult scene that looked & sounded forbidden to someone his age. He thought to himself, “Why is that grown man crying like that?”
He really wanted to know why this young man wailed so sorrowfully, but there was no-one to ask. He turned around, took a breath, & walked away. He did not discover the answer to his question that day, and he failed to connect his Dad’s death with that poignant scene. For now it remained a mystery.
(To Be Continued)
Harbor Lights was a top-10 hit in 1950 sung by the Sammy Kaye orchestra. Click the hyperlink to enjoy a hit my Dad most likely heard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obFCM0OpEMI
Wayfarin’ stranger: garland dale
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