I went to see the movie Fury yesterday with Hubs. It was a beautifully crafted movie full of the brutality of war and I hated it from the moment I sat down. I only went to see it because Hubs always goes with me to see “my” movies, and I thought he’d really love this one from what I’d seen and read. Seemed only fair, though we both know I do not like war movies in general.
But Brad Pitt…yeah, I admit it. Good, bad, or indifferent, I will watch anything he does. He broke my heart in this movie. This whole movie broke my heart.
It was very personal to me. I thought of my dad every moment.
My dad fought in World War II, spending two years in Europe under General Patton. He was in the Fifth Wave of D-Day, the Third Army, a combat engineer assigned to a tank division. He marched all the way to Berlin. He walked into Buchenwald, where everything he’d seen of war paled to what he saw there.
He told us many stories about the War, heavily edited when he would choke down, unable to speak more of what he could never forget. Christmas was the worst for him, so it was for us. It was the defining experience for the barefoot boy from mill hill. He died cherishing his box of War mementos above all his possessions. We had Taps played at his funeral. He was 82, an old soldier to the last, the sole recurring theme of his life.
I picked a lot of bones with my dad, learning my stubbornness from him. It was inevitable, as our lives intersected during a major shift in American culture: Civil Rights and Women’s Rights were not something he understood, being from a small town in S.C. and generations of mill workers. It was hard for him. It was hard for me.
I was by his bed when he died after a long battle with prostate cancer. Alone with him, hoping against hope that I might get a sign, a word that…well, it didn’t happen. What did happen was, as I tried to ease his passage into whatever comes next, his fractured irises suddenly focused again and I saw it…fury. He did not accept defeat even as Death overtook him. He fought until his cold hands were stiff and all that was left of him was shallow breath and barely beating heart.
“Dad, just let go.”
At last he did.
The Great Cosmic Coincidence
I have many great memories of Dad, who had a dry sense of humor that could surprise you. My favorite, perhaps, is one of happenstance that feels too astonishing to be a toss-up.
Dad was a lifelong, zealous Clemson Tigers fan. He never went to college himself, but he loved football, of course, and that was his school. Through a series of random twists and turns, I, however, ended up graduating from the University of Georgia. Then I stayed in Athens, having fallen in love with this charming small town with an international flavor.
Dad nearly disowned me. Attending the school was bad enough, but not going back home was Desertion.
From his viewpoint in history, I’m sure he felt his expectations of me were entirely justified. From mine, I could only bristle.
Lest I seem too unforgiving myself, a little insight into my struggles with my father: a brother also moved his family to Bulldawg territory the same weekend I did, though his move was related to an engineering job and was wholly unassociated with my school-related choices. Also my brother got his degree from the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, so he was equally offending, in principle, it would seem. Neither of us knew the other’s plans to move to Athens until Mom told us–another odd coincidence, I know, but it happened.
Now ask me how my father felt about my brother’s defection? Right. Whenever my parents came to town, they went to my brother’s house and refused to come to mine. We were not estranged; I visited them all major holidays and in between, as well. I recount this sibling rivalry silliness for a reason: my dad only set foot in my home twice, and that context makes what happened so extraordinary, I still can’t reconcile it with the Law of Probabilities.
So here it is:
After years of living in Georgia, one fateful day my parents were in town and I convinced my father to go out to dinner with Hubs and me. (Can’t remember why Mom wasn’t coming along, but probably she didn’t feel well.) In the process, Dad actually came to my house, into my house, and kind of fiddled around a bit, much like a petulant but pleased child. Hubs and I were so excited Dad had gifted us with his reluctant visit. We spent about an hour showing him around and preparing to leave, locking up the house and such. It was going well.
Then something magical happened, and to this day, I cannot believe it.
Moments before we were to walk out the door, I went to the kitchen sink, glanced out the front window which faced our sidewalk entrance as I performed some rote action, and down the rabbit hole I went.
I saw Vince Dooley walking up to our door.
For those (like me) who don’t follow college football rabidly, Vince Dooley is a legendary UGA coach and Athletic Director. His team won the 1980 National Championship with Hershel Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. Suffice it to say Dooley is a Football God in these parts…and battled it out on the field many times with…CLEMSON.
Did I mention VINCE DOOLEY WAS WALKING UP TO MY DOOR?
And then rang my doorbell.
Now, I am a UGA alumnus. Hubs worked at UGA for 28 years and has met several UGA presidents, important people, etc. He knows them through his work, but he’s a carpenter, so we haven’t invited them to our black tie cocktail parties, if you get my drift. Why Dooley was at my house, I had no idea, but I turned and looked at my husband and said, “You will never believe who is coming up our walk.”
As striking as this was, it crossed into the realm of surreal when I looked at Dad and realized he was about to have an unforgettable experience. Compliments of moi.
What are the odds? The man worked in a cotton mill, he was a loom-fixer, a linthead his entire work life other than his years as a soldier during World War II.
Now he was about to meet one of the South’s biggest football legends. Not to mention, THE ENEMY.
I knew full well Dad would not back down one inch.
So the doorbell rings and I answer it. Mr. Dooley introduces himself (really) and says he’s out canvassing our neighborhood for his wife Barbara, who is running for a state office. I invite him inside and walk him into the living room where my husband and dad stand frozen.
I introduce them to Mr. Dooley and tell him what a shock this is as my dad is a huge football fan…of Clemson. Then I start laughing hysterically, that kind of laugh where you’re desperate to keep it from being noticeable that you have lost your mind? But you can’t stop? That.
Not to worry, though, as nobody is looking at me. Shining like he just entered the Pearly Gates, Dad shakes hands with Mr. Dooley and immediately begins talking about football and his loyalties to Clemson, and Mr. Dooley is so gracious, and somewhere my husband is in all this, but I’m silently laughing like a fool. My face must have looked like I had been constipated for a month.
Again, I am NOT making this up.
This went on for a few minutes when Mr. Dooley finally saw his chance and gave no doubt the quickest stump speech of his life, exit stage left. Done and gone.
Back to our original plan, we took Dad to a trendy bar-and-grill where he had a very good time, I can tell you that.
I know this wasn’t the Second Coming or anything, but to football fans, close enough. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Dad did return to my house once more, some time later, with Mom along, and they spent the day with us. I think he conceded as much as he could, that old soldier, to the daughter who had joined the enemy ranks, nonetheless.
Still that fateful day was one of the two times I ever saw him outright proud of me. The other time was when I played 18 holes of golf with him and Hubs and they couldn’t beat me. But that’s another story.
Thanks for dropping by for a visit. If you got the “false alarm” when I accidently hit “Publish” instead of “save draft” and wasn’t half done, my apologies.
Until next time….