“Finally – Dad’s Song*”


hey, dad, you were more

than ever what I deserve

and always needed


*(Sally’s Song came quick.  The first – of nearly a dozen versions – came the night she died. For years, the decades I despaired ever of catching that enigma known as John Leslie Richards.  He flew as an enlisted tail gunner and avaiation motor machinists mate over Japanese warships at The Battle of The Coral Sea and later at Midway and when his carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) was sunk went swimming in The South Pacific for a time. Later he flew off the escort carrier USS Card, CVE-11, in The North Atlantic and Mediterranean.  He saw the invasion of Southern France after Morocco and Algeria in between anti-submarine duties en route from New York City – where he met and fell hopelessly in thrall to mom – to England and Murmansk and Arkhangle in The Soviet Union until his collapse and later reassignment to Patuxant Naval Air Station where he became one of America’s first Hurricane Hunters, flying as an enlisted crew chief aboard a converted Army B-25 medium bomber.  That’s when he married mom, found Sanford, Florida, and began the process of proving to himself he could not only father but actually be one – however imperfectly and that was often enough – and continue his career as a famous guide, hunter and fisher from Lake of The Woods, Minnesota, Northeast Arm, Newfoundland, Canada, and throughout The St. Johns River, and parts both Salt and Freshwater throughout Central Florida.  We fought. Sometimes every day since I can remember and perhaps before. From the time I refused to talk to his alcohol-smelly self and then declined to cry when I felt his shoe on my bottom in his momentary drunken rage, to sitting across from him at daily table displaying the decorum upon which he insisted but rarely if ever achieved himself, to his table-talk temptings of school subjects he obviously never knew (mom finished the eighth-grade drop-outs GED) to the time when I was home on leave and both of us were less-than-sober and when The Hornet’s welterweight Golden Gloves champ swung roundhousedly at me and I ducked under and went behind in a waist-lock leg-grapefine takedown I to this day can not say for sure who was more stunned: him or me?  I took his belt years before who playing guess what I got inside this zipper in our side yard with a neighboring girl.  That was the second – and last time – he touched me in anger.  When mom asked who else I fished with other than dad, I told her: No one.  Dad and I go out before sunrise, have a couple of beers and two sandwiches each, and come home after sunset and clean our catches and will have shared about seven words each. So, mom, no one. Why? She said she asked dad the same question and he said: No one. I’ll wait for J to come home Tuesday or Wednesday from Titusville – newspaper – and we’ll go out before sunrise the day after he comes home and helps you do housework, and we will fish all day until dark and drink a couple of beers each and eat your two sandwiches each and kill fish and say maybe six or seven words each all day other than “‘nother minnow?” or “snake’s after the stringer!” or things like that.” She said: “I asked him if he’d go out with Ralph” (her best bud’s husband, a retired Navy Chief who also liked to fish – supposedly.  I interrupted: Ralph wants to go out at 9 a.m. after breakfast, fish – for bass and not specs (speckled perch, called Black Crappie) and be back by noon or so so he can play golf all afternoon>” She laughed: “that’s almost exactly what Johnnie said.” So.  So.  We didn’t agree on much, Dad and I.  But this one thing.  When I got out of the naval hospital after being medically evacuated from Vietnam, and Dad took me with him to the Navy Fleet Reserve Association Sanford unit’s lounge and nightclub, I got asked about Vietnam by one of the sailors there, and before the guy asking me could respond, Dad interjected: “Hey! We don’t let no one who wasn’t there talk about our war, so let the boy have his say,” before the issue got even more heated. I turned from my inquisitor to face Dad: “Boy? You see a boy, Old Man, you best slap him up-side the head!” and ruffled his flattop buzzcut hair and slipped into a half-hearted headlock and whispered to his ear by my mouth, “Thanks, Pop.”)

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