I have a pie in the oven, an apple pie. It might have been my father’s favorite, but I don’t really know. He treasured all gifts–pies, cookies, golf balls, tie clips. They were all wonderfully the same. He treated all M&Ms like they were the last on earth, hiding them in his sock drawer and eating them one at a time. His golf bag was full of dirty old tees my brothers and I would scrounge from the bushes when we caddied. And when he died I put his ashes in a simple, unvarnished wooden urn I knew he’d prefer.
My father enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in WWII as a private, firmly believing he wouldn’t survive. But rather than getting himself shot, he ended up two years later as a captain and base commander in remote British Guyana. Mildew and rum were the greatest threats there; and whenever he entered the jungle on regular patrols to find fictional Japanese troops, the only things actually in danger of being shot were the iguanas.
It was a simple but good life in the jungle. The water was no good, but the Army made sure everyone had all the Coka Cola they could drink. And, of course, the Coka Cola went well with the rum. To more righteously boost troop morale, my father would regularly hop a C-47 to Miami to buy small packages of cactus needles for the mess hall’s old phonograph–always small packages because the constant need for replacing the quick wearing needles required frequent return trips for more. I suppose he also felt his simple life needed some contrast for its full value to be appreciated. As well, Miami’s war population had swollen with pretty women (including a few princesses) who needed his attention.
In the meanwhile, my mother, whom my father had not yet met, was attending to her own captain. He was an Air Corps man too, and like my father, did not expect to survive the war. But after a short romance, he packed up their marriage and flew off to Europe in a B-17, never to be heard from again. And my mother returned to bucking rivets on a bomber assembly line. Her needs were simple. Having spent years kneeling in prayer in a cloistered convent, she could find peace standing up all day to miles of polished aluminum. I imagine each rivet was, to her, a bead on a rosary. For my mother, the simplest efforts were gifts to God in thanks for life given. I made her urn a little fancier than my father’s. It was mahogany with a lacewood top and included a little compartment for trinkets and prayers. She wasn’t extravagant but she enjoyed nice things.
The pie has finished baking and I’m crying a little because it was for my parents and it didn’t come out perfect. Not that they would have cared, but I feel like the pie barely survived me and my oven. “For Christ’s sake,” my father would probably say. “It’s a pie, not a war!” My mother would add, “Its the most beautiful pie ever made!” Then my father would see how stubborn my disappointment was. He’d smile and probably warn, “It’s wrong to measure a pie by the battle that was fought, and then forget its sweet taste.” I miss them both.
Happy Veterans Day.
G W Sisk