My awareness of existence starts at this point: I am wrapped in a blanket, staring up at infinite stars in the cold night sky. I am safely tucked in my father’s arm, rhythmically rocked by his walking. He took my sister and I, each in an arm, for long night walks in the hills outside Pittsburgh. it is 1964. I am 18 months old. Five decades later, this memory is as clear as if it happened last night. I have never looked into the heavens at night and failed to think of it. This was, and remains, my welcome to existence.
Above, My Father’s 1949 copy of “Lucky Bag” the yearbook of the United States Naval Academy. The blanket pictured was issued to Dad when he arrived at Annapolis in 1945. The number 934 was his laundry number at the Academy. This is the same wool blanket which my father wrapped me in, while he carried me in his arms. The blanket was here in the family home on 2/12 when Dad, surrounded by family, quietly passed from this existence.
On Friday night the family privately bade him farewell, my mother tucked a small valentines day card in the pocket of his dress uniform. Saturday morning, a service and words of remembrance were held at the Presbyterian Church in Summit New Jersey. His flag draped casket was at the foot of the altar. It struck me as a very small vessel for such a large life.
At the conclusion, my brother, his sons, our cousin, our brother in law and myself carried the casket out the aisle, my mother and sisters following. It was life in reverse, as my father had walked each of my sisters down this same aisle on their wedding days. Outside, it was unseasonably warm and beautiful. I laid my hand on the casket and softly said “Goodbye Dad”.
It was somber, but not sorrowful, as the latter requires an element of unfairness that leaves you asking why or wondering what might have been done. My fathers life had neither of those elements. He accomplished nearly everything we wanted to, and did it on his own terms, all the way to the last page. In the spring he will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a life well lived with nothing to be sorry about.
The past week had the strange sensation of the timeline of life coming to a smooth stop. I can still remember all the personal things I planned to do, but they all seem far away and unimportant right now. I have long understood that much of my life was conducted in hope that it would register on scale of value my father and his generation knew. I may have made some low marks on the scale, but I feel the contest is over and the score can no longer be improved. The benevolent, but honest umpire has left the arena. Tonight, the only thing that seems more certain than before is this: At some long future date, I wish to have my last cognizant moment of existence while I am wrapped in a gray wool blanket that says “W. E. WYNNE. 934”
3 Replies to “Welcome to Existence”
William: Thank you for sharing this journey with us. God bless you and yours in the days and years ahead.
To your last comment this Mainer (where I grew up) would say, “ayuh, that’d be pretty good”.
You put the father-son “thing” so very nicely, William. My relationship with my Dad was different but the same, complicated and powerful. He was a foot soldier in WW Two as was his brother and his brother-in-law. That brother-in-law’s sister would be my Mom who also served in the big war as a Naval Officer in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When Mom and Dad got married just before he shipped out for Germany the entire wedding party was in uniform – Bride, Groom, Maid of Honor, Best Man and Minister. Dad made it home alive but by way of several hospitals in Europe after he got shot. Uncle Bert got shot and survived too, Uncle Tom made it through without a Purple Heart. Dad’s father was a foot soldier in the Czar’s army before he came to the USA. A cousin on my Mom’s side is buried in France, he was foot soldier also.
When Dad took me to the U of Mass to start my freshman year he marched my fanny up to the Air Force ROTC and said “sign here, there have been too many foot soldiers in this family already”. There was no earlier discussion, no asking my opinion, he just did it.
That started started the track that led to eight years as an Air Force pilot and thirty more as an airline pilot. Viet Nam was going hot and heavy in that era and he correctly guessed I had a better survival chance flying above the fight than walking through it. My high school class lost six guys to Viet Nam, all foot soldiers. I got the honor of flying for a living and flying engines my Dad helped to design – he ended up finishing engineering school after the war and went with GE designing jet engine parts.
Pat and I held his hands as he expired his last breath only a few years ago. He is missed but I feel good to have had him and Mom in my life until I was in my sixties. They had a good run and I am well into a good run of my own.
I hope you continue to have comfort in your time with and relationship with your Dad. It seems to have been an extraordinary relationship with an extraordinary man and your pleasure in that is a thing of beauty. Thank you for sharing him with us.
Peace be with you as you adjust to life with his memory rather than with him. It feels better after a few years. At least it has for me.