I grew up under a shadow woven in hues of blue. Rarely did I notice it. That mere fact is an indicator of just how fine of a shadow it was. It whispered softly over me as I went about the trials and triumphs of growing up; looking down and smiling at me as it went about its own work. At times, that work was quite burdensome and the shadow grew dark and dense within itself. Battles with demons were fought, won, lost… and yet always, the wisps that hovered just above me, those that lifted a stray hair now and then, those wisps were light and sweet and true. Those wisps of the blue hued shadow were selfless; they were love in its purest form.
In the early years, if he happened to be on Day Watch, my Father often came home from work with someone in tow. That someone usually fell into one of two categories, Partner or Trainee; and given that my mother had grown up cooking under the tutelage of Italian women, setting an extra plate posed no imposition. There was always plenty to go around.
One of those evenings stands out in my mind more vividly than others. I was seven years old and my younger sisters, twins, were not yet two. As we saw the tan Pontiac swing into the driveway, our ritual began. “Daddy’s home!” I gleefully announced to Mom who was off in the kitchen. I ran for the front door, the twins tottering after me, “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” they hollered trying not to trip over their ever present security blankets. And before he was barely in the door, three little creatures hugged his legs and hopped about ahead of him; all the while maintaining that delighted serenade, “Daddy’s home”!
A man we would later come to call “Uncle Doug” trailed in behind my father looking a tad bewildered. Gradually the swirling chaos took shape and form in his mind and a hint of comprehension crossed his face, “My god, they act like they never see you!” At the time I was too young to give the statement much thought, to ponder its dark irony, but my parents beamed and laughed. For these were the early years, years full of innocence and aspirations; and our zealous greeting was a nightly ritual. It was not born out of respite from long absence. In its simple joy, it meant Daddy was home for the night.
Other rituals followed our greeting, my Father, ever vigilant, headed straight for his bedroom closet once he’d dispensed hugs and kisses and pried us from his legs. We followed down the hall after him, not to witness his careful placement of the item encased in thick black leather on the top most shelf. No, it was time for “POW on the bed!” Over and over again the twins were hefted high and then tossed onto their backs into the sloshing water bed. “POW on the bed!” Dad would holler every time. And the more times he hurled and hollered the deeper they squealed. I do not think there is anything quite so joyous as the sound of a child’s belly laugh; especially when Dad himself is laughing so hard he can barely get the “POW!” out anymore.
I tended to enjoy the company of Dad’s guests who, after all, were there for no other reason than to entertain us. Uncle Doug became a particular favorite. An Uncle in every sense of the word; he was Dad’s partner and soon every bit as welcome at Grossma and Grosspa’s table as ours. He bestowed my sister Heidi’s nickname upon her. Scooping her up shortly after walking in our door he’d toss her straight up in the air and holler “Heida-roooooo!” To this day we call her Roo. My nickname, Bug, had been given to me many years earlier by Uncle Mike, a Navy buddy. But this did not leave me out of the fun, I was inevitably tackled to the ground and tickled until I could barely breathe for laughing.
As much as I loved those times, it was the nights Dad came home alone that I look back on now with the most fondness. After dinner, once the twins were in bed, it was our time. Me and Dad. It was a time when he bestowed upon me one of the greatest gifts he ever has; the love of the written word. Dad was a deep thinker and he loved to read. Books were sacred in our home; treasures. On those evenings I would curl up in the crook of his arm on the couch and in soothing tones he’d make the words come alive. Winnie the Pooh was never as good when read by anyone else.
As I grew older, the books grew as well. One summer night I lay sprawled on the couch, chin resting on the arm, fingers in search of the itchy spot on my leg left by the mosquito. Dad sat in his wooden rocker, teeth gently tapping the stem of his calabash pipe, freshly filled and tamped with sweet smelling tobacco. He cradled its bowl in one hand while he thumbed through a rather thick paper back I hadn’t seen before. While I hadn’t seen it, it was not new; it was lovingly well worn. He studied something just inside the cover for a moment, carefully turned a few more pages, his fingers almost caressing the corners. Then, holding the book in one hand and the, as yet, unlit pipe in the other, he looked up at me and said, “The Hobbit –or- There And Back Again.” And so it began, my fondest childhood memory of my father. Every night that he could, he read one chapter at a time. Often we wouldn’t stop with just one chapter, “Another one Dad, I’m not sleepy yet…” and eventually came a night when he produced another thick, well loved volume. And again he studied something just inside the cover and then, looking up, “The Fellowship of the Ring. Being the first part of The Lord of the Rings”. His thumb carefully turned the page, smoothed it down, and for the first time I heard that magical verse: Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky… and for the first time my young mind began to wrap itself around the idea of darkness and light, of good and evil, of loathsome vile creatures and those of honest innocence. And then there was the distant darkness in its power impossible to comprehend; a vague, fearsome thing, certainly impossible to face. But it was possible. For now, those who had been called from generations of noble honor, those who had, until now, watched over the innocent, unseen and unheard, now they stepped forward and I beheld the Warrior in full light. As my father told their tale, it never occurred to me that he stood among their ranks. It never occurred to me that he held the darkness at bay; I was not yet aware of the shadow of blue that hovered above me. And not being aware of it, I had no grasp of the demands required to maintain it; demands that took a toll, without mercy, claiming their price. Yet rarely, in those early years, did my father’s face or the fingers of the hand that steadily turned the page, betray what it was he held at bay or what it took from him. He held the pipe in one hand, wisps of sweet smoke spiraling upward, and the book in the other, slowly rocking now and then. And I listened, chin on my forearm, “Another one Dad, I’m not sleepy yet…” until he’d read them all and the King had returned.