You've probably experienced it from time to time. A certain scent or taste triggers a flood of memories from long ago that suddenly become vivid. Or perhaps you hear a certain song on the radio and suddenly you are transported in time to a special event, a first kiss, or a loved one's embrace.
Sometimes, even a particular sensation will do the trick. For example, when I experience the sensation of bone-chilling cold followed by the delicious warmth of a cup of hot chocolate, I feel like a young boy of 9 again, sitting next to my Dad at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, watching our LSU Tigers play football. Tiger Stadium is an intimidating place even for grown-ups (Bear Bryant used to say it was like entering the Roman Coliseum), but for a youngster to whom everything is already big, it was sheer sensory overload. The crowd didn't merely cheer. The very ground shook as tens of thousands of tiger fans roared and stomped their support. And the band! Hundreds of musicians turning toward the stands and practically blasting us out of the place with the ominous first notes of "Hold That Tiger." It sent chills down my spine as the sound coursed right through me. It was a little nerve racking for me at that age, but I could see that Dad was not at all worried. In fact, he was delighted. If he was in his element, then so was I.
At about that same period in time, Dad agreed to teach me to play golf. He and I and my junior golf clubs were on the course one especially hot Louisiana day, when I drank too much water from the fountain. I was too young to know better and in short order, I felt just awful. Dizzy, nauseated, sweating heavily, and suddenly very weak, I plopped down in the middle of the course, not knowing what to do, and began to cry. But Dad didn't patronize me, nor did he chastise me. I remember him kneeling down and gently asking me how I felt, and I told him. Then he asked if I ever saw the professional golfers on television sit down on the course and cry. Well, no, come to think of it, I never saw them do that. Then he asked if I ever saw an LSU Tiger sit down and cry. Good heavens no! "Then what do you think you should do?" I got up, picked up my clubs and resumed play. A parent never really knows when or how a particular lesson will sink in, but that day I learned a lesson about fortitude, about getting a "second wind," and about perseverance. It was a big lesson for a little guy, but it stayed with me throughout a career in the armed forces.
I remember Dad giggling the first time I fired a shotgun. I couldn't have been more than ten or eleven, and he said my eyes crossed from the recoil. At least that's what I think he said. We didn't use ear plugs. But the marksmanship skills he introduced me to paid dividends years later when I fired weapons including the M-60 machine gun and the shoulder launched LAW rocket, among others.
I remember riding in Dad's blue mustang one afternoon talking about faith, about right and wrong. I was still very young, but I remember him telling me that I had two basic choices in life. When circumstances tested my principles (and he assured me they would), I could back down, go along to get along, and enjoy a quiet life. On the other hand, if I wanted adventure and excitement, all I had to do was stand up for what is right. He assured me that if I chose that path, I would never be bored. Of course, he was right about that one as well. Thanks to his influence, boredom has not been a problem.
And I'm still learning from him now. Dad went on the road with me just last winter. We were in Pennsylvania when a particularly nasty winter storm dumped a couple of feet of global warming all over the place. We stepped inside a restaurant for some hot soup, and our waitress was a surly old gal who made Don Rickles look like Mother Teresa. She made some curt remark to Dad, and I wondered how he would handle it. Instead of responding in kind, he smiled and said, "You are so nice!" That caught her off balance, at which point he added, "I'm sooo glad we drove all this distance just to see you!" Well, that broke the ice, and we all got along famously. Sometimes humor is the most effective weapon.
Walking back to the truck through the ice and snow, I couldn't help but remember how Dad used to keep a watchful eye on me when I was a child to make sure I didn't fall down and hurt myself. Years later, I'm watching him as we walk over the ice, ready to assist if he slips. He turned 70 yesterday. The cycle of life moves on and we all move with it. But somewhere deep inside the recesses of my heart, I'm still that 9 year-old boy sitting in Tiger Stadium, sipping hot chocolate from a thermos and looking up in admiration and pride at my hero, my friend, my Dad. Happy Father's Day.