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Since we’re talking about memories, I need to add some context and continuity in this tale of the Welsh invasion of Ireland. I’ve mentioned before that, in this day and age, I feel profoundly grateful for the fact that I’m a man who viewed his father as a personal hero.
During the First Gulf War, well before Desert Shield transitioned to Desert Storm, my Dad had a heart attack. My dad and wee little brother were on the way home from the gym, little brother driving them in his classic (i.e., used, got-it-for-a-good-price) Camaro. The Old Man started feeling some pain in his chest and left arm, and started rotating it in the car as if to relieve a cramp. He made the joke, “Jeez, either I did too much in the gym today, or–HAH!–this is the big one.”
Once they got back into the house and Little Brother ran upstairs to take a shower (so that he good do whatever it is that single young men with a classic Camaro do), Pops realized that this really was the big one. He didn’t feel like he could make it to the (old-school, hardwired, on-the-kitchen-wall) phone, so he lay down on the living room floor and put his feet up on the couch. With an elephant delicately sitting its tooshie on his chest, he patiently listened for my brother to get out of the upstairs shower. When he heard the shower cut off, and thought he heard the bathroom door open, he called my brother’s name and heard a distant “Yeah, Dad?” from upstairs.
He called his name again. “What’d you need, Dad?” Little Brother was a man on a mission and getting ready to use a blow-dryer to enhance the efficacy of his nocturnal ops. (A blow dryer, geez. Couldn’t you just be gay or something?)
Dad called his name again and Little Brother tripped his anger line. We Mongos (okay, you know from the title we’re Welsh, but, you know, I want to be consistent) are so known for our calm and equanimity. Little Brother stormed down the stairs, towel around his waist thundering, “What’n hell are you–” and saw the Old Man, on the floor, feet elevated on the couch, and immediately veered to the kitchen phone and dialed 911. I knew some of the EMTs that responded (we’d gone to high school together) and they said Little Brother narrated Pops’ health history and current meds/issues like he had ice water running through his veins. Little Brother even directed the EMTs to have the ambulance take Pops to a hospital that was 15 minutes further away than the closest hospital because they were well known for having the premier northern Virginia cardiac care facility.
[Aside: Cool, c,alm and collected in a life-or-death crisis. Man, Little Brother would’ve been a great gunslinger. West Point screwed the pooch when they cut him loose for not being “adequate” at integral calculus. I barely scraped by calculus. Know how many times I’ve needed that skill for mission success? Let’s start at zero, and work down from there.]
I’ve posted before about how Pops didn’t send a Red Cross message or anything else that would get me home for a couple of weeks. When me ‘n’ my platoon trundled back to a call center set up at Brigade about three weeks after the heart attack, I called home. The first words I heard were, “You’re hearing my voice, so you know I’m okay.” Then I got the whole story. Then, I got very, very peeved that the Old Man hadn’t launched a Red Cross message. I could’ve had a couple weeks at home without the crushing, non-stop responsibility of being a brand-new Platoon Leader. I could’ve caught a frikkin’ break. I could’ve had two weeks at home with beer, girls, and (most importantly, sorta) plumbing and showers.
The Old Man told me to pound sand. Told me my place was with my men, even if nothing was happening in the stark, scorched, unabiding sands of Saudi Arabia. And he was right (dagnabit). If Desert Shield had kicked off into Desert Storm and I wasn’t there with my guys, it would have killed me.
For the rest of his life, Pops kinda rode the bow-wave of medical science. Medical science always seemed to be six-months ahead of whatever was about to kill him. Worked for us.
When I got back from a tour in Iraq in late 2009, my parents told us they were springing for a Disney cruise for the whole family in 2010. This raised my suspicions. I mean, I appreciated it, but my born family is, shall we say, parsimonious. What’s the catch?
The catch was, I figured out upon seeing the fam in the Port-of-Miami was that the Old Man figured that this was the last time he was going to be able to see the whole family together. Frankly, if I hadn’t known it was Pops, I wouldn’t have recognized him. Pale, thin, wan, and bald (not bald in the I-know-I’m-bald-so-I’m-just-going-to-Bic-it, but chemotherapy bald, not that that’s what he was undergoing, but the dude looked like he was on death’s doorstep) I got it immediately.
He thought he was close to checking out, and wanted at least one more chance to see the family all together. He was relegated, on the cruise ship, to a little electric scooter. It had a flag, like a little kid’s bike flag on it. When people didn’t get out of his way, he’d just start bumping them in their shins or calves to “make a hole and make it wide.” I almost think he hoped someone would get obstreperous about it, so he could rise to one last grand melee. Could just be me projecting, though. But I doubt it.
Since my folks had funded the cruise, they set the rules. The only real rule was, everyone ate dinner together every night. We spent a lot of time together despite that rule because me and Little Brother thought that Pops was on his last leg.
The first night of the cruise, getting ready to go to dinner, The Lovely And Talented Mrs. Mongo noticed a wet spot on Pops’ shirt. Up high. Like in the pectoral area. “Oh, Bill, you’ve got a wet spot here…” and she started blotting the wet area.
“Eh, ” says Pops, “that’s just the wound.”
You want to get Super-Nurse wound up (see what I did there)? Say that. She literally ripped his shirt open and saw where his Implanted Cardioverter Defibrillator had been implanted, and where the insertion point was so septically (?) infected that the bad wound was literally pushing the wire leads out of the skin (because of, what, lymph? bad infection stuff? pus?, I don’t know). Apparently, he’d beaten the infection to a stand-still homeostasis.
What I do know is that the Lovely And Talented Mrs. Mongo threw a Schiff-fit and said that if the Old Man didn’t agree to get that issue seen to the moment they got back to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, she would have the Captain have Pops removed in Key West, and life-flighted to a facility in the health care system in which she’s an executive, and the ship would damn well do what she damn well said. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love the Lovely And Talented Mrs. Mongo? Because if I ever gave the Old Man that speech, he’d’ve deviated my septum.) The Old Man acquiesced, and we continued our cruise. Lovely family time.
When he got home, he fixed the problem.
A year later, my folks called and said they were sending Pops, my brother, and me to tour Ireland. More specifically, to tour the Ring of Kerry, from whence we all sprung from the loins of. (I know this sentence sucks, but I so enjoyed writing it.)
Pops looked 100% better than he had on the Disney tour. He needed a wheelchair (most of the time), but we had an incredible trip. Our tour guide, Mick (Michael, thus Mike, thus Mick in the brogue) was awesome.
After about two hours with us, he stated, “Yer ol’ man coulda been born here; looks like he’s straight outta Kerry. You two bis, look like Russian Spetnatz or something.”
As we toured the Ring Of Kerry, we had Tralee on our hitlist, because me dear Aunt Kathy had been the first American Rose of Tralee.
Our, driver, Mick (Mike, whatever, dude) listened to us with, let’s say, a wee bit of skepticism. Bunch o’ yanks, woof’in shite. Then, when we hit our B&B, located over an Irish pub, Mick repaired to his own hostel/hotel and did some research. Yeah, my Aunt Kathleen was, in fact, the first American Rose of Tralee. She’d won the local beauty contest, in Holyoke, MA, and that garnered her a slot in the Rose of Tralee beauty contest in Ireland.
When we were verified as no-kidding relations to my Aunt Kathleen, 1970 Rose of Tralee, they literally rolled out the VIP red carpet for us. When Aunt Kathy won the local contest in Massachusetts, she got a “contestant + 1” ticket for Ireland. My paternal grandfather and eternal douchecanoe claimed the +1 ticket. So, my aunt had no support person to help with her makeup, dress, hair, anything. Nope. She was in on her own and won it on her own.
Rose of Tralee. Badass.
When, on his own time, Mick made some calls and figured out we weren’t just poseurs on the whole Rose of Tralee thing, and Tralee kind of rolled out the red carpet for us.
Though my family had pictures of Aunt Kathy winning the beauty contest, the local paper didn’t publish until Monday, so there were pictures my family had never seen at the local library. Mick had called ahead (apparently, when you’re not BSing, people will go out of their way for you), and they had the newspapers laid out that no one in my family would’ve ever seen because the paper was published after my Aunt and douchecanoe grandfather had left country.
When they spread the old papers in front of the Old Man, in Tralee, there were pictures no one in my family had ever seen before.
The Old Man kind of teared up when he saw those pictures of his little sister that none in the family had seen before.
Little Brother had to run outside, and spew into the bushes, on account of our drinking the night before. Which was awesome, because an elementary-school group of kids had been walking by, hand-in-hand, when he did, and his example started a chain reaction of some of them a-spewing.
I called the Old Man a wuss (just because he was crying), and he signaled me to come closer, like he wanted to whisper in my ear some long-held family secret. So I came closer. He punched me right in the junk, and as I bent over, took my collar and rammed my head into the table.
“Have a little respect,” he said.
Later, we hit the Cliffs of Moir. Because Pops was in a wheelchair, the guides told us Pops could see everything at the first level viewing station. As my brother huffed and puffed pushing the Old Man’s wheelchair up the path of the cliffs, I told the guide, “No matter how much effort it takes, we are determined that my brother will get the Old Man to the top viewing station, right, brother?”
I’m hilarious, but my brother didn’t think so. Dude was kind of almost horizontal pushing Pops up the mountain. It looked way hard.
The Irish trip was at/about September 2011.
One thing Pops, Little Brother, and I all have in common is that we’re not talkers. Don’t get me wrong, prime the pump with a little Irish whiskey, and each one of us could be a troubadour. But, each one of us could go months without talking to each other (or anyone else, frankly, drives the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Mongo crazy), then pick up the phone, and talk like there’d been no gap.
So, with a wild hair, I picked up the phone on December 18, 2011, and talked to the Old Man. We talked for a couple of hours. During the conversation, he said that after our Ireland trip his bucket list was complete. I told him he’d outlive us all. He laughed and told me I had no idea what I was talking about. We had a great talk. I was sitting on the back deck, smoking a fine, Cuban-seed, Dominican-grown cigar. It was just a great talk.
Pops died that night.
I’m glad I called him that day. I’m glad we talked about the trip. I’m glad I heard that his bucket list was full up.