This last snapshot we took with our dad is blurry.
The memories of him, of the kind man he was, of what he stood for, of his integrity, of his character, of the father he was to us, the ways in which he loved us, they have not faded these fifty years later.
Those memories are sharp as ever.
Had he lived he would have returned home to us this week. “The week of your birthday,” he assured my nine-almost-ten-year-old self, although, it’s unlikely he could have known that for sure. Undoubtedly, just the promise a father makes to a daughter when the dates are near enough to not be a fib.
There was so much we never got to do together. Little things, like drink a cup of coffee and talk baseball or theology, or sit in church together. I don’t have any memories of ever doing that. I know we must have, but I can’t recall it. We never went on a hike together like my girls do with their dad. He never taught me to shoot a gun or a basketball. This man who ran moonshine in his youth never even bought me a drink. He never told me what he thought of Jesus, or whether he liked Elvis or not.
There were so many things we never discussed. What did he think of that damn war anyway? Or the men like Trump who chicken-shitted their way out of it?
I don’t know what my father would think of me being a writer, or if, like many in the family, he wouldn’t even read the books I write. Maybe he would be like Mama and think I should write more like Nicholas Sparks because “Everyone loves Nicholas Sparks” and it bugged Mama to no end that I didn’t make it “big” like Sparks in this writing business.
I suspect if he’d come home like he was supposed to, I probably never would have been a writer at all.
Or maybe he and I would have written books together on the Best Places to Fish in the Southeast.
I turn 60 on Saturday.
He never even got the chance to turn 35. He died at the age Ashley and Shelby are right now.
And for what?
That was the question my girlfriend Cammie asked as we stood at the edge of a manioc field overlooking the Ia Drang Valley where our fathers died: What was this all for?
It’s the question I find myself screaming, literally screaming, as I try to understand how a man who has never sacrificed anything, a man who has demeaned women and the disabled, Gold Star families like mine, Muslims and Mexicans, has just been elected to hold the highest office in this nation.
Years ago, when my sister was pregnant with her first child, I sat at my sewing machine and sewed her five maternity dresses. I took great care to make those dresses extra lovely for my baby sister. I choose patterns and fabrics I knew she would love. I picked out buttons and lace special for her. I hate sewing with a passion but I wanted to do something that would let her know how much I loved her.
I did this even though I had a passel of toddling babies underfoot. I packed those dresses carefully away in a paper sack on put them on the dryer so that I wouldn’t forget them later that evening while we were packing up the car, headed to my sisters for Thanksgiving.
Only, I got in hurry and got that sack confused with another paper sack that I took to the burn barrel. It wasn’t until later when I went looking for the dresses to put in the car that I realized what I had done. I ran out to the burn barrel, there in the snow and pulled the charred remnants of those dresses. Then I sat there in that snow and wept bitterly.
All that work. All that love. All that sacrificing. Burned up.
That’s what it feels like now. My whole life burned up. All that love. All that sacrificing. All those talks Dad and I never got to have. All of it burned by a people unaware of what they were doing. Or if they were aware, not caring the least that Gold Star families like mine now have to make peace with a man set on destroying the democracy our loved ones died to protect.
I pray God removes Trump, somehow, and soon, for your sakes and mine, and that of the grandsons my dad never got to hold in his lap.
And for those of you who didn’t bother to vote, may the blood of fallen soldiers haunt your dreams and your every waking moment. May you come to know the torture of living in a land where such freedoms don’t exist.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow).