Bronze Stars, silver coins, golden words

Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2009

To the many heroes who died while serving their country, thank you. For those who struggled to not loose heart because of their service, thank you. This one's for you Dad.

"You're only being nice to me 'cuz you like my Mom!" blurted a headstrong girl with unkempt hair and a proclivity for spitting out foul words over a catchers plate. A girl who threw the encyclopedia over her head, instead of balanced it like the lady at the charm school had suggested. The only girl in the history of Our Lady of Perpetual Nylons (or whatever it was called) to have miserably failed Charm 101. A kid who vehemently resisted any form of domestication or discipline and passively protested formal education by daydreaming, doodling and scribbling stories at her desk ...

"No Princess, I'm being nice to you because you have a mean right arm, and by the way, terrific game!" was Dad's wise reply.

Dad, my exact opposite, was organized and meticulous, a war hero, a special investigator and a gentleman. Dad had a knack for saying just the right thing, at just the right time. Phrases like:

"You're grounded until further notice."

"Do your homework -- now."

"You will take a bath."

"You will learn to change a tire before you take the car out, and you will home by 10."

"We can get through this -- together."

"You look so beautiful in that graduation robe."

"I'm proud of you."

"I'll take you down the aisle, but I'll never give you away!"

"Oh, she's beautiful, Princess!"

"He's going to be tall, just like his grandpa."

Unfortunately, post-traumatic stress and depression began to take its toll on Dad. When I confronted him about his drinking, he simply said, "You're right. I'm sorry. I'll quit. I promise."

I was almost seven months pregnant when I got the call. There was too much to do to even schedule time to cry. I began to make lists. Lists of who sent the flowers and cards (Dad always said to remember to write thank you letters). Lists of Dad's accomplishments and honors to be composed into his obituary. Lists for the funeral director. Lists of who wanted what, lists of errands and details, the lists went on and on.

On the third day, before my appointment with the attorneys' office I realized that I was exhausted and my ankles were swelling at an arming rate. Dad always said, "It can't be all work and no play."

I postponed the appointment until later that afternoon and located all the important documents: my father's will, his birth and death certificates, his marriage and divorce papers and my adoption papers. Then I waddled out to the front porch with a tall glass of lemonade, and put on Dad's favorite Gershwin CD. Dad liked to say that Gershwin made a lady out of the blues.

As I read through the papers I realized that his commitment to me never wavered, even when his marriage to my mom ended. The will stated that he had left it all to me, all the responsibility, all his worldly possessions -- everything.

I cried.

Somehow, I got through the funeral and the tiny person inside of me seemed content to hold on a while longer as I strove to balance accomplishing the tasks with rest.

It took several weeks to wrap things up. The last thing I sorted through was a large steamer trunk. It contained every poem, every story, every card and scribbling I had ever given my dad. He had saved it all. He even kept the raging rebellious adolescent letter I wrote that declared he was not my dad. Neatly clipped to it were my apology and a thank you letter for all the love he had shown me. Next to the trunk was a box filled with paper, an assortment of pens, a big red journal and a letter from Dad. The notebook was to be my Christmas gift. In a small box I found his Bronze Star medal and his Silver Sobriety Coin.

The day before my departure back home, the doorbell rang. A scruffy looking guy hung on the screen door, looked me over and announced he was "family." It was obvious he hoped to find himself mentioned in the will. Then he asked, "You must be Ronnie's step-daughter?"

I said that I was not.

I was his daughter.

I am his daughter!

Then, suddenly, I understood what dad had really been saying to me all along.

Precious gems like:

"I want you to use your gifts."

"My lessons were designed to bring out your best."

" I'd do anything for you."

"You are my daughter and I will always be your dad.

"I love you."

Two days after I arrived back home my doctor insisted that I get to Anchorage -- immediately. I should have been terrified.

However, when I was loaded into the helicopter and medevaced away, I was not afraid. I was sure I heard Dad say that my Father was looking out for me. Patrick was born two days later; I know Dad would have been proud of him too.

I am proud to say that I am daughter of 1st Lt. Ronald E. Oila, a veteran of the Vietnam War. I love you and I have not forgotten you Dad.

Jacki Michels still loves baseball and once she was even accused of being graceful. Every now and then, she gets a hankering to scribble out a story, especially while she is listening to the blues ...

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