Three months into my 21st year, after a three year Tour of Duty, I returned home from Kagnew Station, Asmara, Eritrea, Ethiopia, in disgrace; a whipped dog, tail between my legs.
The trip home from Fort Dix to Long Branch, New Jersey, was not an easy one. I didn't have one cent to my name. Not that it mattered; the "Joad-y Suit" I was wearing, probably made from an old Army Horse Blanket, had no pocket in which to put it if I had had one. The only possession I owned, at that moment, was clutched in my hand. It was an Army Issued "get-the-hell-out-of-here-and-don't-come-back" train ticket home.
Everything I owned in my life, right down to my shoes, was stolen from me before I left by those who had called me "friend." Too ashamed to be seen sitting in one of the coaches, attired as I was in thick flannel, I rode the entire 70 mile trip, standing on the undulating platform of the vestibule, between the "see-sawing" cars.
I watched my life race backwards, through the cinema of the open top-half of the Dutch Door, through which passengers entered and exited the train. The sound track of this virtual movie, which could quite properly be titled "Despondency," was a cacophony of monotonous "clickety-clacks" crescendoed, every so often, by the nerve-ripping "Banshee" screeches of the brakes.
As the train approached the stop I dreaded most - mine; the Conductor began to call out, in mock Italian, as was customary, because of the large Italian population: "Long-a Branch! Long-a Branch! It's-a Long-a Branch, she's-a next!" As usual, all of the wealthy passengers who lived in the "Palaces" beyond the "Servants Stop," would laugh at the daily joke, mutter incoherent sentences, under their breath, generously punctuated with ethnic slurs, such as: "Dago" "Wop" "Ginzo" "Garbage Eaters," and other demeaning adjectival words, used in those times to describe Italians, then look to see who it was who would be departing the train.
On this day, the sole focal point of this repetitive play of glares and stares, was me; a Welsh-Irish-English kid, grandson of former indentured servants to the world's wealthiest Jewish families, who lived and summered, as Royalty, in Deal, New Jersey.
I'm not exactly sure when "Long Branch" became "Long-a Branch." One day, without warning, we found ourselves living among thousands of transplanted olive-skinned Mediterraneans who grew their own grapes, made their own wine, forbid their children to play with the "Ereesh-Amedicans," placed religious statues in their yards, and spoke in a Neapolitan dialect which defied translation.
At age 17, I had tried to escape this pre-ordained existence of mediocrity and servitude by joining the Army and taking advantage of the promises of upward mobility that would be possible through the GI Bill, which was only days away from being discontinued. Now, even that little bit of hope was gone.
There were no bands to greet me, no crowds to hail a conquering hero, no friends or family to meet me and welcome me home. Instead, I took the first of 5,000 steps upon the "Path of Humiliation," and started to walk the two mile gauntlet from the station to Joline Avenue, amid the pointing fingers, laughs, and taunts and jeers. I was oblivious to all of this because all that gripped my being, at that moment, was the thought of my last steps, when I would have to stand before the man I most feared in my life - my Father.
FAST FORWARD 2016:
At 79, I am now 10 years beyond the age my father died. Although he never said he loved me or hugged me or kissed me, was out of my life during the war years, 1941-1945, which left me open to every kind of predator imaginable, and was the strictest disciplinarian of any fathers I have ever known, I miss just seeing him there and letting him know that someone he never suspected, loved him and admired all that he was, and was so proud that he was my Dad.
When he named me by his name, he must have had high hopes for me to achieve and accomplish the things that would have been rightfully his if circumstances had been different.
He never blamed me for dragging that name through the dirt and never judged me for the insane life I led. If ever there was a Prodigal Son I was it, and he was always the silent understanding father who allowed me to stumble and fall, but was always there for me when the chips were really down.
I now know how much I must have wounded his feelings and how much he must have really loved me because I know how much I love my sons. He must have felt things he didn't know how to express when he looked at me, the way I look at my sons, the way they look at their children, my grandchildren. I wish he were alive today to see that for whatever God given reason, I am the father of the sons my father deserved to be his sons.
Thank You, Lord, for accepting me as the one to bear the Cross so that my Six Sons, my Six Points on the Star of Your Beloved, David, may wear the Crown.
Friday, January 12, 2007
Posted by Steve Savage "King of the Beasts" at 1/12/2007 12:39:00 PM