Monday, November 23, 2015

Hallelujah Life: Dead Reckonings of Time, Father, and Me

MY FATHER, A HERO. Who am I in relation to my Father, a man who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his brave leadership in the Korean Conflict when he was 24 years old and went back to war again in Vietnam and earned the Silver Star? Here in this photo, Dad appears to have said something humorous to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who has just awarded him the Medal of Honor in January 1954.
Hallelujah for Life! Hallelujah for calculations, recalculations and positions from our past from which to estimate where we stand currently in our lives! As the 12th anniversary of my Father's death washes over me, I stand fixed, anchored in being a 57-year-old woman, but also craving a reassessment of who I am in relation to my Father, Edward R. Schowalter, a complex man of considerable depth, a war hero, and someone who wasn't always easy to live with.

IN THE HEAVENS OBSCURED BY CLOUDS. Dad and Mom moved to Auburn, Alabama, from Ft. Benning, Georgia, after he retired from the Army. During that time, he made the yard surrounding the front and back of our house, an extravagant rose and camellia garden.  Four of the five of us were in our respective universities while he planted 100 different varieties of roses and got to know local horticulturists who helped him decide to grow different varietals of camellias, which were in bloom in November 2015 when I just visited my Mother on the 12th anniversary of his death. The yard work that needed to be done, he did it himself. Here he is pictured some time in the 80's by my youngest brother Bill, methodically cutting down a pine tree in the back yard. He nailed cut pieces of board in the tree to create a ladder and then tied himself to the tree while he sawed of limbs. Dad always had a detailed plan which he executed as carefully as he could.
Using "dead reckoning" from where I was "standing" when my father passed away 12 years ago to determine where I am "standing" now, I can say that TIME softens and clouds the past. The photo above expresses the way my understanding of my Father has shifted, softened, and grown fuzzy since his death. I can state assuredly that my love for my Father has grown and deepened.

Dropping away throughout the years since his death is the agony resulting from the many conflicts we had because of our differences, or was it because of our similarities? My mother often told me that we two were alike and called me the "Apple of his eye." I'm told my blue eyes are like his.

Oh Dad! I remember you being the one to anchor me in what life was and how to go about comprehending it. The year I was in seventh grade and struggling with understanding Robert Frost's poem, "Mending Wall," you came home from your military job at Fort Belvoir and sat with me as we worked the poem's meaning out line-by-line. We had grown up with you reading poetry to all five of us kids and requiring us for a while to memorize poems to receive our allowance. When we were in high school, there were the dinners that we were asked to bring an article to the table and explain it to everyone. You loved literature and opera. I remember the times you and I sat listening to Madame Butterfly and discussed what the songs were expressing. We even had a book that explained the various opera plots.

Your great appreciation of ideas and beauty merged with your fondness for the outdoors, teaching us to shoot bows and arrows, as well as BB guns and air pellet pistols. I grew up fishing from your various boats. After we moved from McLean, Virginia, to Ft. Benning, Georgia, you bought the property on the backwaters of the Chattahoochee and baptized it "The Get Away."  Our high school years were spent there with you canoeing, water skiing, and sailboating. You knew how to "get away" when you needed to and you brought us all with you to overnight in rustic trailers and ride mini bikes on the orange dirt roads. To this day, when I cross over the Chattahoochee heading from Georgia to Alabama, I remember our days on its banks and swimming in its murky waters. Thank you for those "get away" days.

Dad's been gone 12 years now, and with "dead reckoning," I am able to view him with even more awe from where I stand now then when he was alive. He didn't share much about his emotions, which I would have gladly dived into. So much of Edward R. Schowalter's life remains a mystery. I believe he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, yet he was never diagnosed, so that interpretation remains mine in order that I might make sense of our life together. I imagine the "making sense" of who I am in relation to my father will continue for the rest of my life and the "dead reckoning" calculations will keep evolving over time.
This December (2015), I will have been married 11 years to my treasured Chiboogamoo (aka Tony Martin). The entirety of my one-and-only marriage has taken place in the absence of my father. Something to ponder. This beautiful challenging, charismatic man loomed so large in my life that I didn't even get serious about getting married until his life was almost over. I'm so glad that Dad had a chance to meet my husband, who asked him permission to marry me. Dad began given his acceptance with the words, "Well Son...."
SUMMER OF 2003. Dad didn't live to give me away at my wedding in December 2005, but he was asked by his good friend Jerry's fiance to give her away at their wedding. Dad spent weeks preparing what he was going to say so that he would remember it on the special day. Wheeling an oxygen tank down the aisle with one hand and the bride with the other, Dad achieved his goal eloquently. A year-and-a-half before his death and challenged by a lack of breath, vision, and memory, Dad persevered as he had always done in his life. You can see I was so proud of him.
THE COLONEL. I took this photo of my Father during an award ceremony at Ft. Benning, Georgia.  I thought dad looked so magnificent in his civilian clothes with his Medal of Honor, I had to capture this image. You can see my mother's skirt to his left, and I wish I had included her. When I look at Dad's large hands in this photo, I remember the comfort I always took in holding one of them. Mostly, the memories are from when I was a child. The last memory is the night before he died. I slept in a chair next to his bed and held his hand the entire night. Tears come to my eyes now as I think of that night. Time is a magnificent healer both in softening sorrow and mending hurts from conflicts and failures to understand.
In her book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit talks about two meanings for being "lost." One of them is about losing the familiar and the other is about the unfamiliar appearing. Significant deaths in our lives bring both. Here is how Solnit describes this process:

 "Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake."
LIFE IS FOR THE LIVING. This image is part of a series of work, "Hallelujah Life," that I am making to honor me, those in my life, the world, and all those who have past. This one is for you Dad! (Art by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me. What do you have to share about your "Dead Reckonings"?

Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss. --Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Thanks to Pat Martin, my brother-in-law for putting roses on my Father's grave this past November 2015. 

If you want to read more about my memories of my father and me, visit this blog, "Odyssey to Ft. Benning, Georgia, to remember and honor my father." 

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