Saturday, November 07, 2015

Sadness and stories

My Father passed away a couple of weekends ago.  He rode home in an ambulance
for hospice care, then died the next day.

It only hit me later that my father's stories about how his father died were similar.
My father moved to New Orleans as a boy from the country in Avoyelles Parish.
They were sharecroppers there, but due to the depression they lost the farm they were
on and moved to New Orleans where there were jobs available as world war 2 was
beginning.  My grandfather had Tuberculosis, and he passed away when he was 42
and my Father was only 12 years old, but he didn't want to die in the hospital in the
city, and they paid for an ambulance to take him from New Orleans up highway one
to Moreauville in Avoyelles Parish, where he passed away.

My father apparently always had a fear that he would die when he was 42, and
strangely enough when I was a boy and heard the story about my grandfather, I
was afraid that he would die when I was 12 years old.  Events don't repeat exactly,
but things do seem to echo down from the past.  (I was tremendously relieved
when I became a teenager and nothing bad had happened.)

Because my Grandmother was in debt to pay for that ambulance, they had to rent
out rooms or at least beds to people working in the war factories in New Orleans.
My father and Uncle Garner were in a house that was full of beds, most of the people
that were staying there worked at a cardboard box factory, others worked at Avondale
shipyards across the river (my Aunt's husband was one of those).  Enough people were
staying there that they had to hot-bunk, and they were paying for a bed and meals.

My father worked as well.  He worked as a paper boy for the Item (or maybe the
states-item, now the paper is the times-picayune-states-item), and he didn't start learning
english until they had moved to New Orleans.  He told one story of how he met
Carlos Marcello.  He was standing on a street corner selling papers, but it was raining
so hard, like a "cow pissing on a flat rock" that his bag of papers were mostly mush.
A young well dressed guy came out of the corner bar and offered to buy all of his ruined
papers, the young Marcello was carrying the take from the slot machines in the bar
and it was a bag of coins.  He told my father to reach into the bag of quarters and grab
as many as he could hold with both hands.  That was several dollars more than the cost
of the ruined papers and was enough of a windfall that when the news showed Mafioso
Carlos Marcello on trial my father responded with that story.  He couldn't be such a
bad man.

My father also worked at a pharmacy (all of this happened uptown, close enough to still go
to St Aloysius high school on Esplanade),  The pharmacist was willing to pay my
father's way to Tulane to study to become a pharmacist, but the family needed money
and he enlisted in the Navy instead at 16 by fudging a birth certificate.  I don't think
it mattered much anyway, he had already graduated high school, H.S was only to the
11th grade at the time.  He should have gone to Tulane, he was smart enough that
he was a good student even though he had just learned english as a teenager.

My father served around the world in the seabees.  In Guantanamo bay Cuba, Trinidad,
morocco, Newfoundland, Spain, as a recruiter in the USA in Northwest Louisiana and
Virginia, at bases in Norfolk and Providence, RI, and finally in Jacksonville fl.

He retired there on a disability after 20 years and reaching Senior Chief Petty officer (E-8)
We were always told growing up that he had emphysema due to smoking and sandblasting without breathing protection in Spain.  Just in the last year we learned that it wasn't emphysema that he had, but while he was in Spain there was an accident where an idiot moving some gas cylinders filled with Chlorine gas dropped them off
a forklift.  One cylinder hit the edge of a concrete pad and sheared off the valve, gassing
everyone in the warehouse and killing a couple of spanish workers and injuring several
other people including my father.   It was classified due to that fact that they were working
there as part of the Palomares nuclear bombs that were lost when a plane crashed.
One was lost at sea, and that one was part of the movie with Cuba Gooding Jr, the ones
on land were broken and scattered radioactive material across the area.  The seabees
were scooping up contaminated dirt and moving it, and he was injured as part of that
operation, so the idiots in the navy classified it and my father never told us about it
until 50 years had passed.  (he was honorable even to people that treated him poorly).

The Navy was good enough to send an honor guard to the funeral, with the full 21 gun
salute.  When taps played the rain changed from an occasional drizzle to a full sad downpour.

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