Back Along The Way
2023 by Robert Flournoy
Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash
am thinking of an old man who lives alone in a cabin far back in the
Mountains, who on Valentine's Day, with some silver wire and pebbles
from a brook,
beautiful ear rings with no one to give them to.
the Fall of 1959 my dad was in Germany and mom, my sister and I lived
in Mobile, near my dad's brother, while we waited for housing to be
available with my dad. My neighbor, a boy my age, and I were in his
yard with his dad. His dad said (over something I have forgotten),
"I'll make you a bet for a steak dinner". This was
totally confusing to me. My dad and I didn't "bet" and he
would have bought me a steak with no questions asked if I wanted one.
only we could will ourselves to be present during a past event. But,
just one. Would you sit beside your father during a harrowing flight
over the Hump into China in 1944? Hold your mother's hand
witnessing your own birth? Relive a moment in your child's
life? How about Barbie on prom night? Well, you
change anything, you can only witness. Would most people want
to be on Calvary when Jesus was executed? Not me. I'm afraid we have
that one all wrong, so best to leave it alone. Lee at
Gettysburg, Thermopile ?
remember taking my 8th grade daughter to the mall and walking by a
store and her saying that one day she would walk in there with a $100
bill and buy some nice jeans. I remember not having it to give her
first time I saw him
sun was going down.
asked us why we were up so early
was walking, unsteady,
to his boat, headed out to sea.
smiled at that old man,
tipster who lived on our canal,
merely let him be.
would have to grow old, too,
one day understand,
he was lonely, sad,
old, you see,
remember when the traveling carnival came to the little Mexican town
near our home in El Paso and watching a very poor father looking at
the change in his pocket to see if he had enough for his little 6
year old girl to experience a ride. He didn't. I cried all night. I
was 8 years old.
remember my great uncle George taking me out to the field behind my
grand parents farm house and whistling up a Bob White Quail. He shot
it off a stump. We never found it.
father went off to Korea in 1951. I remember his cool cheek as I
wrapped my 5 year old arms around his neck as he drove home from the
airport when he returned in 1952. He kissed me on the lips
we never stopped.
remember my grade school friends playing organized football and
watching from the sidelines.
remember my grandmother wringing her hands and crying as we drove
away from her Alabama farm home headed back to Texas. Many times. I
think about it every time my son and his wife drive away back to
remember my little sister climbing into bed with me countless times
when she was so very young, escaping the violence.
remember my mother never crying, never taking away from us the hope
that things would get better. I remember her never ever bad mouthing
remember staggering through my college years, broke, depressed,
betrayed by someone I loved and was loyal to from a distance. A dozen
girls wanted sex, but it did not feel right. I have never forgotten
remember fruit hanging from trees in our neighborhood before we lost
the honey bees. I remember the whistle of Bob White quail in my woods
before they too were lost, along with the fire flies. The mosquitoes
are not fazed.
remember the hard copper scent of African cotton picker's sweat in
rural Alabama. I picked with them (but not for long)
remember the striped bass my mom caught off the jetty in the
Chesapeake Bay. No, what I remember is her smile.
try try try to remember where it all went wrong, and why, and how it
has shaped my life since I was 13 years old. I can't.
remember the births of my children and grand son and have a very hard
time understanding how long ago that happened.
remember my first combat assault, hanging out the door of a Huey in a
cloud of dense smoke and the door gunner's brass stinging my neck.
remember Colorado and Montana before they were ruined by noise and
congestion, above the timber line fishing a crystal clear lake with
an elk bugling below me, not wanting the day, the magic to end, and
walking off the mountain with a zillion stars to light the way.
remember Denny and Shirley.
remember rocking in my new born son's rocker, just staring at him
breathing, hugging Teddy Ruxpin, petrified that he would not wake up.
And my 7 year old daughter running down the driveway when I got home
from work, falling down and skinning her knees, a knife in my heart.
remember when it dawned on my son that I was just a man. I guess I
thought I could stand up on that pedestal forever. I could if given
remember Sp4 Joe Hernandez, my RTO, his quiet loyalty, never a
complaint, and the look in his eyes when I handed him my M-16 and
ruck, and got on the medivac. It is impossible, even with the
internet, to find a Joe Hernandez. I have tried.
remember Mark Veranis, a small scrub on my high school football team
who relentlessly took a beating as he ran and ran and ran against our
first string defense. We chided and smirked at him. He never got in a
game. I looked for him 50 years later, and found his obituary.
remember Bronson, Alex, Steve, Tommy, David, and many others who
willingly went to Vietnam, believing, and never returning. I remember
the fireball that took the lives of an entire platoon from our
company when their Chinook went down. I try not to remember their
burned husks and what they smelled like.
remember PFC Curran straddling a 155 mm nuclear round and my quietly
telling him that he would no longer be able to achieve an erection.
The horror on his face.
was a good father, but will always remember the little things that I
overlooked. I can't stop thinking about them.
remember saying good bye to my father, two weeks into a coma. Having
not moved at all during that time, I recounted all of the good
things. He twitched.
remember Gary looking at me one day and saying, I love you, Bob. You
have been like a father to me. He was 5 years younger than me.
remember my son playing hockey and my daughter dancing. My dancing
remember the pride I felt when my son got his ROTC scholarship to
Auburn. I try try to forget the agony of regret and worry that
followed. The loneliest I have ever been.
mostly, I remember the love that has filled my heart in this miracle
Robert's story list and biography
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