According to my mother, he never changed my diaper. Whether true or not, I like to think that’s the case. He wasn’t there for me as a child, and I returned the favor years later, bitter about things best forgotten.
My dad’s excuse was better than mine, as he served in the United States Air Force, stationed in Vietnam during the mid-1960s, rendezvousing while on leave with my mother, who waited in the Philippines. I never knew them to love each other, or even like each other, and yet I was born during the Summer of Love, an irony I used to explain the flowers in my hair and patches on my bell-bottom jeans long after the onslaught of shoulder pads and Dorothy Hamill haircuts.
My sister Heather says that her first memory is of our dad leaning over her crib in his flight suit, no doubt saying good-bye or hello, as he disappeared for another six months. It’s the only thing, real or imagined, that she remembers from our parents’ marriage, over by the time she was two.
When I think of my dad in those years, I too picture him in his flight suit, but “bellowing out at the night,” dancing with me around my bedroom in Fort Walton Beach, Florida singing “I am the Lion,” (Neil Diamond) as I modeled the kimonos and senorita dresses carried back from Bangkok and Seville.
Looking back, it was a strange time, a loveless marriage in an otherwise loving household. It was all I knew, and I was okay with it for a while, my dad, handsome and full of stories from strange lands, an American soldier swooping in for a few days of well-deserved hero-worship from his daughter.
John Wolfe grew up in New Orleans, graduating from Behrmen High School and then LSU. He now divides his time between a beach house on Okaloosa Island in the Florida Panhandle and a farm at the Alabama-Florida border in north Walton County. He has a John Deere tractor, a few cows, and recently some kind of exotic chickens.
He’ll be seventy-two on the Fourth of July, still handsome, still dancing, still a hero.
Last year my sister and I broke the locks on our mother’s diaries and discovered gold. We read the story of our parents’ courtship, begun in the 1950s in Algiers at the drive-in, around the jukebox, and at LSU football games. We studied her words, picturing her jumping at the phone or running to the mailbox. We laughed in disbelief, reading how she teased her many suitors in order to make our dad jealous. From the beginning, he was the only one for her.
Shocked by this knowledge, we confronted our father:
“You were crazy about each other! How come you never told us? Do you know what it means to us that you were in love?”
Our dad smirked a bit, as he’s wont to do, and then he slowly turned the pages of the old photo album, smiling, and, at last, laughing, as he said,
“But of course we were in love. What did you all think?”
Wendy Wolfe Rodrigue (a.k.a. Dolores Pepper)
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