I Stood For Him

The ER was uncharacteristically empty.  Perhaps four or five waiting to be seen for various maladies. My dad and I were guests because he fell backwards in a handicapped van and hit his head on the way to church.

We shared a cup of hospital coffee as the TV advertised a NASCAR race. I listened to the prayer and prayed silently.

I heard the National Anthem begin. I coughed. I glanced at my dad from my peripheral vision. He was bent over in his wheelchair like he always was lately.

I stood, grabbing my coffee as not to attract as much attention. Kind of like I just felt like standing and drinking coffee.

Truth is, I had to stand.

I stood because when I was in elementary school, he would occasionally sit in the back seat with my sister and me while traveling on our cheap 3-week vacation. We would playfully annoy him until, finally he would punch us in the leg to give us a charley horse. We’d squeal with painful delight.

I stood because when I was 17-years-old and ran into another car while in an ice storm, my dad only asked if I was OK when I called.  He then sat quietly in the back seat of the police cruiser while the officer took the information.

I stood because he and my mom stayed married for almost 60 years and because he served our country in WWII for 7 years.

I stood because he had no legs.

All through my life, Dad stood for me.

When I was little, he held my hand when we walked. He seemed larger-than-life, my perfect father. When I was in middle school, I noticed that he was sometimes wrong, and I was embarrassed when he wore The Salvation Army officer’s uniform, proudly, especially when he picked me up at school. In high school, he couldn’t do anything right and knew nothing about the real world.

When I’d moved out of my house the week I turned eighteen, to a different city an hours drive away, my parents ‘surprised’ me at my apartment. They found literature that confirmed I’d had pre-marital sex. My strong mother, who never cried, cried. My dad called me a name. I told them I wasn’t sure that I had the same values that they had.

A few weeks later, when my world fell apart, I showed up at a Salvation Army Camp, unannounced. Dad was attending Men’s Camp. He didn’t know I was coming. He saw me from the dining hall, and held his arms out wide. I ran to them.

He did the mountain of paperwork to enroll me at a small methodist college in Kentucky. He believed that being there was God’s will for my life. I didn’t quite fit the ‘southern bell’ stereotype and had trouble adjusting.

I was almost expelled my sophomore year because for a joke, my friend and I left an index card note on the desk of the head librarian who I’d worked for, which stated: “There is a bomb hidden in the library. Set to go off at 11PM! This is no idle threat! I have to, I will, I must, I have.”

Trouble is, I forgot to wait for my old boss to get the note, and laugh with him. Next night, the library closed early. The bomb squad was waiting outside.

Dad thought that maybe I might need a lawyer, as he and his friend joked that I was the new Patty Hearst. Instead, I received disciplinary probation and was allowed to stay.

He stood when I made it through college, a little wiser, a little humbler. I moved to Florida, got married to a professional fisherman who stumbled through asking Dad for my hand. My dad, Major Ramon Wert married us. He also did the pre-marital counseling. His advice to Tom, “Don’t let her boss you around, and,” he added, “cut your toenails.”

He and mom were assigned to the Evansville, Indiana Salvation Army City Command. Dad ran into some problems of his own. Stress problems, health problems. I flew to see him when his world fell apart.

Mom and Dad retired early and moved three miles away from me in a mobile home park on Tampa Bay. My daughter was barely walking. A few years later, my son was born, and we spent lots of time with Grandma and Grandpa. They were precious years.

Six years ago, Mom and Dad moved in with my family of four. Over the course of those years, Dad lost both legs to diabetes. I didn’t know that day in the emergency room, that Dad only had a few months to live. I couldn’t remember the young, strong, compassionate man from years past. He’d become my responsibility.

I was tired of standing.

But I stood that day while we listened to the NASCAR race, while waiting in an almost vacant emergency room.

As Veteran’s Day approaches, I remember my father, an 8-year veteran that always stood when he heard The National Anthem, and I miss him. He stood with me when I was young, I stood with him when he was old, and now, I stand alone.

At his funeral four months later, Ray’s family and friends met to commemorate his life. The Salvation Army tags death as, ‘Promotion to Glory.’ And so it was for him.

I listened as one after another spoke of the man I’d forgotten. He played hooky at The Salvation Army School for Officer’s Training to go fishing. He took boys with absent fathers fishing and hunting. He visited people to share the love of Jesus even when they threatened his life.

My brother-in-law, Randy spoke eloquently for our family. “I’ve never known Ray’s three daughters to agree on anything. But yesterday, as we spoke of Dad’s life, they all agreed that if he were here, he’d say, ‘See, I told you I was sick.’”

And then we all stood for the playing of The National Anthem.

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