local_library Patrimony

by Mick O'Seasnain

Published in Issue No. 249 ~ February, 2018

I rubbed a soapy washcloth

along my father’s leg

after he fell (the first time),

lifting the leg, gnarled

like a bristlecone pine,

careful not to turn it,

preventing further damage

to the ruptured plantaris tendon,

the swollen, golf ball-sized knot

on his left calf.

 

I was not yet thirty

and he was eighty,

older than my wife’s grandfather.

 

Most kids threw balls with their dads,

camped in the woods,

or played video games.

 

My father watched the chipmunk

on the back porch,

telling stories

about the 1920s,

the Great Depression,

and war.

 

Stories of my great grandfather’s journey

to Ellis Island with his three brothers.

one returned to Ireland,

one went west, lost to all,

two settled in Cleveland.

They catered to the Irish thirst,

running whisky even during prohibition,

wit and banter and poetry shaped the beloved pub.

 

The story of my grandparents,

my orphaned grandmother with a mysterious past

whose whispers of Native American heritage

were dangerous in a white world.

The untimely death of my grandfather,

a promising attorney whose political success

was tapped by my great grandfather’s trade.

The loss of the family house, their fortune.

of my grandmother surviving as a widow,

of one hockey stick and one candy cane

for Christmas on a good year.

 

Stories of his brothers,

my deceased uncles,

storming the beach of Normandy

and surviving the Battle of the Bulge.

Infantry and paratrooper.

Land and air.

 

Uncle Jack came back broken, shrapnel ridden.

doctors telling him, “You’ll never walk.”

Sixteen months later, he defied them,

not for spite, but for persistence of will.

His story was like a legend,

his legacy, the stuff of mythical heroes.

 

Uncle Jim came back untouched

but unhinged,

obsessed with General Patton

whose push saved the thirteen left in his company.

the remainder laid to rest overseas,

but Jim’s eyes carried 237 memorials, always.

He drank for them.

 

Dad told stories of years after the Great Wars,

of working on the railroad

for his college tuition,

$146 for the academic year.

Hard and heavy memories.

 

Cold, raining battle stories

of Josh and Chuck,

with unpronounceable names,

from the Korean War.

Two boys, entrepreneurs,

who paid for Dad’s cigarette ration.

He gave them soap, food, all for free.

They insisted on paying for the cigarettes.

He asked, “Why pay? I don’t smoke.”

Through smiling eyes, they answered,

“We sell black market – triple.”

He never snubbed their kindness.

When they ran away, they told him,

“It’s coming. Be careful!”

before the push back

to the 38th parallel.

 

I asked Dad

If he killed anyone in war.

That was when he was quiet,

he whispered, “I hope not.”

On the back porch,

on his bed,

and at the kitchen table,

he told his beads,

with closed eyes and hard pressed lips,

what he would never breathe aloud.

 

Then there were tales of the changes

that time produced as it raged forward.

Of wallpaper they washed from coal furnace residue

which gave way to steam heat.

Tales of riding trolley cars

through the streets of Cleveland,

of pennies used to short out the fuse boxes of neighbors,

And the rise and fall of Euclid Beach park,

scrapped for war metal.

 

Stories of the first Xerox machine,

Uncle Bob held the prototype

over Dad’s desk,

revealing the miracle

that would replace ditto and mimeo.

 

Life and love,

sacrifice and uncertainty.

 

These tales,

these legends,

these stories

played more vividly

than historical documentaries in the classroom.

 

My father was the record

of significant stories, forgotten moments,

a time unknown

to the sons and fathers throwing balls,

roasting s’mores,

or staring at screens.

 

Hardships forged a work ethic,

long suffering edified hope.

Raising me outside of my generation

to see and listen and tell.

account_box More About

Mick Ó Seasnáin is a Teaching Consultant for The National Writing Project at Kent State University and an English Language Arts and Composition Teacher for the University of Akron Wayne College and Edgemont High School; he holds a B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University and an M.A.T. from Miami University. His works have been featured in the Ohio Journal of English Language Arts (OJELA), Ohio Teachers Write (OTW), Literary Orphans Journal, The Legendary Literary Magazine, Up the River: A Journal of Poetry, Art, & Photography, Teachers of Vision, and MidAmerican Fiction & Photography. Mick and his wife live in Wooster with their three children.