Sunday, June 21, 2009


"Arrangement in Detachment"
original oil
by Judy Westergard

I spent more than a few hours the other day going through the legal papers that Minnesota required me to keep for the seven years that followed my mother’s death. 
That seven year anniversary was this week. Settlement of bills; sale of house; disbursement of proceeds of the estate...all the dry legal papers that as executor I felt duty-bound to revisit before sending through the shredder. No surprises...except for a photograph I don’t recall ever having seen. Out of a well-worn envelope marked “John’s gravesite” fell a small sepia toned photo of my dad. Though not much bigger than an oversized postage stamp, it's a telling snapshop. Army barracks line up at a precise angle behind him. His WWII Army-issued shirt, jacket and tie are sharply pressed and buttoned. His PFC insignia is barely visible but it’s there, properly attached to his lapels. But his cap...his can I describe this? It sits jauntily atop his head at an angle that I’m sure no sergeant would have approved. His belligerent demeanor, captured forever in this tiny photo, seems to say, “I dare you.” And as I stare at this photo, snapped before I was even conceived, I wonder: Who was this man? I remember him as a dutiful parent and a hard working wage earner who made sure his family had all the things we needed: food, shelter, clothing, and many of the things we wanted: baseball equipment, ice skates, bikes.... He was a part of my life until his death 24 years ago, always there to help when he was asked. But by today's standards, the relationship was a distant one. Closeness? Warmth? That wasn’t part of who he was...maybe because dads of the 40‘s and 50‘s, at least in my neighborhood, were defined as good men as long as they were good providers. Or maybe it was something else. I do know there was another side to him, one that showed up even in his high school annual. “Turbulent” was the adjective the editors attributed to him. Could that have been the making of his darker side, the side that, as the years went on, showed up in his dependance on alcohol and even to violence? I know he loved my mother. I know he loved us kids. But I also know there’s a lot that I’ll never know. Following his death, my mother found in his dresser drawer a letter addressed to her. She shook as she told me about it. “I’ll never tell anyone what was in it. I burned it," she said. Now, seven years following my mother’s death and 24 years following my dad’s, I stare and stare at that small photo, wanting it to tell me what he wrote in that letter that he couldn’t tell her in person. Why did she destroy it? Why did she tell me of its existence if she had no intention of telling me what was in it? Of course, the real questions are: Who were these people? And why didn’t I take the time to get to know them better when I had the chance?

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