The Start


January 13th 2022

The visual part of the project starts.

Last night I dove into the pile of important items that are currently stored at my house. The items that we didn’t want to leave in the storage unit, in case there was to be a break-in at the unit.
I was on the hunt for a few more things to represent my father better. I wanted to add a gun from his collection to the painting, I also was looking for a bolo (string tie), some antique coins and something to represent us kids.

None of what I started searching for turned out to be the direction I went in.
The gun I was looking for was one of his military weapons. After going through the entire collection of guns, it turns out he had sold the ones he had acquired from the Vietnam era. So then what, my first reaction was to add none. After sleeping on it, I realized that in my search the day before I had pulled out the two photo boards from the funeral and looked over a lifetime of photos. There was one gun that appeared in a couple of photos. You see while he may have owned these weapons, he was not a big user of his arsenal. The thrill and fun of hunting deer and fowl was totally gone after being in Vietnam he once explained. “Once you have hunted down and killed another human being, you never forget doing that. I don’t enjoy hunting anything down anymore.” The only reason he used a gun was for target practice or to kill vermin at work or at home. That was the gun that I dove into the pile to find the next morning. I found a Savage 12 gauge pump action shotgun. The gun that he used in his job for years to keep the black birds out of his wild rice.

Another item I went searching for was a string tie or bolo. He had a bunch of them, but while looking at the photo displays from the funeral I realized there was not one photo of him with a string tie. That was something I thought he wore a lot. It turns out that memory was wrong. He did have string ties, but he rarely wore them. So, I did not bring one of those long to add to the painting.

Next on my list was trying to find some antique money that he had. That was buried way in the back of the pile under tons of other boxes. I decided that taking apart the whole pile just for that, was not what I wanted to deal with. I let that idea go. He enjoyed collecting the coins, they were not family items that had been passed to him. He would find them at swap meets and other places. He just enjoyed collecting coins.

Finally, the big item on my list. Finding something to represent us kids. Something in threes. I thought of lots of things, but all of them felt like they took away from the items that represented him. In the end I got out three brass casings from the bag of casings they gave to me the day of his internment. I thought of it as symbolizing the three of us saying goodbye to him that day.

I packed up my items and we dropped them off with Charles. He was thrilled to see us and to show us the progress he was making with setting the display together and getting things figured out. He had a display area started and he had the uniform propped up and displayed and he was most of the items for the display, on the display table with the flag. The gun was going to add a new dimension. It was exciting to see. Charles was working with the local military base at getting all of my father’s proper metals and buttons. My father had a framed ribbon display a 5 by 7 item and when Charles opened that to take the ribbons out and put them on the uniform, he found a drawing of a rabbit that my mom had done years ago. I bought it home with me. Charles was able to get a plate to put the ribbons on and it looked so beautiful.

As we were talking about the layout and the project. I was just taking it in the pieces, the space and working with Charles. I added into the box his work gloves. My father was a hard-working man. Other than us kids my father’s world was about his job and value to his work. Those work gloves represent how important that was for him. Being able to talk about this complex and deep man that was my father. A very shy, loud laughing, kind and reserved man. Each time I we meet, and we move this project ahead I get to grieve, laugh, cry, forgive and learn. All of that is healing to me, to look at and celebrate the man that he was, the sacrifice he made to his country and his community. The more I talk with people who were coming of age during the Vietnam war era, the more I can see that there were no good or easy answers. There were just the cards you were dealt and the bad and bad choices to be made. My father was signed up for the Army, because his draft number was going to come up quickly and he knew it was better to enlist than to be drafted. It was never his dream or goal to be in the military, to have to kill people to watch his friends die and now fifty years later it was his defining moment and shaped the rest of his entire life. I celebrate the man that he became and how he enfolded that experience into his day-to-day life. The flag being one of those ways he connected with that and honored those we served with. This project based on that flag really represents the man I knew.