John and Al in Chile

We're Glad You Made it Out

Hello Al — There's been too many of these lately, too many.

I've been to a number of these over the years — between my own natural parents, a rash of High School buddies and Aunt peg and Betsy — and I never had anything more profound to say except, "It's the cycle of life, and at a time like this, it just sucks." Then we attended Cousin Betsy's funeral, and I was really struck by something her husband Jerry said in a moment of clarity, "For a love like that, eventually you have to pay the price." I reminded Jerry of it at Peg's service, and he hadn't remembered saying it until I reminded him. I got to thinking about this later, remembering my own father who I buried in 1995, and I've decided that it's true, but over time the price we pay goes down — while the value of the gift remains the same.

Today we make a big installment.

Dad was about duty. Everyone here knows what he did in Italy on that mountain, but what's amazing is when he was 17 he'd sleep with his windows open, in only his shorts, in the cold of a Connecticut winter, so he'd be prepared when he was called. He saw it as his duty to be ready to fight the Nazis in the freezing cold. The incredible thing is, that's Exactly what happened.

And while he always did what he thought was right for everyone, he still did it his way.

In a drawer at home I have a piece of paper that reads, "On this date, June 5th, 2007, John and Al agreed on something." Now as many of you know, this wasn't always the case with Dad. He liked a good argument, and was sharp enough to argue either side of the issue. And often would.

One time, a few Thanksgivings back, Dad and I were having a loud "discussion" about something, term limits I think, and during this meandering discussion — in which I became fairly confused where we were at — it got to a moment where Dad made my point for me and I said, "Exactly. That's the point I've been trying to make!"

And he said, "What point?"

And I said, "What you just said. That's my point!"

And he stopped, thought for a while and asked, "Well, what was my point?"

I said, "I don't know."

And he said, "Well if you don't know, then who the hell does?"

About this time, Mom comes out from the kitchen and says, "Al, I asked you to take out the garbage 30 minutes ago because we've got people coming over soon."

And without missing a beat, Dad turns and says, "Dear, I was going to, but you wouldn't want me to leave your poor son-in-law confused, would you?"

This was quintessential Al — but the point is that it wasn't just to argue. It was his way of spending time with you. He wanted to learn about you, find out what you thought, help you learn a bit more, and maybe, hopefully, find some way to make the world a better place. Because in the end, that was always the goal. That was his duty.

Just about all of us here have stood at the door of a restaurant, waiting for Dad, because he stopped to compliment someone on their hat, or ask them about the loud, colorful shirt they're wearing, telling little jokes or stories, something to make some stranger laugh or smile because he truly wanted to make this person's day brighter. He was always very compassionate, very caring.

And very forgiving.

We traveled to Austria, and ended up in The White Castle in Salzburg one day. It's this big Medieval Castle that's been built on over the centuries, and one room was dedicated to the Austrian Army Mountain Division of Nazi Germany — the counterpart to Dad's beloved 10th Mountain. And I gotta say — from this American's view — it's pretty wild to see actual Iron Crosses and medals of courage or honor with the Nazi insignia on them. Well, we were looking at the displays and such when we noticed a man, about Dad's stature and age, so obviously we struck up a conversation with him. And sure enough — he had been a member of that Austrian division. In the end it turns out he and Dad never faced each other — the gentleman was stationed in a different part of the front — but they talked for a bit about what it was like for each of them, asking each other questions and such. After some time, the two former warriors just stood there, silent, sharing an understanding that only comes to those who have served their country at the tip of the spear, until finally Dad stood up straight, stuck out his hand and said, "Well, kid, that was a long time ago — I'm glad you made it out."

So Dad, I think I can speak for all here when I say — That was a long time ago. You can rest easy now. We are very glad you made it out.

© J. Mazurek 2010