One of the greatest memories I had with my Dad was when I was about ten or eleven. My Dad would always buy me toys for the beach, since we had a lakeshore cabin, and he was a great student of The Civil War and so I saw a lot of toys/replicas from that time period. Cap guns, costumes, even, little toys soldiers. Now my Dad was not big on war toys, little green army men toys were not his thing. He had lived through WWII, served in the Korean War and Vietnam was still very fresh but, in his eyes; sand toys that were also a learning tool equaled a win!
The weekend that he gave them to me I had talked him into swimming with me and as we were coming out of the water he walked past a sand castle I had made with a shovel and had covered it with these little plastic toy men. As he walked by this mound of sand I asked what he thought of my sand castle. He said that the fort was improperly fortified and when I asked how, he began showing the way it was done during The Civil War. He planted these little “red coats and blue coats” plastic men in specific spots. He showed me the water passages around around the fort, told me where the first explosions started. He even had a little army of Red Coats coming up in boats and showing me where there shells landed…did you know; some of them didn’t even detonate when they hit? They BOUNCED and THEN went off!
Years later that ONE EXPERIENCE was still in my head and some how came back for a visit, this time in high school. My Social Studies teacher was talking about the Civil War and I was in the back of the classroom, doing anything but listening and I had the term “bouncing shells.” My thoughts went immediately back to my Dad and I alone on that beach playing with the toy soldiers. When I noticed the shell pattern and the advancing war boats on my teachers board were the same that I had seen years earlier drawn with rocks, sand and snail shells! I raced home after school and when Dad got home I met him at the kitchen table and looked at him, took a breath, and said; “Red Coats Blue Coats.” He looked up at me and said , “Yes?” The next sentence that came from my mouth was just like I had heard earlier that day, “It was The Battle of Fort Sumpter, April 12th & 13th of 1861, the fort was fired on by South Carolina militia and the Fort was lost the next day. It was the first battle of the American Civil War, more importantly it was the first shot fired that started the war.”
My Dad sat there with a smile on his face and said nothing. Then, he looked down at his hands and he said, “Charlie, this is your first step into a bigger world, remember this” My Dad, to the day he died, called me Charlie when he was kidding around or I had gotten something on him, and I knew, at that moment, I had done something to make him happy, I might even say proud.
We never spoke of that time again. My Dad and I had a “interesting” relationship. But for years to come, any time that I came to a decision-making spot in my life and my Dad gave me his thoughts on it, if it was important he would put at the end of his sentences, “…just like Red Coats and Blue Coats.” As if to say, “Pay attention here Charlie, there is more going on here than you think.”
The last time he and I played on that beach together was with MY son, Raymond III. He was 4 and was playing with some of my toy trucks in the sand and we needed to repair it, I will save the details of THAT story for another time but, my Dad and I did the repair on the truck together and had a good laugh about it. I turned and looked at Dad and said, “Just like Red Coats and Blue Coats, eh?” He smiled, looked down at his hands and replied, “Yeah, Red Coats and Blue Coats …and now Yellow Dump Trucks, Charlie.”
We have the chance to make memories every day. I just wish they would come with a bell or something so that I would remember them more clearly years later!
As you go through your day today, remember, it is NEVER too late to turn things around!
Happy Father’s Day!