Fly the ocean in a silver plane,
See the jungle when it’s wet with rain,
Just remember till you’re home again,
You belong to me
True enough; you were for one brief, shining moment, a tadpole holier than moi. Even though my heart was often in the right place, my feet, for some reason, were often elsewhere. You would likely have found me as an eager young acolyte, basking in the empyreal glow of the Mighty Wurlitzer, wide-eyed and reverent before the tabernacle as the spinning wafer teased out a piece of paradise itself. Unlike over at St. James church, I could get to heaven on a buffalo nickle.
It was our true sanctuary in those days, the kind of place where holiness was measured by the hearts of its brethren. We never had to be coerced to attend services; we volunteered, often begged to attend; and if I’m not mistaken, we may have even occasionally had to be ushered out (had we been too devout, too penitent?). No surplice and starched collar here; we were received as God’s children just as we were, and if anyone ever judged us, they always seemed to err on the side of the angels. Besides, their cross was a lot prettier; it had an eagle on it with arrows in its talons. It was the kind of cross a boy could brag about. You know what I’m talking about, Bob; the home of the bravest of souls, the Sheehy-Palmer VFW Post, #6776.
It was right next door; we could see it from our bedroom window. We would fall asleep to the sound of music and laughter, and then roll out of bed in the morning to load up our wagon with their deposit bottles before you could say ‘banana split’. It was where we could play darts if we wanted to, which could be dangerous at times: I remember a dart sticking out of my wrist as I reached up to pull mine off the board. Was that you, by the way?
I believe the Post was named after Shirley Connell’s brother, one of the brave souls who died in WWII. Shirley, who lived across the street, happened to be my second love (my first was Dodo Einstein, who worked the soda fountain at her father Albert’s pharmacy; she used to ply me with root beer floats to win my heart; it worked). I remember sitting at her dining room table for hours tapping away at her gleaming black Royal typewriter, creating fantabulous stories over which she would then feign delight, melting my tender heart. I could never seem to win her away from her husband Tom, though.
Looking back, one can see that it must have been difficult for Dad, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, to return to the States and resume a normal life as though nothing had changed, after living through horrors we can only imagine. That is why we lived within spitting distance of the Post; his war buddies were the only people who understood, and the VFW Post was indeed their sanctuary, and became for us, our home close to home.