Snapshot: Cheeky sharpshooter – my dad in the Marines
Dressed to the nines in crisply ironed Marine blues, my 21-year-old daddy dons the same butter-wouldn’t-melt grin I’d meet 12 years later. Born near the dawn of the Great Depression in the American deep south, he quickly learned he had to work hard and pinch a penny till it squealed if he was going to escape poverty. Perhaps his deep respect for the Marines, coupled with the need to provide a comfortable life for his young family, Oscar Richard Fletcher, Jr resorted to extraordinary measures to gain entry to the US Marine Corps.
Blind in his left eye because of a childhood accident, Daddy memorised the eye chart to pass the physical. He went on to achieve an excellent score for marksmanship, so must have thought for a time that his visual deficit would remain a secret. Riddled with flaws like anyone else, my father made mistakes and even broke my heart a few times. Despite the imperfections, I rarely questioned his love or doubted he would move heaven and Earth to provide for his family.
One day during target practice, another soldier’s rifle accidentally butted my dad on the left side of his head. The military doctor sadly informed him that he was now permanently blind in his left eye, and would be issued an honorary medical discharge. When I recall this, I can’t help but beam with the same cheeky grin my daddy displays in the photo. I’m sure he was devastated to be discharged from the Marines, but I’m sure he was busting a gut to tell the distraught doctor that he’d been part blind since he was poked in the eye with a window screen at the age of five. After his military escapade, my dad went on to be an insurance salesman, cross-country truck driver, owner and operator of a service station and technician in a sewage filter plant.
Unfortunately, this 6ft 2 southern gentleman with a drawl as slow and thick as molasses on a winter morning, would die in his sleep of a heart attack at the age of 52. I was 20 at the time and just a few months earlier had helped Daddy prepare for his chemistry exam at the plant. He scored 100% on the test. As I was just getting to know my father on an adult level, I feel a bit cheated that we lost him so soon. I’d begun to recognise my father’s keen intelligence, and that he could have gone on to achieve an advanced degree and high-paying job if he’d had the same opportunities as me.
I’m 54, so have already lived two years longer than my dad. If he’d known he would die at such a young age, would he have taken a bit more time off? Most of his life, he worked six days a week, often for 12 hours a day.
To anyone else, this is a photo of an ordinary US Marine, but to me, Daddy is one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met. I’m filled with pride and sadness when I look at the photo of this young man with his whole life ahead of him. I still miss him every single day. I’m so fortunate to be your daughter.
Playlist: The agony of Cyndi Lauper for my family
“That’s all they really want / Some fun / When the working day is done / Oh girls, they wanna have fun / Oh girls just want to have fun”
What teenager who grew up in the 1980s doesn’t remember this song? As an 11-year-old, I thought Cyndi Lauper was amazing. After all, she had pink and orange hair! As a child, I had always been taught to be respectful, to have manners and to toe the line. And here was this strong, independent woman who didn’t seem to have a care as to what others thought of her. My mother wasn’t very impressed – with her – or with the song.
“Sounds like a cat being strangled,” was her take on it.
I thought otherwise – and chose to have it blasting out on my record player at every opportunity. I seem to remember it causing the odd row, with Mum often shouting up the stairs, “Will you turn that racket off!”
Over the years, as I grew up and then went on to start a family of my own, I didn’t think about Cyndi too much, even though I heard Girls Just Want to Have Fun on the radio now and then.
It was a song I was to share with my teenage daughter – whether she liked it or not – when she, my husband and I went to Florida recently.
International Drive, or I-Drive, is the city’s main tourist strip, is part of Florida we got to know very well, and we would often catch the I-Ride Trolley (a bus that travelled up and down I-Drive all day stopping at various points along the way). What has that got to do with Girls Just Want to Have Fun? Well, they play the song on the trolley – over and over again.
My daughter coped well at first. Then after hearing it a few times, her face took on a sort of grimace. “What the hell is this song?” she said. “Who on earth likes something like this?” And “Why on earth can’t they stop playing it and play something else!”
I think I looked a little hurt; I was sure there were songs she thought were fantastic that in years to come, she’d cringe at. Not that I was cringing at Cyndi. How could I? It was Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
By the end of a fortnight’s holiday, the grimace had turned to looks of anguish and of someone undergoing the worst torture possible. She survived, especially when I pointed out to her that there were far worse songs of the 80s. I may have to play her The Birdie Song by the Tweets sometime …
We love to eat: My gran’s jam sandwiches
2 slices of white bread (per person)
Strawberry jam (preferably homemade)
Butter one side of each slice of white bread. Spread one buttered side with strawberry jam. Place other buttered side face-down on to jam to create sandwich. Cut into squares and serve with tea or orange squash.
When I think of my gran’s house, my overwhelming feeling is one of happiness. She lived with my grandad (who we called Granf) in an end-of-terrace council house in Bower Hinton, Somerset. It was a place where even my dad seemed to relax – spinning me around as we danced to old rock’n’roll 45s on my gran’s multi-stack record player.
Granf, though, was a serious man who took no messing. He liked nothing better than to smoke his pipe, watch the horses on the telly, and fuss over his fat jack russell terrier, Sindy, who he would often feed his cups of tea to from his saucer.
My gran was a jolly woman, quite mischievous, with white curly hair and “plump” (I once made the mistake of asking her why she was so fat, to which she immediately replied, “I’m not fat. I’m plump.” Lesson learned). On many levels, she was the embodiment of Terry Pratchett’s Nanny Ogg – except my gran’s cooking was far less experimental, sticking to the traditional meat and two veg variety.
The exception was Sunday teatime which, unlike other meals that we had to eat at the table, we could eat on our laps. Sunday tea at my gran’s consisted of sandwiches made with the leftover meat from the Sunday roast (and, sometimes, tinned ham), jam sandwiches, homemade buns, and either a homemade jam sponge or boiled fruitcake. This was all served with tea for the grownups and Tupperware beakers of orange squash for us kids.
When I grew up, I often tried to recreate my gran’s strawberry jam sandwiches but could never get it quite right. As she had died of cancer, she was no longer around to ask. So this led to some experimenting in the kitchen. Thinking it was the jam, I piled it higher and higher to recapture the jamminess of them. It never worked. Then I had a brainwave – instead of buttering just the one slice, I buttered both. Eureka! I had recreated my gran’s jam sandwiches. It wasn’t the jam, after all. It was the butter.
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