One more post about my father: Here's almost everybody's favourite war story of his (everyone except him- he preferred the one involving a truckload of rum) which I have printed here before. I have told and retold this story many times over. The version here is taken from a manuscript I have written for the kids wherein I relate as many of Dad's stories as I can remember, plus a few of my own, along with thoughts on various topics. I call it "Ruminations of a Miserable Failure" (TM) (Copyright) and this story forms the opening pages of the book:
I always knew I was under a curse, but I had to meet my wife to find out just how and why.
Let me tell you a story. One day, years ago, I was sitting at a table in my favourite pub at my university with a few friends. We were just enjoying our tea and coffee and talking about anything in general, when the topic of conversation turned to 'what our parents did during "The War"'- "The War" being World War Two. I was about to tell a favourite story of my father's, which goes like this: One day during The War, during the time he served in Italy, Dad was on patrol when he found himself in a farmer's chicken coop.
(In truth, he was probably somewhat inebriated at the time. He used to talk about getting 'bombed' during The War, and I don't think he was always referring to aeroplanes dropping ordnance.)
He looked round the coop, and the thought occurred to him: chicken would make a welcome change from the indeterminate 'meat-in-a-tin' that was normal army fare. The only issue for him was how to make a chicken or two die. Not being a farm boy, he didn't know how to wring their necks, and the only weapon he had on him at the time was the fabled Thompson submachine gun, more commonly known as the Tommy Gun. You have probably figured out already that the preferred weapon of the British military and Al Capone was designed for dispatching targets somewhat larger than a chicken. It is also, in spite of what you may have seen on television and in the movies, rather inaccurate. Firing a .45 calibre slug carries a heavy recoil, and the gun thus had a tendency to jerk up and to the right when fired. Dad used to say that where the gun really excelled was in killing cows. You aimed, more or less, at the front half of the cow, gave it a good, healthy spray of bullets, and cut what you wanted from the back half of the cow.
All things considered, it was not a good idea to open fire in the coop. But Dad, being somewhat inebriated, figured he was a marksman. He would simply take aim at the chickens' heads and pop a few off with his gun. (This simple plan failed to take into account both the gun's inaccuracy and the chickens' aversion to standing still in the face of danger.) The first few shots failed to achieve the desired results. Instead of popping their heads off, he tended to hit them square on, and the chicken would vanish in a puff of bloody feathers. Now the coop was full of flapping and squawking chickens and flying feathers. Dad fired more and more bullets, more feathers were flying, more chickens squawking. Eventually, Dad put the gun into full automatic mode and began to sweep the coop back and forth, until, from all the carnage, he had a few chickens which were still reasonably intact. That, or he gave up on shooting and took a few live ones back for the cook to dispatch. he wasn't too clear on that point. After all, it was war, and he was bombed. And so, off he went with the chickens.
As I said, this was the story I was about to tell, but, just as I began to open my mouth, the pretty woman sitting next to me, who was a friend of a friend, and not someone I knew particularly well, spoke up and began telling the story of her mother, who was born and raised in Italy, and the time her mother headed out back to feed the chickens only to find a drunken Canadian soldier standing in her coop.
She held back from the coop, wondering what the soldier was about to do, when the soldier suddenly declared war on domesticated fowl and began machine gunning her entire coop. After the avian massacre, the soldier carried off her two best laying hens. She ran to tell her father what had happened. The father, angry, cursed the soldier. "May that man's sins be visited upon his son!" he shouted.
My initial reaction to her story was: 'I'd better come up with another story.' I don't remember what story I did eventually tell. I do remember that it was in this fashion that I met my future wife.
Lastly, Dad's favourite musician was Benny Goodman. So, in honour of his day, here's Benny Goodman's Goodbye:
Goodbye for now, Dad.