I Can’t Remember
I can’t remember being the one to blow my father’s biggest dirty little secret when I was three years old, but I have been told I was. I was a precocious child. My big sister Sally loved to play school with me so I knew all my numbers (after all, there are only 10) by the time I was three. I also knew all of my letters and had memorized several little books so well, word by word, that people thought I could actually read.
Joe T. Smith, my father, was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne in World War II. He jumped on Omaha Beach, northern France, on D-Day. Over 80 per cent of his battalion was lost, many of them simply shot out of the sky. He himself sprained both of his knees upon landing and was hit by shrapnel in his left calf and left forearm that could never be removed.
He dragged himself to a barn. When the grateful French family discovered him, they nursed him back to health at great risk to themselves. Their beautiful daughter snuck meals out to the barn. One day she said to him, in halting English, “Monsieur? May I tell you sumsing? That leetle mustache makes you look like Adolph Hitler. I ope I have not offended you.” He asked her for a razor and a mirror and shaved the mustache off, never again to darken his upper lip. When he was well, he returned to his battalion. He never forgot the girl and her family’s courage.
My dad had some cavities in his teeth when he went in the service. Being wartime, the US Army/Air Corps’ solution to this problem was: they pulled all his teeth and gave him dentures. His social security number was tattooed on them. Better than dog tags.
When he returned home and married my mother, he told nobody he had false teeth. He slept with them in, and secretly washed them behind the locked bathroom door every day. Nobody knew his secret for 10 years, and my Mom always bragged to her sisters what a sweet kisser Joe was. Minty fresh.
Until the day he was dawdling me on his knee, and I looked up into his mouth. “Daddy!” You have numbers in your mouth!” I exclaimed. I loved numbers then.
“No I don’t!” he said, embarrassed, laughing in the kids-say-the-darndest-things kind of way.
“Yes! You do! 527-35-2258!” I squealed, triumphant.
“Joe? That’s your social security number. What’s going on?” my Mom said. But I can’t remember.