Carrying on the Tradition

When I am 12 in 1983 my dad is transferred to Pennsylvania and we move to a small bungalow on a military base. He is a sergeant in the US army (like a first line manager in the civilian world). Life is different here in a few ways. When we drive past the checkpoint in to and out of the base, we slow and the Military Policeman make sure we have an access sticker. He salutes my dad who salutes him back.

Life there is punctuated by bugle calls. Every morning at 6:30 AM a recording of Reveille plays – not so loud that it wakes you but loud enough that it can be heard from an open window. At 5:00 PM, Retreat plays and as the flag is taken down. At these times if you’re a uniformed service person you are to stop what you’re doing, face wherever the flag is, and salute. My dad tells me that as a civilian, I must stop, get off my bike if I’m riding it, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. Once the song is done I can resume what I’m doing. And of course at 10:00 PM, Taps plays to signal “lights out”. It’s tradition.

One day as my dad lights up a cigarette in the car on the way to the Commissary to get groceries, I say “Dad, everyone I know in the Army smokes. Why do you all smoke?”

“Really? You think that? Actually not many of us smoke. But one thing we do is drink. We all drink.”

The next day my dad’s door is closed most of the day. Even my mom is up and about by 9:00 in the morning but after lunch I notice his door is still closed.  

“Mom, why is dad still asleep? It’s almost 1:00 PM and he’s usually up before me.”

“Oh, he was feeling pretty good last night and up pretty late. He’s probably sleeping it off.” she says. “Why don’t you go wake him up now and I can make him some lunch.”

I’ve been living on an army base for a while now. I know how it works. And I know the traditions and plan to make my dad laugh by playing along with them. I go in to my bedroom, unlatch the latches on a little brown case. I take the body of my saxophone out, put the neck of it in place. I put the mouthpiece on and check the reed. It isn’t cracked or splintered. I put the mouthpiece in my mouth to get the reed wet and flexible and breathe some warm air in to it.  I put on my neck strap, hook it into the saxophone and march toward my parents’ room.

I quietly open the door and see my dad is still sleeping peacefully, mouth agape, sprawled diagonally across the bed. I take a deep breath and blow in to my saxophone. Reveille plays so loudly I expect our neighbours check their watch, confused as to what time it really is. In my head I can hear the lyrics from Cub Scouts:

I can’t get ’em up

I can’t get ’em up

I can’t get ’em up this morning;

I can’t get ’em up

I can’t get ’em up

I can’t get ’em up at all!

But that’s not so accurate. I most certainly *can* get ‘em up. Within seconds my dad is chasing me to the door wearing only a white t-shirt and stained Jockey shorts. Like a dog at the end of his chain he stops short at the door as I leave “You little son of a bitch!”

I go in my room, close the door and slowly put away my saxophone. Though it would be another four years before I would have one of my own, today I learn the meaning of “hangover”.

4 thoughts on “Carrying on the Tradition

    1. Thank you – writing these, especially from the perspective now of both a parent and child has been a really interesting journey. Thanks for commenting!

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