When it finally happened, I wasn't even thinking about it no more. My whistling simply echoed around me in happy, ecstatic trills. But after 42 long years Daddy finally asked me: "Son, how did you ever learn how to whistle like that?"
And my heart stopped because once upon a time I would have moved mountains just to hear him ask that question. My thoughts raced backwards to that day around the hot stove with somebody whistling on the radio. "You done it, Daddy." I told him.
"You taught me how to whistle."
Well, he didn't believe it. Daddy shook his head. "No. Nobody in our family knows how to whistle, son. I didn't teach you how."
And the years were stripped away more surely than ever. "Yeah you did, Daddy. You taught me how to whistle. When we lived on Narramore ranch you told me that you had always wanted to whistle, but never learned how. You said that if I ever learned how to whistle a tune you'd give me a dollar."
He tried to remember.
He almost remembered.
And then he remembered how true it might have been.
His eyes grew misty, and mine glistened too as I continued. "Boy Daddy, I practiced for months, but my mouth just wasn't made right. All I could ever get was some piercing shrieks. I must have given up on the project a thousand times. Only, I couldn't because I really wanted to earn that dollar for you. I thought it would make you happy since you were willing to give me a whole dollar if I could."
We had to laugh at that because back then one dollar would have bought 20 ice cream cones in July and one dollar in your pocket meant 3 hours in the sun had been spent to get it.
|As our chuckles died away there was an emptiness in the room and he wasn't trying to fill it. So I did, slowly, haltingly, painfully because real men don't share things like this easily.
"So I always came back to give it another shot, Daddy. Sometimes my whistle would get a little bit better, and I'd think, Hey, this is good enough. So I'd sneak in close behind you and I would try to whistle you a tune.
"Most of the time you never even looked at me when I tried. I don't think you even heard me. You never said nothing. Never a word.
"So I'd know I wasn't really whistling, and I'd give up again. Only I couldn't. And I kept coming back to it. I knew that someday I'd be good enough to whistle you a tune if I just kept trying. I knew that someday I'd whistle a tune so good that you knowed it was a tune and give me that dollar.
"I was going to earn that dollar. And boy, many a time when I NEEDED that dollar I'd fly into practicing again even though you were a hundred miles away.
"Finally I done it."
Up on the DMZ, hunkered down in an icy Korean foxhole I whistled a real tune. That whole winter, when I was shivering the most and fighting to stay warm on guard duty I dreamed of the day I got home when I could strut my stuff in front of you, Daddy.
"Being your first born son wasn't ever easy.
"But even then I never quit practicing because I knew that whistling had meant something important to you once and just maybe you was feeling a little pleasure those times when I whistled near you.
I felt like whistling for God.
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