By Louise Ure
He’s been on my mind a great deal this week, this man I didn’t know well.
He was one of the soldiers we’ve been remembering this weekend. One of those turned inside out by war.
He died in the same year Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, although when I think back now to 1968, it is Kennedy I think of more often.
I don’t have any pictures of him, but that’s not surprising. He wasn’t around much, and when a camera came out he was around less.
William Grant Ure was my father, and one of those soldiers who did not fall in war, but who nonetheless returned so damaged that he was unrecognizable to any who knew him before.
He was thirty-two years old and already a practicing physician when he married my mother in 1941. Sadly, the army wanted him that year, too. My parents boarded a train immediately after the wedding ceremony. He got off in Fresno to report for duty. My mother continued on to the honeymoon suite at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco and spent the weekend by herself.
Of course the army needed doctors. But what did they do with this Ear, Nose and Throat specialist from the desert? This man who had single-handedly reversed the course of tuberculosis epidemics among American Indians in Arizona and New Mexico? They sent him to the Aleutian Islands to act as the only psychiatrist to 4000 desperate men on a barren, frigid rock for four long years.
He came home a changed man.
To his credit, he honored the marriage he’d entered into only hours before his departure. But that commitment came with conditions. He wanted nothing to do with life, with living, with family. He wanted to be left in peace. And he was.
They had five children in eight years and my mother raised us alone. He had his own set of rooms in the house, and only ate dinners with us three times a year – Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. I don’t remember him giving my mother a birthday present. We never took family vacations.
He was not unkind, just distant. Like a powerful, cold rain, you just had to learn to plan around him. When he walked into the backyard for a swim, you got out of the pool. If he came home from the office for lunch, you took your sandwich somewhere else. You didn’t go into his quarters without an invitation.
My mother tells me that he was a remarkable man in his youth. Tall, black-haired and confident, he played the ukulele and sang with a band on the radio. She said he had good friends and laughed easily.
By the time I knew him, he had settled for less.
Every night at ten o’clock he had a small steak he’d cooked to the consistency of shoe leather, a boiled potato, and a pitcher of gin flavored with only ice cubes. He’d ricochet off the hallway walls as he returned to bed.
I thought all families operated this way, and was stunned the first time I had a sleep over at my friend Mary Ellen’s house. Her father sat at the table with us! And he even passed me the bread! I didn’t know how to react.
Like Robert Kennedy, my father died in 1968, and like Robert Kennedy he was assassinated. Not by a lone gunman, but by all the malevolent powers of war and loneliness and grief that had piled up in his heart in 1941 and 1942 and 1943 and 1944 on those cold, dark islands. He was not much older than I am now.
My mother was at a PTA meeting that night with the youngest of us. My three elder siblings were off on dates, or a science project, or just hanging with friends. I was home alone with him.
I heard him choking, and got up and knocked on his door to see if he was okay. No answer.
God help me, without permission I didn’t go in.
He got his wish. He was left in peace.
I won’t ask for equally sad memories, dear Rati friends. Just tell me how you spent your Memorial Day Weekend, or who you were remembering this year.