Serving my Dad breakfast

By Dale Brian Hall, VA Medical Center, Chillicothe, Ohio

Ten Days Ago…I just finished serving my dad breakfast. He had biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs.

He said he was originally from Dearborn, Mich. I told him I wouldn’t hold that against him. His wife however, he said, was a true Buckeye from Findlay, Ohio. He met Delores at a baseball game in 1951. They were married eight weeks later and four months after that he was fighting communism in Korea.

He and his wife had no children. Being 34 years old when he was sent to Korea, he said he had considered all of the younger guys in his Army unit his kids.

That day my dad was named Earl.

My title is FSW WG3 which stand for Food Service Worker, Wage Grade 3. I work at the Chillicothe, Ohio Veterans Administration Medical Center, the first Veteran’s Bureau operated hospital in the U.S….admitting their first patient in June of 1924. Every day I prepare and serve our Veteran residents three nutritious meals. Most of the time they even say it tastes good, too.

Eight days ago…Lunch on the ward today was hectic. We had three new patients get processed right before I served chicken tenders and red skin potatoes. Being an intake ward, things can be a little off-center until the newbies get into our routine. Once I got them settled at our dining tables, they all three ate like they hadn’t been fed in ages. I certainly knew that wasn’t the case, but I was glad they liked our food.

One of the new patients was named Victoria. She said that I reminded her of her younger brother, David. I said well, he must be a handsome fella, then. She said he was, but he died a long time ago. I told her I was very sorry for her loss. She said that was OK. I told her my name was Dale and for the most part I would be the one serving her meals. She smiled and repeated that she had a younger brother named David and I reminded her of him. I said, “Thank you, Victoria.”

The other two new patients we received today was a large Hispanic man named Manuel and a very thin and pale man who said I could call him Major. I didn’t know if that was his name or his rank.

Despite the newbies, at the end of my shift I wanted to tell Victoria that I would see her later for dinner. So, after I cleaned my area and put on my coat, I walked over to where she was sitting in her wheelchair. I smiled at her and tipped her a little wave. She waved back and said, “Bye bye, David.”

I came back to work today after two days off and I found out that ‘my dad’ had died last night. His name was Leon and he was a Vietnam Veteran from Columbus who had lost his right leg below the knee to a Viet Cong land mind. His son, he said, was named Virgil and the last he had of him he was a heroin addict living on the street in the Short North area of Columbus. We had talked before about music, (Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles), Art, (Jackson Pollock made his head hurt), and the fact that the Cleveland Browns always seemed to need a new quarterback. I truly enjoyed our talks. Leon had been 70 years old. I tried to remember exactly what the last thing we had talked about was, but, try as I might, I couldn’t remember. I just hope it had been something at least a little comforting to him.

It has been three years since I lost my real dad. I took him to urgent care because he thought he had a pulled rib muscle or maybe a hernia, but turns out what he really had was lung cancer. That spring I learned new word combinations, thing like PET scan and surgical survivability. My dad was a former SeaBee in the U.S. Navy, but he rarely talked about those days. One time, I found a picture of him clowning around with his Navy buddies in a tropical setting; he looked so young and fit. He death certificate says he died of non-small cell carcinoma, but what really killed him was the chemo and the radiation therapy. He started cancer treatment a man who would work in his garden and enjoyed bass fishing, but within a couple weeks his hair turned white and wispy and all his strength was gone. Soon he couldn’t get out of bed. My father, James Robert Hall, was diagnosed with lung cancer during the first blooms of April and died with the first killing frost of November.

Two days ago…During dinner today, J.D., an 85-yr. old former Marine sergeant, knocked over his cup of milk creating a white lake on the table he shared with Manuel and Victoria. I could tell he was embarrassed about his increasing lack of motor control. Smiling, I grabbed towel and attack the mess. In a loud voice I said, “Hello! If that’s the worst thing that happens today we will be alright.” This must have resonated in some way with Victoria as she then burst into a rousing version of “Hello Dolly!” Even J.D. laughed and clapped when she was done With a grin, I shook my head…never a dull moment here.

This morning…It’s 0620 and I am sitting in my truck in the parking lot of the Food Service building at work. I usually start my shift at 0700, but I wanted t come early today to finish this story while in the environment of the VA Medical Center. It seems fitting to me. It’s dark and very foggy this morning, and even though I’m sitting within 25 yards of the residential buildings that house our long term veterans, I can barely make out the building’s shapes in the early morning gloom. Even the bright lights standing tall outside the buildings are just a muted yellow glow. Viewing this scene, it’s quite easy to imagine that an enemy patrol could slip silently out of the mist, armed to the teeth, looking to kill innocent Americans. But, I’m certain that’s not going to happen. I know that I am safe. The reason I know this is because at some time in their lives, all United State’s Veterans…some that are right at this moment struggling to put on their sweaters or needing help to slide into their wheelchairs and are housed in the very buildings that I am now looking at…raised their right hand and swore an oath to protect this land against all enemies. Know some veterans fought and some didn’t, but each and every one wrote the same blank check to the people of our country. This check was written for the amount up to and including their very lives. They each in their own way stood the line and said, “Not on my watch.”

I, as well as my fellow co-workers, try to show our gratitude and appreciation for their efforts every minute of every day.

Well, I’m going to wrap this up. I see by my truck’s dashboard clock that I need to head inside and begin my work day. It’s time for me to go serve my dad breakfast. I just wonder what his name will be.

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