The front door was open and it framed my view as he came on crutches up the walk. My cousin Carol was behind him. He wore a green dress uniform. I had never seen a real soldier before today. His left leg was missing up to his knee and his pant leg just hung there, empty. It made me nervous. And a little scared. After all, I was just a little girl. When my father saw him, he just said softly, “Oh my.” and hung his head. When they reached the door, my father opened it and let the soldier inside our home. He was big and handsome with shiny jet black hair and dark brown eyes. He called my father, “Sir”.
“Hi Uncle George! This is Jerry, my fiance’!” Carol was all smiles and gave us all big hugs. Jerry took a seat in my father’s club chair and Carol cuddled up next to him on the arm. He took off his hat and placed it on his right knee. Now you could really see that shiny jet black hair and dark brown eyes.
He was from Oklahoma and spoke with an accent I had never heard before. I really enjoyed hearing him speak. But I didn’t understand the things that he and my father were saying. Words like, Vietnam, landmines, bomb blasts, Hanoi. I kept looking at that empty pant leg where a leg and foot ought to be. Especially since he was so big and tall and his other leg was there with a big black shiny patent leather shoe. Almost as shiny as his hair. Carol kept running her fingers through it as he talked, looking at him adoringly. She was in love, that much I understood. I had always known her to be a feisty, headstrong girl, and now she was a confident woman in love. She didn’t say much until they started talking about the wedding. She spoke fast in her Jersey accent and looked at my mother most of the time. Then they told us they were going to live in Oklahoma. She would find a job and Jerry would race greyhounds. Greyhounds? Now, this made no sense to me either. We went to New York City on a Greyhound bus. How and why would he race them with only one leg? Well, they explained that greyhounds were a breed of dog and there were dog races in Oklahoma and he was going to raise them. Oh. Kinda like a farm, for dogs. Okay. In my young mind this was an answer.
When it was time for them to leave, they said their goodbyes and we watched them drive off, Carol at the wheel. I would never see Jerry again. They did just as they had planned. They also adopted two children and Carol ended up owning a diner. I always thought my cousin Carol was an extraordinary person. Hard working and strong. A lot of power in a little package.
My father never did answer my questions about Vietnam. He said I wouldn’t understand. Now that I am older than he was then, I understand why he couldn’t explain it to his little girl. He didn’t want me know. And that I understand.