To: George Edward Hand III
Caution: do not read if you’re already halfway toward feeling bad.
Alan Hand was from the Netherlands. He came to New York City’s Ellis Island in 1910 by way of Hungary. His son was George Edward Hand Sr. George was a handyman about town. His son was George Edward Jr., also a handyman and odd-jobber in the city.
His wife was from the south of Louisiana, a descendant of French refugees from Canada and she never spoke a language other than French her whole life. My dad, George Edward Hand III only spoke French up until he was five years old when started going to school.
The charming Ms. Sophia Mouton, une femme j’ai jamais vue de ma vie.
French was a forbidden language in the school system, and dad was punished for speaking French there with the other kids of Creole beginnings. He quickly learned English, lest he continued to suffer punitive measures and fall behind in his studies.
Dad took French in college hoping for an easy A; he ironically flunked it and lost that credit — hated that for him.
He joined the Air Force as a young man and was the first of the men in his American family who was not a jerry-rigger and fixer-upper. Clearly, the skills of his fathers’ trades were handed down from Georges Junior and Senior; Dad was a wiz at fixing and creating with his hands. He could do anything, it seemed, my dad could and I was proudly in awe of him — he was the King!
GeoIII in his Air Force parade regalia
It just seemed to me for all the world that he didn’t really want to have children, not really he didn’t, but he made a damned commendable effort to perform the mandatory fatherly functions, the ones as outlined in all the parental tutorials and periodicals. There was even a stretch of time there where were it not for my utter insanity, I might have believed he even liked me a little bit.
My dad and I the year of my birth
He liked to bicycle on the weekends, and would typically go with friends on some relatively long distance jaunts. He took to bring me along on the rides for a spell:
“You need to turn in early, George; we are getting up early for a long ride tomorrow.”
“Okay sure, Dad… see you in the morning.”
At zero-stupid thirty he would get me up out of bed and I would stagger into the kitchen where a cup of hot tea and toast with peanut butter and jelly toast with a slice of cheese on top lay on a plate.
“What’s this, dad?”
“That, George, is a 20-mile sandwich. They are called that because if you eat one you can ride twenty miles before you get hungry again.”
“Okay, but…Why are there two of them?”
“Ah, you see that is the beauty of the 20-mile sandwich… if you eat two of them, you can go…”
“…40 miles,” I interrupted, “Yeah, I get it dad; we are riding 40 miles this morning.”
“Yes and next weekend we will ride 50 miles, boy!”
“Well… God bless next weekend. I can hardly wait, Dad.” I replied with slowly closing eyelids.
The King is Dead; Long Live the King!
He was into photography, my dad was, and he used to take me into the shed outside that he had converted into a darkroom to develop film and photos. Inside was bathed in faint red light that was of sufficiently long wavelength as to not disturb his photosensitive paper.
That shed smelled like the beauty parlor where my mom took me to wait while she could get her perms.
“Mom… why do they call this a beauty parlor?” I quizzed, looking around at all the other moms, heads enshrouded by bulbous dryers and faces burned in Cosmopolitan magazines.
“Because it’s where us moms come to get beautiful, Georgie,” she replied, smiling wistfully.
I, still scanning the room, clad in my summer shorts, careworn t-shirt, shoeless feet, and absconded by doubt, let a dutiful response roll from my uncooperative tongue: “Oh, okay… if you say so, Mom…”
“Just stand here and don’t move or touch anything, George,” cautioned my dad, the King George Edward III. I stood pressed up into a corner, my back up against the joint of two invisible walls, while my dad moved paper from stinking tray to stinking tray of chemicals: Developer, Stop Bath, and Fixer.
My mind slowly but surely drifted from the pungent thrash of photo chemicals to the pilot’s seat of an F-4 Phantom jet fighter, the radio crackling alive:
“MiG-17 Fresco at your six, Geo! Time to shake that thang!” came the warning from my wingman, as we both commenced to maneuver ourselves in the famous Jimmy Thatch weave. With luck, these North Vietnamese pilots had not seen the same episode of the Military Channel that we Yanks had watched about the Battle of Midway just days prior.
The growl of the Aim-1 filled my ear as my air-to-air missile locked onto the Fresco to my front. I released the snarling beast from its leash as it sprinted off toward the vapor trail of the MiG barely visible far off to my front. The two vapor trails met in an orange-hot ball of fury and distant “BOOM.”
How my backed itched so, as I squirmed up and down in my pilot’s seat to try to scratch it. Back in my dad’s darkroom, I felt a thing about the size of a finger on the wall behind me as I rubbed against it to scratch my back. The thing was a light switch, and the shed was suddenly drowned by the bright white flood of an 80-Watt incandescent bulb.
My dad, whose face was contorted by the sudden loss of his developing photos, turned slowly around to glare at me. Half of it was overcome by the shock at what just happened, the other half writhed in bewilderment that I would accomplish the solitary thing on the planet that would ruin his magical photo-finish. I feared for the future…
Outside under the harsh Summer sun of the day, I scratched a stick against the pavement of the street and kicked a tin can methodically down its length, no longer welcome in the man cave darkroom where the magic happened. I could return to the requiem of the Phantom jet’s pilot seat… awww, but it was just too damned hot for that!
The King is Dead; Long Live the King.
He took me to a gym one day when I was about nine years old:
“What are we doing here, Dad?”
“This is a Judo class, you are here to learn Judo,” he responded pointing to a group of boys dressed in gi performing kata. I intermingled in the group of boys who commenced to tossing me, throwing me, and tripping me… just all around whipping my ass for a good, solid Judo hour.
“So this is what it is like to learn Judo,” I lamented as the gym floor became swicker-clean from my back impacting and dragging across it. After I mopped I moped that evening into the house, and, having all the while from the gym heard a distinct scrape of something behind me I glanced back to catch a glimpse of what ostensibly had been my ass.
“What do you think? Do you like Judo? Do you want to stay with it and go back to the next class, boy?”
I snapped my head around to lock gaze with his. He almost sounded like he was giving me a legitimate choice, where most of the time when he asked me questions HIS answer was already painfully clear. He left himself open just that smidge and I jumped for it.
“No, Dad… I won’t be continuing Judo. Thank you, and thanks to the Academy.”
At eight/nine years of age I am receiving an award for reading from astronaught and future space shuttle pilot Dr. Joseph Percival Allen IV
Space Shuttle pilot Dr. Joseph Percival Allen IV. It was only at the download of this photo that I learned Dr. Allen was a IV like me.
And that was the end of my jaunt with Judo. Many years later I picked up and immersed myself in an informal bout of Okinawan Shōrin-ryū Karate, and transitioned into a formal study of Chinese kenpō, graduating to ringside fighting in full contact Karate matches. For my trouble, I gaining a modest 5-0 record on an amateur circuit.
My Dad, George Edward Hand III, was an accomplished cabinet carpenter. Knowing his way well around a woodshed he created most of the furniture in the living room of the house I grew up in. He did this on weekends at a hobby shop on the Air Force base, as the shed at home had already fallen prey to the whims of the lens.
I studied it in disbelief; how fine the craftsmanship had been, as I carefully opened and closed the doors of the coffee table, and slid the drawers open and shut on the end-tables. I could, back then, only divine the level of skill required to create such masterpieces. I certainly would never know, as there was nobody who would teach me.
My night stand that I built from hardwood cherry. On top is a HALO jumper given to me by Mr. Raymond Inabnitt (Private from my first Army duty assignment), a Teddy Bear from SOFREP sister Micky M., a flag flown over the Delta Force compound in 2001.
Many years later there came a knock at our front door, and there stood George E. Hand Jr., much to the surprise of my dad, who had not seen or heard from the man for decades. The two sat on the porch and talked for hours. My dad finally introduced me to my grandfather, who gave me a cap gun that my dad had made from wood when he was a boy my age.
Days later Grandfather died. I understood then that he had, after all the years, come to see his son and grandson, for he knew that he would soon pass on. I have not seen my Dad since the day I left for the Army in 1980. Over the years I well expected that he would finally reach out to me when the day came that he knew he too was near to pass on.
Grumpy-ass Geo Jr.
That day came but he didn’t reach out.
Look, Dad, I know you can’t see it but now I am a Master Photographer with many professional photography shoots behind me, and I even developed my own film like you used to do. Remember when I accidentally turned on the light and ruined all your photos? Yeah, that was funny.
Have a look Dad, you can’t see it, I know… but my house is completely outfitted with only fine hardwood furniture that I built by myself from the motivation you instilled in me. Remember that time I was five and you gave me a hammer and bag of nails and let me hammer hundreds of nails into a board in the backyard? Riveting times, those.
See how I have earned my Black Belt in Karate and hold a formal record in ringside matches. Dad, I didn’t learn Judo like you wanted but I accomplished this thing; what say you? I even scored a second-round knockout in the Black Belt division in New Mexico as just a brown belt at the time. You weren’t there, but you would have been proud, Dad!
See how I followed your lead and became a military man, moving up rung after rung until I could accomplish no higher feat in defense of our country? We did it Pro Patria, we two! Those years wrecked me good, Dad. I could have used your help working through the aftermath, but it’s okay; I got on with it the best I could.
The Creator spared me time and again.
See then Dad, how I have a son now who is handsome and smart and kind. His name is George Edward Hand V. See your grandson, your namesake, if you could please just once before you die? He’s 12 now: he isn’t strong or limber or fast or coordinated but he’s ours, sir, a fine young man by our own name!
What of your granddaughters? Beautiful and talented they are; absurdly strong, they both are forged from a framework of fort diamond and a Sterling Silver grace. That frame ceased to serve further the moment of their birth… meet them if you please.
First Daughter Ms. Cynthia Gail
Small Daughter Ms. Regan Christine
But with no such meet, the King died on Tuesday, 06 February, year of the creator 2018.
The King is Dead, Lord; Long Live the King!
The Lord keeps you, Dad.
Oh Dad, but the number of times I nearly died before you. I spared you the grief of burying a son — could you have at least embraced my own?
We’ll just catch up later, then, right?
By God, with honor, and unspeakable remorse–
Geo IV sends
Images courtesy of the author and Wikipedia