My dad is a Marine. It's a central fact of his life, as much a part of describing him as saying he has black hair and hazel eyes. He taught me the Marine Corps hymn so early I have no memory of not knowing the lyrics and the tune. He taught me to count cadence before I could actually count and showed me how to do the Queen Anne salute with a stick as soon as I could hold one.
Marines are tough. I know this as surely as I know the sun rises on the halls of Montezuma and sets on the shores of Tripoli, as surely as I know the biscuits in the Army can kill you.
Yesterday Dad drove up just as I was leaving after coffee with Mom. I stopped and asked where he'd been.
"To the doctor," he said in a low, slow voice.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Yeah. Just needed her signature."
"An application for a handicapped parking permit."
The earth trembled on its axis. I did not know what to say that wouldn't bow his shoulders even more, would not drop his head a quarter-inch further. I concentrated on breathing. In and out. In and out.
"Cool. Can I ride with you?"
He laughed a little and rolled up the car window. I drove away quickly, before he could see the tears glistening in my eyes.