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    Wabby's Marine

    When I was five years old I had my own Marine. His name was George but I called him Zorro. I am, after all, a child of the television age and he seemed like a Zorro to me.

    He was my brother-in-law's brother (did I ever mention I was born 15 years after my eldest sister?) and he was a frequent visitor at my parent's house. He was there as often as my sister and b-i-l were and sometimes even when they weren't. George liked us. George liked me. No, he wasn't a child molester. It's one of the few bad things he wasn't.

    Zorro would give me rides on his back. He was tall with wide, wide shoulders and I would sit on one of them and grab onto his hair so I wouldn't fall off. He didn't care if I pulled his hair or not, he would just laugh and we would lope around the backyard. I loved it up there! It was almost like I was flying.

    George would stand under the crab apple trees and I would pick the inedible fruits and hand them down to him. Then he would throw them and try to knock over the tin cans he set up on the picnic table. I remember that as clear as if it happened yesterday.

    When he was 17, George joined the Marines. He was a poor student, a high school drop out, he was running with a really bad gang, his home life was miserable. He didn't have a lot of options for a bright future and when he was given the choice between military or jail, he picked military. I didn't know any of that at the time, though. I just knew Zorro wasn't around like he used to be.

    In boot camp, you are required to write a letter home every week whether you want to or not. I guess Zorro thought of us, my parents and I, as 'home'. He had nine brothers and sisters, a mother and a father, but not one of his real family bothered with him. Most of them had washed him out of their lives years before.

    So one day five year old me gets a letter in the mail. My mother had to read it to me, of course; I could barely read or write my own name after all. I still have that letter... I have all of them he sent... my mother kept them for me, the letter's from "Wabby's Marine". I reread them occasionally and I see now all the spelling and grammar mistakes and the poor penmanship. Every last one of them is signed with an enormous letter 'Z' and a little bitty 'orro'.

    Five-year-old me tells my Mom I would like to write him a letter, too. But, I'm five. How much of a letter can I write? So my very wise mother says to me, "Why don't you draw him a picture, Wabby?"

    So, I did. I took out the big tin box of a million broken crayons and drew Zorro a picture. I made a house with the chimney on cock-eyed and a curly-cue of smoke coming out of it. I drew a tree with red dots...crab apples. The sun was shining too, I think. I figure it must have been a masterpiece by any five-year-old's standard. George liked it too, and told me so in one of his letters Mom read to me.

    George stayed in the Marines just long enough to do one tour of Viet Nam and then he came home. I didn't see him after he got out. I was much older by then and more interested in the Monkees and had kind of forgotten about Zorro. It was my mother that kept up a correspondence with him while he was overseas.

    It wasn't until my mother's funeral, when I was nineteen, that I saw him again and remembered that I had forgotten him. He stood staring at her in her coffin for the longest time, his eyes all red and wet looking, although I did not see him actually cry. I learned that he had married several years ago and was the father of two. A year or so later after the funeral, I would baby-sit his children for extra money while in college. He and his wife had divorced but it was his ex-wife I had contact with, not him.

    I would like to say that being in the Marines, doing a tour of 'Nam, had put a polish on George, straightened him up, made him into an honorable man, but I can't. After he got home and after a half-assed attempt to walk the straight and narrow, he went back running with the bad crowd he had run with before. But now, they weren't just little juvenile delinquents, they were criminals. They were really bad. I probably shouldn't say how bad. Just bad, they were. And George was one of the worst. You have to be if federal agents put a wiretap on your ex-wife's phone. Quite often while I babysat, there would be a car parked down the street with one or two men inside. They'd sit there for hours, waiting for George to visit his kids. He never did.

    The next time I saw George was twenty years or so later at my father's funeral. He must have sneaked in through the back of the funeral home because all of a sudden he was just there by the coffin. I didn't recognize him at first. He used to have kind of reddish hair...now he was half bald and gray. But, when I did recognize him and opened my mouth to say something, he put a finger up to his lips...shhhh. He paid his respects and left.

    The last I heard of him, he was living in a southern state, up to his usual no good even though he is now getting up there in years. Somewhere now in his seventies. Maybe he's retired now. Maybe he's still running his gang. Maybe he's dead. I don't know.

    Like I said, his real family wanted nothing to do with him. Ever. And knowing now what he was or still is, it makes me wonder if my parents had ever been any good at judging character by allowing their five-year-old daughter to hang around with a juvenile delinquent.

    Ah, well.

    As far as I'm concerned, it's not my job to judge whether George was a good man or a bad and I am glad I don't have to decide. What I do know is this: He was a man, possibly a good man only my parents could see, who did bad things. But, regardless of how he conducted his life, this veteran will always be my Marine. He will always be Zorro to me.


    What a lovely story.  I do have memories of people that I wonder what happened to them?  I guess it is part of growing old. 

    Some of the people that have woven themselves into your life stand out more than others, don't they?

    Bold Weavers?

    You don't think the original modeled-after Zorro was a good man, do you? We build our superheroes out of broken crayons and crabapples and the dregs that society gives us. Your Zorro was a man of mystery, larger than life until you got bigger, then you realized life ain't so big. Still, a sense of magic to carry with you - when would that Dark Knight appear next? Maybe he was a Dark Knight for others too - anyone who'd show up for a funeral after all those years doesn't sound all bad.

    You know, I don't believe my Marine was a bad man. One reason I know this is because he stayed away from his two kids all those years ago. He loved those little girls to pieces, so the story is told, and for him to forsake seeing them in order to keep them from being caught up in his own turmoil says a lot.

    And, who's to say he didn't sneak a visit to see them occasionally? Hopefully not in a funeral parlor.

    Well done, Flower. I was intrigued reading it and it prompted me to think about such characters in my life.

    Thanks, Oxy.

    It reminded me of a scrawny kid in my neighborhood whom I later encountered when I worked a summer steel mill job to  pay college expenses. He told me stories that were hard to believe and I later read where he was killed in a gang fight. From tall skinny redhead to killer material.  

    In certain arenas it doesn't take much to go from one to the other.

    Beautiful writing, Flower.  Zorro had his dark side, too, but children need their heroes and the fact that he wrote so many letters to his little "Wabby" shows a human, loving side.   Wars are terrible soul-crushers.  We're living among millions of victims whose wounds show up in incomprehensible actions and not outwardly, on bodies.  They're every bit as broken.

    Thanks, Ramona.

    I think everybody has a little bit of a dark side to them. I guess it's who you show it to that speaks for you.

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