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Uncle Lee’s Glass Eye

For the Veterans

(Recited on November 13, 2018 at the Senior Center Veterans Celebration)

Cousin Julie just called:

Did your dad really have a glass eye?

Oh, the memories of that glass eye…

Nothing could really replace Dad’s

Ever-changing eyes

Blue in his Air Force tie

Hazel in his Navy sailor whites

Green in the camo pants

He wore in the garden

As his hoe attacked the weeds.

His hand-eye coordination was astounding:

With a hoe, a bat, or a golf club

He could hit anything and hit it

Anywhere he wanted.

He put a spin on the ball

So it would land and stick

Or roll away.

He’d say, "I’m putting a bit of English

On it" like the British Open announcer.

Eye squinted, he read the green

And curved the ball ever so

Gently into the hole –

The touch on the club

Was light and elastic.

(He painted the putter club head gold,

Then sprayed gold glitter on it. Why?)

I never saw him shoot a gun

Except in Disneyland’s Frontierland,

There, he rested the rifle on his shoulder

Squinted his eye, and pulled the trigger.

"Oh yeah!" he’d say as Goofy’s head fell over.

He must have been a great shot-

Many marksman medals in

Mom’s type case cabinet.

He hunted as a boy in Kansas

Signed up for the war at 17

And saw the ocean for the first time

As he chugged to Okinawa.

Getting Dad to talk about the war

Was harder than picking up a single

Grain of rice with chopsticks-

He learned to love Chinese food

The spicier, the better, he’d say.

But he wouldn’t talk about

The Japanese box full of

Coins, a medallion, and a large

Machine-gun bullet that showed

Signs of extreme heat.

What Dad would do

Is play basketball on the driveway

Teaching me and you, Julie, to put

Backspin on the ball

Creating a shooter’s bounce.

"They had a hoop on the aircraft carrier

That picked me up," he told us once.

Why did you get picked up?

"Kamikaze" was the only word we got out of him.

Like a Harlem Globetrotter, he’d dribble

And twist his body around and launch

A bomb that had no chance of making it.

But he’d yell, "I’ve sunk another."

We never beat him in Battleship, either.

One time in the driveway when I was about six,

He started yelling, covered his eye, and

Ran to the gutter, picking up something.

"My glass eye just popped out!" he said.

"Oh daddy, lemme see" I said.

He kept his fist closed, but his eyelid was

Flipped up, red and gruesome.

I screamed.

"Want to see my eye, or

Should I put it back?" he asked,

Serious, no dimples showing.

No twinkle in his eye.

He turned around, popped it in,

Then returned to grin and grab me.

"It’s from the war" he’d say, but no more.

When I was home one summer

And you were a visiting 9-year-old

He pulled the same trick on you, Julie.

But, he winked at me, because I

Knew the glass eye wasn’t real.

In his last days, I learned the

Melted bullet was from the kamikaze

That strafed the ship

Before it crashed into the captain’s bridge.

As his ship went down,

Dad grabbed a bullet rolling down the deck,

Burned his hand, jumped overboard, and swam.

So many other memories he never shared:

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Korea

Those sights are buried with him.

And the glass eye? It must have been

One of the many tricks he played

To deal with the tense boredom of

Waiting for the war: shooting hoops,

Hitting mythical golf balls into the Pacific,

rolling and capturing baseballs on the listing ship’s deck.

Or, maybe that glass eye

Kept the horrible sights he’d seen

From leaking out of the corners

Of his memory.