Saturday 03 Dec 2016

The Place on the Wall
AJ Robinson

When I was growing up, on the wall of our dining room, there was an old plate hanging on the wall. As a kid, I didn't pay it much mind; it was just a big ceramic plate. Every once in a while, Id look up at it, and when I learned to count Id count the camels painted around the outer edge; there were seven. The paintings weren't well done; sort of stick drawings, and then there were some neat geometric shapes and right at the center were some squiggly black lines.

Finally, I chanced to ask my Dad about the plate. Boy, did I get an earful!

Back in 43, during The Big One, WW II (World War II), my Dad was in the army. Actually, he had enlisted back a couple years before the war. As he told me, he could see that Hitler was a maniac after reading "Mein Kampf"; he knew war was coming, and as he also said he didn't want to be cannon fodder. I didn't understand that, so he explained. When a war began, the arm needed men quickly. They'd draft a bunch of men, train them, quickly, and then send them off into battle. These inexperienced men often led the charge against the enemy; they were essentially sacrificial troops food for the enemy canons, hence the term. When it came to officers, the army would take executives and fill the officer ranks with them. The theory being that a vice-president of a company had leadership experience and could thus be an officer.

Well, my Dad wasn't an executive and he knew his fate. By enlisting during a time of peace, he had time to train, build up some seniority, and maybe earn his strips (become a sergeant). As it turned out, by the time he went off to war in North Africa he was a WO (Warrant Officer); he was a specialist in charge on supplies and munitions. While in the city of Bizerte, Tunisia he saw a lot of damage, death, destruction, hunger all that war can do to people. Yet, at the same time, he saw beauty, life, love and the simple joys of childhood as he watched children at play, even as they played in the rubble and destruction around them.

One day, while walking to work, he passed a row of bombed out apartment buildings. These were large, old adobe brick buildings, and they were mostly crumbled and broken. Looking up at one, he saw that the building torn almost in half; most of the contents furniture and so forth, even the curtains blown away. Yet, up on one of the remaining walls was one item that old plate. He saw it there, hanging pristine and perfect untouched.

He looked around; there was a flight of stairs still on the remaining side of the building, and my Dad was feeling lucky. Maybe, he found inspiration in how the plate survived, in the face of adversity. Climbing the stairs, to the third floor, he reached the plate, took it off and climbed back down. After that, he got a box and some paper, and shipped it off to his parents. It was yet another victim of wartime looting! Ah well, such were the events of war, back then.

I asked him if he knew what the plate was, was it just a decoration or something important? He didn't know; he only knew that the squiggles in the center were some sort of Arabic words.

Today, the plate hangs on my wall, one of the items I got from his estate. I look at it, and I think of faraway lands and Arabian Nights. One of these days, I really must get that Arabic translated. Who knows, maybe its an ancient incantation or Muslim prayer. Id like to find out; its a lingering mystery of my life, and part of our family heritage. After all, someday Im going to be telling my grandchildren about that plate, and someday my daughter will hang it on her wall.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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