Thursday, May 5, 2011

He Called Me Blondie

My husband Alex's Dad was a Marine.

I first met Fred at Alex's sister's wedding. I had heard a lot about him, but I didn't know what to expect. Fred was short like most Navajos, brown as a walnut, and nicely dressed in a suit and tie. When we were introduced, he grinned at me and immediately christened me "Blondie"!

Right after the wedding ceremony, Fred went inside to change into his jeans and a long sleeved flannel shirt, despite the heat. He came out with a smile announcing "I'm Fred again!"

Fred was already sick with cancer when I met him, but he was a tough bird. Fred walked everywhere in the 100 plus degree Arizona heat because he didn't have a car. If there was a cold beer waiting for him, he could and did walk 20 miles for it.

I'm not sure that Fred ever knew my first name was Linda. From the time he met me, he always called me "Blondie". Fred had an innocence and a sweetness about him, but he was very smart too. I see a lot of him in Alex.

Fred and his brothers (there were 5 of them) all joined the Marines at the same time. Alex was born at a Military Hospital in San Diego. A few years later, the military deployments were too getting too difficult for a man with a growing family, (by this time, Alex had 2 younger sisters), and Fred decided to get out of the service.

He went to work for the Police Department in Phoenix for a time, working in the animal control division, and in later years, Fred worked as a security guard.

Fred was quiet and usually reserved, but had a great subtle sense of humor. When he liked something, he would smile and say "horses", but nobody ever knew exactly what that meant. Fred was also a self-described "red apple", (red on the outside, white on the inside), and his wife drove him crazy because she clung to Navajo culture and "magic". She had a bag of "fetish shit" (Fred called it), and he would periodically try and throw it in the trash. Alex's mom always caught him though and recovered her "treasures".

Fred was undergoing chemo treatments for stomach cancer. We invited him to visit us in San Francisco. Between chemo sessions he overcame his aversion to flying and came up to see us for a long weekend.

We took Fred sightseeing and took the ferry across the Bay to Sausalito. He seemed to really enjoy it, but Fred tired easily. When we got back to the house, he and I sat on the front steps and shared a beer and a cigarette and talked while Alex did some homework.

Fred talked to me at length about being a Marine and what it had meant to him. He really loved the Corps. Fred also shared his feelings of great pride in his son because Alex was in college and getting close to earning his degree.

Fred was not formally educated, but he was an avid reader and had a very sharp intellect and a wealth of life experience.

That night after dinner, Fred was tired. He had a few beers before and during dinner. The beer with the lethal chemo cocktail in his system wiped him out.

My mom was at our house that evening. She and I waited until Fred was settled in bed, and we went in and sat with him.

Mom had a great voice and she sang to him for about an hour and Fred loved every moment of having both of our attention. We talked and laughed, my mom on one side holding his hand, me on the other, until he was ready to sleep.

I went to see Fred in the hospital during the last week of his life. Although he was drugged, he was the same funny, smart and serious man! Fred said to me "Blondie, if I had met you first, things might have been very different!" I kissed his lips and left the room as he fell asleep.

That was the last time I ever saw Fred. I still dream about him though. I still see him sometimes too when I look at my husband's face.

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