The upcoming Christmas season, my first one in Korea, started off peaceful (and blurry) enough. I mean, I was nervous about my father’s visit (so was Dean and Henry, I could tell by their faces when seeing them), but was happy to be walking myself around for once. I was out of the wheelchair a few days after Dean first came to visit me, but took it slow and drank with feeling to help recover, as Hawkeye said it was what the doctor ordered (and what the doctor was also used to doing). Even the gin from the still numbed the pain in my shoulder.
“Disgusting,” Frank mentioned one night, the day before my father was expected to come. “You three are disgusting and a disgrace to this man’s Army!”
“Come o-o-off it, F-Frank,” I replied, slurring some of my words and knowing that I was drunk silly again (and not caring about it, since I wasn’t on shift anytime soon). “My f-father is coming to vi-visit tomorrow and I want to forget i-it.”
“She’s got a case of the heebie-jeebies,” Hawkeye added after me, toasting my words and drinking.
“And a case of the jeebie-heebies,” Trapper chimed in, laughing.
“Your guys have the worst conduct ever!” Frank replied, sitting on his cot (which was very wet and cold, by the way). “Colonel Morrison is coming here tomorrow to inspect the troops and you…you…you animals are drinking like there’s no tomorrow. And, and, and…”
“And what, Frank?” Trapper asked innocently as an olive tumbled slowly down from his martini glass. “Is something the matter?”
Frank put his hand to his cot, knowing that something was totally wrong with it, and smelled when he brought the vile liquid on his cot to his nose. He then wrinkled it when he detected what it was.
“You animals used my cot as a latrine!” Frank accused, pointing his finger at us after he quickly wiped his fingers on a handkerchief of his.
I giggled, knowing that it wasn’t true, and pointed at Frank’s behind. “F-F-Frank, if y-you weren’t w-wearing the same clothes all the time…”
By then, without managing to explain the situation, I lost it and was laughing, spilling my drink close to the stove, our only way to stay warm…other than the swill, I mean.
“I think what she means is, Frank,” Hawkeye continued, laughing with me and Trapper, “is that if you’d look to your own ass and not worry about everybody else’s, you’ll be fine. You wouldn’t have to worry about Hot Lips cleaning it up for you.”
Frank then tried to look at his behind, frantically, and it soon became another comical scene, like a dog or cat chasing its own tail. Soon, though, it dawned on him what we did (especially when he saw an empty helmet, next to his cot, with a thick icy layer inside of it), so he went to his footlocker, trying to find a new set of clothes, throwing this thing and that thing out.
“I don’t know what you did it, you…you…you, miscreants,” Frank finally sneered, denying the facts, as always. “But, I’m sure it was sneaky. You’re going to pay for this, I’m sure of it!”
“So, Frank, what are you going to explain to the laundress?” Trapper inquired. “Or, for that matter, to Hot Lips?”
“Ooo…ooo…you guys!” was all Frank could say before he ran outside with his new set of clothes, covering his back and tush with an extra towel and his change of clothes from his footlocker.
“I think it was more interesting when it was frozen,” Hawkeye remarked when the Major left our presence.
“I wonder if H-H-Hot L-Lips smelled it.” I laughed again, this time, harder and knocking myself off of the chair I was sitting on. I landed on the floor with a satisfying thump and laughed harder at my own stupidity.
“Then it might keep Major Malpractice out of line,” Trapper commenting, ending the joke and the conversation by asking if we wanted more to drink to keep warm.
* * * *
The next day, I was sobered up (a miracle, since we had wounded and I took a shower so that I could function properly) and was ready to meet my father afterward, for the first time since 1936. It had been almost fifteen years, but I think it is high-time to see him again, despite my fears and deep hatred of him…and the fact that he was better off out of my life like I was out of his.
Henry, Dean, Hawkeye, Trapper, Margaret and Frank stood in attention at the Post-Op doors (bundled up), waiting for my father’s jeep to come up (Simmons had volunteered for a shift in Post-Op, so we were not worried about him for the time being, and Radar was ordered to stand at attention at his office space). Daddy was late, as usual (he always is late to everything except for battle or to the bar), and had us standing at the door, shivering and nervous as hell, for over an hour before his jeep showed up at the gates of our little paradise in Korea.
“Ten, hut!” I heard Henry say as my father’s driver saw us where we were and drove towards Post-Op, stopping in front of our miserable little group.
“At ease, gentlemen,” Daddy (“Sir” would probably serve him in this Man’s Army) added afterward, hopping out of his seat from the jeep like he was a spring chicken and not sixty-seven years old and so battle-weary from two previous wars. He then waved his driver away (he sped out of camp pretty quickly instead of breaking in the Mess Tent or the latrine as all other drivers usually do) and stood there, looking at us, spotting Dean and smiling upon sight.
“Ah, Dean, you’ve made it to Major!” Daddy then exclaimed, grinning wider. “Good job! I’m proud of you, son.” He patted Dean on the shoulder, ignoring the wincing visible on my brother’s face and his apparent fear of him being on front of him.
Then, Daddy went to Henry, who was next to Dean. “Henry Blake, it’s good to see you again!”
Henry stood in attention still, nervous (like Hawkeye and Trapper would say, he looked like he was having a baby, which happened a lot when he was tense), and saluted and nodded his head, taking Daddy’s hand when it was offered to him. “It’s good to see you again, as well…Patrick Morrison.”
Majors Burns and Houlihan still stood in attention, saluting, even in the cold, which amazed me, seeing as how they did it for five minutes straight. It caught Daddy’s attention quickly after seeing Henry. It was something – other than Dean’s promotion – that made him smile. And smiles from the man were far and few and far between.
Not to mention, Daddy’s smiles were sincere…something he usually never was.
“Majors, it is a pleasure to meet you,” Daddy said carefully (I could hear it in his voice) as he saw Margaret and Frank saluting.
“Major Margaret Houlihan, Sir, and this is Major Frank Burns,” Margaret replied rather enthusiastically, shaking Daddy’s hand as he held it out, her arm (and Frank’s) down from saluting. “I’m Head Nurse of the 4077th.”
“And Major Burns just happens to be tagging along, impersonating an officer,” Hawkeye added.
“Pierce!” Henry warned, a really worried tone in his voice.
“Oh, just ignore him, Colonel,” Margaret continued in the same tone as before, her eyes shining with pride as Daddy shook Frank’s hand as well.
“I was going to ask the man’s name and get to know him, but already I can smell a prankster amongst us.” Daddy looked from Margaret and Frank to Hawkeye, his own grey eyes (like mine and Dean’s, I noticed for the first time ever), shining and red-rimmed. “In fact, I see two of them and my daughter, I assume justly, joining them.”
“I’m Captain McIntyre and this is Captain Pierce, surgeons at war,” Trapper said to Daddy.
“The Marx brothers with the ringmaster,” Hawkeye added with a smile.
Daddy just shook his head and then looked at me, suddenly using his pointing finger to summon me in crooked and twisted motions that only frightened me. “Jeanette, let me see you.”
I walked forward as bravely as I could, three even steps (as was traditional), and stood before my father.
“You wanted to see me, Sir?” I asked politely, saluting.
“Yes, Jeanette,” Daddy replied, putting his overly-large hands on my shoulders and then around my neck as I inclined my head down with respect, not wanting to look into his eyes. I used to do it when I was a child and I thought he’d like it still, but instead, I felt like I was getting choked.
The grip around my neck tightened as I continued to look down on the ground, which scared me out of my mind (the drunken part of my mind was going paranoid and screaming, but the rational part of my mind was trying to find a way out of the danger). Dean saw this and moved forward quickly in my defense (the only one who was able to without being reproached except for maybe Henry, if Daddy was in the mood to handle him), but did it with such respect that Daddy didn’t quite notice him at first until he cleared his throat. The man just continued to choke me until someone caught his attention.
“Sir, why don’t we move inside, so that you can view Post-Op?” Dean asked him. “I’m sure Colonel Blake would want to show you how the hospital is run and how the commands from his desk. Major Houlihan has already volunteered to give you a tour of the camp and also show you to your quarters when you are ready to go.”
Dean then put his hand on Daddy’s, gently rubbing the tough calluses with his own dirty, cold fingers until the grip around my neck loosened and I was allowed to breathe more easily. Daddy slowly let my neck out of his imperial grip, pushing Dean’s hands away gently and telling him to get back in formation and not to bother him anymore.
“Jeanette, look at me,” I was then ordered after Dean went back in formation. I wanted to walk away and to ignore this man I called “Father”, but I obeyed the order nonetheless, not knowing what I was going to handle next.
When I looked up to Daddy, he took my chin in his hands, staring into my own eyes with his own (grey to grey: very cloudy, hazy even), saying, “Jeanette, every time I look at you, I see myself in a female form. You are too much like me in appearance and mannerisms, much more so than all of your brothers. Be careful next time, before a disaster comes. You might not be ready for it when it comes to you.”
Then, he let me go, walking around me, as if nothing – nothing! – had happened and calling out to everybody that a tour of the hospital and camp was a good idea. A minute later, I, shocked and surprised by the words I heard (they were not bitter or cruel, but neutral, like warning me of something), turned around, watching Henry holding the door for everybody, trying to stay behind and not in the front, so Daddy could not reach him easily enough if something offensive came from his mouth. Not to mention, I think it was safer if I stayed with Henry in the back anyhow.
I jogged over to Henry, my shock mostly gone. “Are you frightened of him like I am right now?” I whispered frantically to him as we got out of the cold and wind.
“If you want to call that hulking figure before us ‘frightening’, then be my guest,” Henry replied. “Just be careful, Jeanie. You almost got killed out there and your butt in a sling.”
“I don’t think so,” I said back softly, partially listening to Margaret show Daddy around the office first, like a perfect tour guide, and demonstrating how fast Radar works for us. “He has better things to do than kill me.”
“We’ll see,” was Henry’s last words before Frank turned around to shush him, mumbling about disrespect in officers and how the U.S. Army can’t find any decent people to become them.
The tour went on, regardless, and my thoughts kept themselves to Daddy and what it looked like he was going to go if he had to chance to. Well, I didn’t think that I was going to be strangled, but Dean and I never knew with Daddy sometimes. He was a complete mystery most of the time.