My father's voice is pressed onto a little disc recorded about seventy years ago when he was stationed with the 145th Signal Company of the 5th Armored Division at Camp Cooke, California, located in northern Santa Barbara County between Lompoc and Santa Maria. He drove a half–tractor and operated a radio in his army days, but he never saw combat, and at some point he landed himself a desk job at the base working for The Camp Cooke Clarion, writing various articles, poems, and book reviews. I saw a snapshot of his office once, complete with water cooler, Northern Pacific calendar, and the plain round face of a wall clock that read twenty to eleven.
One of his stories, called “The Moment”, was dramatically enacted at the service club, another, a touching wartime Father’s Day tribute, was picked up by a couple of "real" newspapers. But for me the most memorable piece was about Zombie, the beloved wire-haired terrier of Camp Cooke's Buzzer Company canine corps. It's an article that was cut out and cherished by at least one anonymous reader, and I know this because I found it decades later in the files at the Lompoc Historical Society.
But most of what I know about my father's time at Camp Cooke was gleaned from photographs and clippings he kept in a handsome leather album, with captions and commentaries written in ink along the bottom borders. As a child growing up in 1950’s New York, I was fascinated by all this. World War II had ended just a decade earlier, and the raucous city was still good-hearted and full of postwar optimism. But there was something compelling, elusive, and already historical about those black and white photos of stark new barracks on dusty fields, jeep convoys along desolate hills, and my father in uniform, dark and handsome, gleaming with dreams, a familiar stranger. “It was beautiful country,” he told me once, referring to that Santa Barbara land. “I always wished I could return.” It seems so serendipitous that I live here now, perhaps fulfilling his dream by proxy.
And yet at the time, of course, he was eager to go back home, and on one momentous day he went into the nearby town of Lompoc to see about booking railroad tickets east. Afterwards, he stopped at the USO facility with some buddies and made a little record to mail home. It eventually went west again and now resides with me.
"This message will announce my homecoming verbally," he says. "I will be home around January 5. Until that date, I can hardly wait." He goes on to make jokes about KP duty, sends his love, and adds, "We're having a heck of a time trying to get tickets for a steam liner. By ten o'clock we will know whether we have succeeded..."
When he discovers he has more time on the record, he sings "My Old Kentucky Home", and maybe it's an odd choice for a New York boy, but that fundamental yearning for home resonates.
The actual record requires a phonograph that can be played at 78 rpm., so I didn't hear it for many years, but one day my dear friend and colleague Marc Kummel (aka Treebeard) played it for me on his old-fashioned Victrola. There I am below, after listening for the first time.
Treebeard made me a CD of the record, which I downloaded onto my computer, and henceforth whenever I have had the whim to hear my father's voice speaking and singing across the decades, the wonders of technology have allowed it. And now I am sharing it here too, on this living archive of voices and stories, because I want my father to be a part of it.
So have a listen, and don't mind the scratchiness at the start...that just adds to the magic:
We never stop missing the ones we have loved.