When I was only three or four years old, my family lived in a small, cedar-shaked home close by to Lake Stickney in western Washington State. This house had an attic accessed by a set of stairs that swung down when you tugged on a cord dangling from the ceiling.
One day, Mom pulled the stairs down and let me play in the attic while she concentrated on her sewing.
I had plenty of boxes up in the attic to make a playhouse for my dolls. In my rummaging around for objects that might amuse them, I found a plastic box full of fascinating objects; I didn’t know it then, but they were two purple hearts, a bronze star, a sharpshooter’s medal, various foreign coins, and a small, brass-studded German language Bible.
This was treasure that demanded an immediate explanation. I held the box carefully to my little chest as I negotiated the steep, slightly unbalanced stairs. Mom looked up from her sewing when I came into the room holding out the box.
Her eyes widened in shock, and she said with excited force, “Put those back where you found them! Don’t ever mention them to your father!”
The medal box, and Mom’s swift reaction to it was my first—and at age sixty, I have to now, most enduring—clue to the grim shadow thrown by my blond and sunny father.
In those youngest years of my life, I often had nightmares of being in a foreign country and having to enter a dark, low house built into the side of a hill full of hidden people. I was a grown man, I had a gun, and I was terrified.
These mysterious and frightening dreams held no content from media for no such thing existed in our household. Nor did the content come from my father’s stories of the war, for in my whole life with him, he only once mentioned the war. He told me he had learned to peel an orange in one continuous strip from a British soldier.
I believe now that my psychic bond with my father was so permeable that I either dreamed his nightmares or that his repressed memories entered my sleeping mind.