Oh, Annabel: Words of My Father

Daddy sang age-old ballads, country tunes, folk songs, and recited Edgar Allan Poe. A traveler with an adventurous spirit, he regaled me with long stories of swimming in lakes, rivers, and oceans, or of indigenous people in faraway lands who welcomed him into their lives and homes. He’d been disoriented but never lost in the Darien Jungle. And he once woke up perched on a cliff after crashing his car into a tree.

His stories of the Second World War were among my favorites. Every day he volunteered to plow minefields with a half-track. Until he saw a crater as large as the moon and decided to cut his odds and share that duty with others soldiers who called him “Wilkie.” When bombs lit up the night’s sky, he’d sneak from camp and into the arms of a French girl in a nearby village.

Busted back to private, he seemed to always get caught. Which never stopped him, only inspired clever new ways to escape. He once ordered a man off his bicycle to find that French gal and return to his guarded tent at sunrise. Busted again.

He earned back a stripe when caught in crossfire. He and three buddies ducked behind a jeep. The ping of bullets, the smell of hot metal. He told them to wait for an enemy reload, then dash to a nearby safe building, one at a time. Noise, silence, then “Run!” my father shouted. Daddy sprinted last and felt the heat of a bullet whizz past his left ear.

He always ended that one by saying, “But then I met another gal in another village and got busted back to private again.”

Those stories were usually told while he drove. With Daddy, my sisters and I were always traveling and singing songs. We would listen to his soft, melodious voice spill dozens of poems but mostly “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.” As a child, I once asked when he had met Mr. Poe, and he just said, “During and after the war.”

Hard to believe it was cancer that killed him at seventy-one. The last two years of his life he had to stay put, though he did take up skydiving. Only four hours away, my sister Jeanne and I visited often to dance with him and drink memories of song lyrics, stories, and poems. I asked numerous questions, even recorded a few of his tales. Yet I never thought to ask my word-loving father:

What compelled you,
Kentucky-born son
of a dandy, failed farmer,
to memorize Poe’s “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”?

Photo by Bjorn Giesenbauer. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Darrelyn Saloom.


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  1. L. L. Barkat says

    Darrelyn, I love this vignette of your dad. I love the question you both ask and somehow actually answer along the way (yet the tension remains… we’ll never *really* know why he memorized Poe).

    Beautiful piece.

  2. Carolyn says

    What wonderful memories!

    I am so grateful that you have shared these loving memories of your father’s love of life and your times spent with him.. I felt the love from the words written by a daughter about her father.

    I will be re-reading “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”. Maybe, there is a clue in those words of why your father memorized them.

  3. Christian Allman says

    You write with such wonder, such love, it is impossible not to feel almost as close to your remarkable father as you obviously were. Although you regret not asking him the question about Poe, I suspect you’ve puzzled out the answer in your own heart these many years later. Thank you, for all of the rest of us who miss our own fathers.

    • says

      Thanks, Christian. So glad you enjoyed. Matthew nailed it in an earlier comment when he wrote: “Our fathers are bound in stories.” As well as our mothers I might add. My pair left me with plenty to write about and puzzle out. I’m truly thankful for that.

  4. Mary Kellner says

    Beautiful! This piece reminds me of my own dad and all of the time I got to spend with him making my own memories. Thank you for sharing your writing with us.

  5. Sally G. says

    Poignant, lovely and funny. Those lucky French girls…he must have seemed larger than life to his two young daughters!! Romance and intrigue, I just loved the way you evoked that in your piece, with such warmth and love.

  6. Jenny says

    What a blessing that Grandpa lives on through the stories you share. This piece is simply beautiful. I wish I could have heard them in-person, but this is definitely the next best thing. Thanks for sharing, Aunt D.

  7. Tania Runyan says

    What a beautiful piece for Father’s Day. And it reminds me, as a mom, to tell more of my own stories (though not as exciting) to my kids. I catch myself thinking they’d be bored, so i often stay silent. But where would we be without our parents’ stories?

    • says

      Tania, Write down those family stories. Your children will love it. I believe there are no ordinary people. We all have our quirks and flaws and beauty. Which is extraordinary, don’t you think?

  8. Ayse Su says

    This is so beautiful. It got me thinking about how much I value the conversations I have with my own dad.

    It sounds like your father was an extraordinary man and the way you write about his memories made me smile.

    • says

      Tania, Write down those family stories. Your children will love it. I believe there are no ordinary people. We all have our quirks and flaws and beauty. Which is extraordinary, don’t you think?

      • says

        Sorry, Ayse Su, I posted my comment to Tania in the wrong box.

        So glad you enjoyed the piece. I hope you are able to talk to your dad this father’s day. Enjoy every moment.

  9. says

    Thank you, Darrelyn for sharing such a wonderful glimpse of your dad with us. Loving dads are a true blessing and it’s an honor to “meet” yours.

  10. Cindy says

    Darrelyn, This is great. I have more insight now into where your spirit and drive come from! Thanks for sharing.

  11. says

    This is beautiful! I can hear the music and rhythm of the words in my head as I read. And the understated eloquence of the sentiments really moved me. What a lovely tribute to a dear one.

  12. says

    A father’s love shows in so many unexpected ways. How easy it is to take for granted that love. Stories are stories are stories. But then… Only in adulthood do we realize we knew them and knew them not. Thankfully, my dad is still living and there is still time to ask him those important questions. And I often do. Thanks for the lovely reminders, Darrelyn.

  13. says

    You’re most welcome, Debra. Glad you enjoyed and even happier to learn your dad is still around to share his stories. Be sure to tape a few. You’ll love hearing his voice when he’s gone.

  14. Jon Lewis says

    That was wicked sweet, so familiar feeling like I’ve met your Dad and know exactly what you are talking about. Thanks for sharing this.

  15. says

    Simply lovely. You’ve painted quite a portrait with swift, clean strokes. He sounds like quite the rapscallion with a touch of mystery. Very nicely done and a joy to read.


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