The Search for an Old Sailor

Whenever my 85-year-old father gets nostalgic, or if he just wants to annoy my mother, he enjoys talking about all the mischief he got into back when he was an 18-year-old sailor in the United States Navy.

"Bob and I sure had fun," he'll say for the hundredth time about his adventures with his best pal on the naval base in Jacksonville, Florida. "We were dating these two Greek sisters. Their family was in the food business, so they'd pack us a picnic basket and we'd go out for the day. Didn't even have to buy lunch!"

There weren't too many details about those Greek girls, beyond the free lunch.

"Bob married his Greek," my father would say. "I married your mother," he'd add unnecessarily, jabbing a thumb in the direction of his wife of more than half a century.

One day my mother got tired of those same old stories. It was time for a new chapter.

"You never stayed in touch with Bob, did you? I'm going to see if I can find him."

My father was stunned. "I don't even know if he's alive!'

"We'll find out," said my mother, undeterred.

Such is the danger and the wonder of the Internet. Last my father knew, Bob had settled in Florida with his Greek wife. My mother started Googling, and sure enough, Bob -- whose last name, fortunately, was not "Smith" or "Jones" -- was easy enough to find online. An address and a phone number, within minutes.

My mother dialed the number, got a machine. "This is a message for Bob from Tony Carillo's wife," she began. "If I've reached the right number, my husband was with you in the Navy many years ago, and he'd love to speak with you..."

She left a phone number and hung up. For the rest of the day, nothing happened. Well, she tried.

The next morning the phone rang. My mother answered and it was Bob Junior, explaining that his dad was indeed the man she was looking for, and, well... here he is.

My mother spoke softly on the phone for a few minutes, then carried it to the living room, where my father was polishing a brass pot with a Noxon-soaked rag. She offered him the phone.

"Who is it?"

"It's Bob."

My father went pale. Not in a million years had he expected this. He put down the pot and the rag and took the phone to speak with a man he had not seen in more than sixty years.

"Hello, Bob. How are you?"

I'd never heard his voice like that before. He sounded both giddy and frightened, like a man who'd taken a long leap backwards, all the way to his childhood.

My father and Bob asked cautious questions about each other's lives. Bob's wife had died, and my father was sorry about that. Bob had never left Florida. My father explained that he had a daughter who lives in Florida, but that he doesn't spend too much time down there because "my wife -- who's Irish -- doesn't like to be in the sun too much."

(Irish, through no fault of her own.)

My father told Bob about his work and his kids and his grandchildren, and suddenly he was out of things to say. Almost.

He hesitated before adding -- as if it were occurring to him for the first time -- "I've had a good life, Bob."

My father's eyes filled with tears. So did my mother's. So did mine.

My father hung up the phone and took a deep breath. He had to take it easy, like a deep-sea diver heading for the surface. He was coming all the way back from 1944, and he didn't want to get the bends.

It was beautiful and terrible at the same time, both a celebration and an obituary. Somebody had to say something and my mother, bless her heart, said it.

"By the way," she told my father, "those sisters were Lebanese, not Greek."

It worked. My father wiped his eyes, picked up his polishing rag and waved her away. "Ahh, it's the same thing!"

"Not to them, it isn't!"

"Well, whatever they were, they sure brought great lunches in those picnic baskets!"

"Oh, I'll bet they did!"

Families.

Charlie Carillo's latest novel is 'One Hit Wonder.' His website is www.charliecarillo.com. He's a producer for the TV show 'Inside Edition.'