“Swilley, you can’t march,” said the Seabee drill instructor.
“I know it,” he replied, but got by without that difficult skill, because he was a great craftsman, taking carpentry to the level of art. The Seabees were lucky to have him and they knew it. After World War II, Loy Swilley told many stories of wartime activities down in “them islands,” off New Zealand, where he and his crew built many needful structures for airfields. He told of narrow scrapes with enemy bombs and strafing.
When the war was over, he heard from a fellow El Dorado Seabee that his old girlfriend’s husband had died. Loy was an older Seabee, having gone into the service at almost 40 after a painful divorce. That old girlfriend was my mother, Pearl. I was six when he came courting. Mother was pregnant with me when my father died. My brother Curtis was 5 when our father died and 11 when Loy came courting. Mother thought Loy was a door-to-door salesman. Not realizing he had come courting, after about an hour, she asked what he did for a living. “I drive nails,” he replied and Mother realized he intended to rekindle what had started in high school. Rekindle it did.
When Mother told us of her intent to marry him, Curtis was not happy, having known his real father. I was tickled because I felt uncomfortable explaining the absence of a father to my friends. I said, “I am going to call him Daddy.” Curtis said he was going to call him Pop and that I had better use that name for him as well. He said it firmly. So, Pop it was. Later we found out that he did not care for that designation since the younger Seabees in his unit called him that, but he never complained about it.
Curtis kept his distance but I developed a jocular relationship with him. I outgrew Pop very rapidly. Once when we went to the barbershop together, the barber said, “You did good on that one, Swilley.” Pop merely replied, “Yep, he is a big one.” I liked that response very much. I passed for anomalous blood kin from then on.
As to the jocularity we developed, it started when his fellow carpenters would call the house asking for Bug. That was his nickname because of the rapid way he traversed the job sites. I would yell out, “Telephone, Bug!” And soon I started calling him that on a regular basis. He grinned at it, so I continued the appellation. In response, he called me Kid. Soon, I began to return that to him, referring to him as Kid. So, he answered, whether I called him Bug or Kid.
Another name he had for me was Wart, and sometimes You Bloomin’ Blasted Wart. I guess I earned that designation by being more present in his and Mother’s lives that he preferred. When I told them I was going into the service, Mother did not want me to do that and got emotional. Pop said three words that settled it and made all the difference in my life, “Let him go.” He meant that in more than one sense.